Russia on the BBC, Part 2: Adam Curtis’ TraumaZone

Adam Cur­tis first emerged from the con­fines of con­ven­tion­al BBC pro­gramme mak­ing in 1992 with Pandora’s Box, in 6 parts, and he’s been plough­ing his glo­ri­ous­ly idio­syn­crat­ic fur­row there ever since. 

Rather than con­ven­tion­al doc­u­men­taries, what Cur­tis pro­duces are filmic essays, in which he explores the con­tra­dic­tions that have result­ed from the rise of tech­nol­o­gy, the malaise of con­sumerism and the cat­a­stroph­ic mis­takes made by the var­i­ous empires that have risen and sunk over the course of the last one hun­dred and fifty years. 

His most famous films to date are prob­a­bly All Watched Over By Machines of Lov­ing Grace, in 3 parts, from 2011 (reviewed ear­li­er by me here), which casts a cold eye over evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy, glob­al cap­i­tal­ism and the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment. And Bit­ter Lake, from 2015, a bril­liant autop­sy on how the West end­ed up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And his lat­est, Rus­sia 1985–1999: Trau­ma­Zone, What It Felt Like to Live Through The Col­lapse of Com­mu­nism and Democ­ra­cy, to give it its full title, is his best to date. Notwith­stand­ing the fact that two of his trade­mark stamps are absent. Gone are both his silky if point­ed voice over, and his care­ful choice of music, which usu­al­ly acts as coun­ter­point and com­men­tary to the images they accompany.

That’s because, he says, these images speak for them­selves. Which they do, and don’t. And that’s an entire­ly good thing. 

What’s he done is to gath­er up all the out­takes, all the reams and reams of footage left over, after the var­i­ous BBC cor­re­spon­dents have filed their report on what­ev­er was going on then in Rus­sia, and used them all to pro­duce a por­trait of Rus­sia as it sinks into anarchy. 

The result is a 7 hour jour­ney, in 7 one hour parts, chart­ing the dis­in­te­gra­tion of what had been the Russ­ian empire. It’s at times charm­ing, qui­et­ly mov­ing and con­sis­tent­ly cap­ti­vat­ing. There is a con­ven­tion­al nar­ra­tive, but that’s cov­ered in about one of its sev­en hours. 

There’s Afghanistan, and Cher­nobyl and Gor­bachev, open­ing up Sovi­et mid­dle man­age­ment to prof­it shar­ing and con­sumerism. And those man­agers team­ing up with orga­nized crime, to rob and pil­lage the state-run busi­ness­es they were sup­posed to be nur­tur­ing. And the ram­pant crime, cor­rup­tion and vio­lence that follows. 

There’s Yeltsin, out­ma­noeu­vring Gor­bachev, embrac­ing untram­melled cap­i­tal­ism, and the cat­a­stroph­ic eco­nom­ic col­lapse that that caused. And the rise of the oli­garchs that fol­lowed, as Russ­ian indus­try was raped and stripped clean. And the nation­al­ism that emerged in response. And Chech­nya, and the fright­en­ing sense of an aston­ish­ing­ly rapid descent into unimag­in­able vio­lence, cor­rup­tion and soci­etal disintegration.

But dur­ing the oth­er six hours, we see; grad­u­ates get­ting their degrees in soon to be inde­pen­dent Ukraine, as a mass grave dat­ing back to the Sovi­et peri­od is dis­cov­ered right next to where the cer­e­mo­ny is tak­ing place.

An old woman trav­els hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres, from the mid­dle of nowhere, to some­where else in the mid­dle of nowhere, in the freez­ing cold, to gath­er and take back pota­toes, so she has some­thing to live off.

One of the many out­takes so won­der­ful­ly made use of in Bit­ter Lake.

Teenage girls are schooled in how to com­port them­selves in beau­ty con­tests. The Moscow police force prac­tice shoot­ing guns, aid­ed by the record­ed sounds of gun fire, as they can’t afford to use actu­al bul­lets. Pro­to punk rock bands per­form in under­ground clubs. Thou­sands of the des­ti­tute and home­less sleep in sleep­ing bags on the floors of vast train stations. 

And row after row after row of emp­ty shelves are silent­ly gazed at by the hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple, who queue every day for hours in super­mar­kets, in the hope of find­ing some­thing, any­thing, to eat.

You get an extra­or­di­nary and vis­cer­al sense of the sheer size and vast scale of the coun­try, strad­dling as it does 6 time zones, and the abject pover­ty that the vast major­i­ty of them had to live in, in unspeak­able con­di­tions. As a tiny, minis­cule minor­i­ty enjoyed a pas­tiche of cap­i­tal­ist excess in a hand­ful of gar­ish, city cen­tre clubs and sub­urbs in parts of St Peters­burg and Moscow. 

And in amongst all of which, there’s Gor­bachev, get­ting side­lined. And Yeltsin, get­ting drunk. And a coun­try, being picked apart, and left to rot and fester.

Until final­ly, a qui­et, unas­sum­ing bureau­crat promis­es to restore order. The oli­garchs shrug, and think, why not. It’ll still be us call­ing the shots. And so a func­tionary from the for­mer KGB is hand­ed the reins of pow­er. And sure enough, order is indeed soon restored.

What’s so com­pelling about Cur­tis’ film, is that it man­ages to both tell that sto­ry, with­out being bound to mere­ly tell that sto­ry. It’s that, and so much more.

You can see the trail­er for Trau­ma­Zone here:

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Russia on the BBC, Part 1: Putin Vs The West

Putin Vs The West, 2023.

Nor­ma Per­cy makes the sorts of doc­u­men­tary series which shouldn’t work but some­how do. And, after the equal­ly reveal­ing Iran and the West, from 2009, and The Iraq War, from 2013, she this month presents us with Putin Vs The West, screened recent­ly on the BBC. And which is yet anoth­er extra­or­di­nary win­dow on to today’s geopo­lit­i­cal landscape.

What she does is to per­suade many, and often most, of the prin­ci­pal play­ers to sit down and talk to her about some of world’s most con­tentious trou­ble spots. And the remark­able fact is, that as soon as senior diplo­mats, civ­il ser­vants and even for­mer world lead­ers vacate their posi­tions of pow­er, they’re more than hap­py to spill the beans about the con­fi­den­tial and high lev­el con­ver­sa­tions they were only recent­ly privy to. 

Iran and the West, 2009.

Far from being bound by any sense of omer­ta, they’re all too ready to tell tales out of school. They are, it turns out, no bet­ter than the rest of us. And it makes for riv­et­ing viewing. 

The most reveal­ing of Putin Vs The West’s three remark­able episodes was the sec­ond, detail­ing the plight of Syr­ia in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring. One of the first to react to the chaos that then erupt­ed was Gaddafi, who turned on the peo­ple of Libya with a vicious­ness that even they were unac­cus­tomed to. 

So the West went to Rus­sia hop­ing to per­suade them not to veto the sanc­tions they want­ed to impose on him, assum­ing that their request would be denied. But at that time, in March 2011, Medvedev was pres­i­dent and, to their sur­prise, he enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly sup­port­ed the idea of sanc­tions. So long, of course, as there were no talk of regime change. Absolute­ly not, the West assured him.

So Rus­sia abstained in the UN vote, but with­out impos­ing its veto. And the sanc­tions were passed. 

The Iraq War, 2013

But Putin, who then held the junior post of prime min­ster, pub­licly chas­tised Medvedev for hav­ing fool­ish­ly tak­en the West at its word, and for not recog­nis­ing the ‘cru­sade’ the West was on to destroy them. And sure enough, two months lat­er the West declared that actu­al­ly, the only thing that would save Libya was in fact regime change. 

Medvedev was furi­ous, and Putin used the West’s betray­al of him as the cen­tral plat­form in his bid for re-elec­tion, which, the fol­low­ing year, he won in a landslide.

A year lat­er, in 2013, John Ker­ry trav­elled to Moscow in the hope of repair­ing rela­tions between East and West, so that they could join forces to do some­thing about Assad and the hell he’d been unleash­ing on the peo­ple of Syria. 

Haven’t you learnt any­thing about your ruinous efforts at regime change, they replied. Look at what hap­pened after your dis­as­trous inter­ven­tions in Libya, and in Afghanistan and Iraq before that. 

But when evi­dence sur­faced that sum­mer that Assad had begun using chem­i­cal weapons, Obama’s famous red line had been defin­i­tive­ly crossed. And Oba­ma joined forces with Hol­lande and Cameron, the French pre­mier and British PM, deter­mined to inter­vene in Syr­ia with air strikes. 

But when Cameron put mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion to the vote in Par­lia­ment, he lost. And sim­i­lar­ly, Oba­ma learnt that he would very like­ly lose a sim­i­lar vote in con­gress. So when Putin, very much to everyone’s sur­prise, offered his word that he would under­take to force Assad to sur­ren­der his chem­i­cal weapons, if the West promised to refrain from tak­ing mil­i­tary action, Oba­ma, to everyone’s amaze­ment, agreed. 

Which, obvi­ous­ly, was an extreme­ly good thing and was absolute­ly the right deci­sion. But the way it was reached was, to put it mild­ly, murky. And, polit­i­cal­ly speak­ing, it was a dis­as­ter. The West had blinked. Red lines were, clear­ly, mean­ing­less, and the West was mired in dis­uni­ty – Hol­lande felt par­tic­u­lar­ly left out in the cold. 

The Black Sea.

A year lat­er, in 2014, Isis took over swathes of Syr­ia. And the fol­low­ing year, two days after address­ing the UN assem­bly, and to everyone’s com­plete aston­ish­ment, Putin sent his air force in to bomb Syr­ia, under the guise of attack­ing Isis – which of course was exact­ly the same excuse that the West was using for doing the same thing else­where. And for the first time in decades, Russ­ian troops were deployed on for­eign soil. 

The West’s response? It decid­ed to do noth­ing. Which, again, was absolute­ly the right response. But the mes­sage that it sent out to Putin couldn’t have been clear­er. The West was weak, divid­ed and spent, and Rus­sia was back on the world stage. And in a part of the world that was vital to its strate­gic interests. 

To the north, it had gone into east­ern Ukraine in 2014, with the cru­cial access that gives it to the warm water ports in the Black Sea – and in response to which, again, the West had done noth­ing. And to the south, it now had a pres­ence in the Mediterranean.

None of which, to be absolute­ly clear, in any way excus­es what Putin has so unfor­giv­ably inflict­ed on the peo­ple of Ukraine. But it does help explain his actions, and put them in context. 

We’ve very quick to mar­vel at how blind­ly peo­ple in places like Rus­sia accept the pro­pa­gan­da they’re fed. But we rarely stop to ques­tion the pic­ture we’re being giv­en. Putin is not the insane, unpre­dictable, car­toon vil­lain we’re con­tin­u­al­ly pre­sent­ed with. He’s pur­su­ing a clear polit­i­cal strat­e­gy that has its roots in the re-uni­fi­ca­tion of Germany. 

Thir­ty years ago, the West promised Rus­sia that that re-uni­fi­ca­tion would cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly not result in any expan­sion of NATO into the east of Europe. Since when, 14 of the 15 coun­tries to the east of Ger­many have all joined NATO. All but one; Ukraine.

What this film demon­strates so well is that Russia’s attempt­ed inva­sion of Ukraine is every bit as com­pli­cat­ed as the rea­sons behind the sec­ond world war, which so many peo­ple like to com­pare it to. And is no more black and white than that was. 

Paint­ing Putin as an irra­tional lunatic is lazy and lets us off the hook. Because it fails to acknowl­edge the arro­gance that we’ve dis­played towards Rus­sia since the breakup of the Sovi­et Union. And it con­ve­nient­ly ignores the chaos we’ve inflict­ed on numer­ous oth­er coun­tries over that same time.

None of which, final­ly, should in any way be read as any kind of sup­port for those two insuf­fer­able clowns that we Irish have sent over to the Euro­pean parliament. 

And none of which will do any­thing to ease the suf­fer­ing of the poor peo­ple of Ukraine.

Watch the trail­er for Putin Vs The West here:

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American Epic” watch, listen and marvel

Amer­i­can Epic

Amer­i­can Epic is an extra­or­di­nary win­dow on to the roots from which Amer­i­can music sprang. And it pro­vides there­fore the key to under­stand­ing all sub­se­quent gen­res that pop­u­lar music went on to spawn through­out the course of the 20thcen­tu­ry. Essen­tial­ly, it’s in two parts.

The first, Amer­i­can Epic, is the three part doc­u­men­tary series pro­duced by BBC4’s Are­na, and the 5 cd box set that that pro­duced. The sec­ond is The Amer­i­can Epic Ses­sions, which is a doc­u­men­tary fea­ture (effec­tive­ly episode 4 of the series), and the two cd box set that that generated.

Jack White and The Amer­i­can Epic Ses­sions.

The whole project revolves around the tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions that were going on in sound at the begin­ning of the 20thcen­tu­ry, and the cul­tur­al waves that those rip­ples pro­duced. For the first cou­ple of decades, the music indus­try had been an exclu­sive­ly mid­dle class enter­prise. Phono­graph record­ings were man­u­fac­tured so that opera arias, clas­si­cal music and Broad­way show tunes could be played in well to do homes.

But the inven­tion of radio in the 1920s seemed to have dealt a fatal blow to that nascent indus­try. Any­body with elec­tric­i­ty could lis­ten to any amount of music, all day long. So, in des­per­a­tion, the record­ing indus­try sent scouts out into rur­al Amer­i­ca to record the sorts of music that peo­ple with­out elec­tric­i­ty – and there­fore a radio – would be inter­est­ed in lis­ten­ing to on their hand-cranked phonographs. 

Charley Pat­ton.

They then went back to head­quar­ters with these stacks of dis­cov­er­ies to fuel the most pow­er­ful medi­um of the day, radio, with the same thing that all media are always in search of; content.

What this did, cru­cial­ly, was to con­nect the urban radio lis­ten­ers and the indus­try that served them, with an entire coun­try of rur­al com­mu­ni­ties that had, up until then, exist­ed in effec­tive isolation. 

In many ways, it was the field record­ings that came out of the 1920s that mould­ed and cre­at­ed a Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. And it was these record­ings that laid the foun­da­tion for what would become the blues, coun­try, blue­grass, soul, RnB, gospel, rock n roll, hip hop and each and every con­ceiv­able kind of pop.

The sec­ond part, The Amer­i­can Epic Ses­sions, focus­es on the tech­nol­o­gy that made all of this pos­si­ble. In 1925, West­ern Elec­tric made a portable record­ing appa­ra­tus that could be pow­ered by bat­tery. Scouts were quick­ly sent out to scour the coun­try to record any­one who had a song to sing and want­ed to have it memo­ri­alised on wax. 

Lead Bel­ly.

Overnight, a host of nation­wide stars were born. The Carter fam­i­ly, the Mem­phis Jug Band (because they used jugs in place of the instru­ments they couldn’t afford), Charley Pat­ton, Mis­sis­sip­pi John Hurt, Blind Willie McTell, Lead Bel­ly, Jim­mie Rodgers and Robert John­son to name but a pal­try few.

Depress­ing­ly, the US gov­ern­ment melt­ed down the vast major­i­ty of these 78s in the course of their sec­ond WW effort. The shel­lac that records were made from before the advent of vinyl was need­ed for the pro­duc­tion of cam­ou­flage paint. So by the time the folk revival kicked in in the 60s with its cel­e­bra­tion of all things Amer­i­cana, incred­i­bly few 78s were left in exis­tence. And none of West­ern Electric’s record­ing pieces had been pre­served for posterity.

The Cater sisters.

Until now. Because over the last cou­ple of decades, sound engi­neer Nick Bergh has man­aged to get his hands on the indi­vid­ual bits and pieces that the appa­ra­tus was made of, to painstak­ing­ly recon­struct a sin­gle, func­tion­ing record­ing piece. 

And he and pro­gramme mak­er Bernard McMa­hon decid­ed that the best way to re-mas­ter all the orig­i­nal record­ings that go to make up Amer­i­can Epic, was to invite cur­rent per­form­ers to record a song on wax, using the orig­i­nal, recre­at­ed West­ern Elec­tric record­ing appa­ra­tus. That way, they would all gain an unri­valled under­stand­ing of exact­ly how it had functioned. 

So Alaba­ma Shakes, Elton John, Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nel­son, Mer­le Hag­gard, Raphael Saadiq, Rhi­an­non Gid­dens, Los Lobos and Ash­ley Mon­roe got togeth­er with pro­duc­ers Jack White and T Bone Bur­nett to record an album, which they doc­u­ment­ed on film. 

Mon­roe by the way penned one of my favourite lyrics, with her auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Like A Rose, which she wrote with none oth­er than Guy Clark.Ran off with what­shis­name when I turned eigh­teen…” which is quite sim­ply the per­fect kiss-off.

Rhi­an­non Giddens.

Doc­u­men­tary wise, the 3 episode Amer­i­can Epic is the one to watch. The Ses­sions is basi­cal­ly an added bonus. Con­verse­ly, musi­cal­ly speak­ing, unless you’re an afi­ciona­do, you should go for the 2 disc Amer­i­can Epic Ses­sions, rather than the 5 disc Amer­i­can Epic box set. As the for­mer is that bit more expan­sive, made up as it is of orig­i­nal as well as tra­di­tion­al songs. Obvi­ous­ly though, if you can, watch and get both.

Tak­en togeth­er, the whole enter­prise is noth­ing short of monumental.

Watch Los Lobos here

And Alaba­ma Shakes here

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A Death Row Tale; making a storyteller.

Making A Murderer.

Mak­ing A Murderer.

Of the many depress­ing things about the dis­turb­ing Mak­ing A Mur­der­er, the most trou­bling is the idea that not one but two juries of twelve men and women good and true man­aged to find Steven Avery and his nephew Bren­dan Dassey guilty.

As is the pro­ce­dure with every jury, their duty was explained to them both plain­ly and repeat­ed­ly. They need­ed to be sure of the defendant’s guilt beyond all rea­son­able doubt.

And yet, these juries were able to hear how two men of sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er than aver­age intel­li­gence were able to vio­lent­ly mur­der a woman in their own home, before chop­ping her up and burn­ing her in their back yard, with­out leav­ing a shred of evi­dence or a sin­gle drop of blood behind in the house as evi­dence, with­out hav­ing any doubt what­so­ev­er as to their guilt.

I’m ignor­ing obvi­ous­ly the ludi­crous­ly placed car key that mag­i­cal­ly turns up in the mid­dle of the floor in Steven’s bed­room, in an area that had already been searched six times.

Michael Peterson, astonishingly, behind bars.

Michael Peter­son, aston­ish­ing­ly, behind bars.

That a jury could hear the evi­dence in the Avery and Dassey tri­al, Mak­ing a Mur­der­er, in the Michael Peter­son case, The Stair­case, in the Adnan Syed case, Ser­i­al sea­son 1, and in the Tim Cole case, from Paul Kix’s recent New York­er piece ‘Recog­ni­tion’, and not see in front of them a moun­tain of doubt form­ing before their very eyes is quite sim­ply hard to credit.

Which is not to say that they were all nec­es­sar­i­ly inno­cent, just that there was some doubt as to their guilt. That any­one could have heard any of those tri­als and not come away with at least a few, rea­son­able doubts almost defies belief.

The most char­i­ta­ble thing that can be said, and I’m clutch­ing at straws here, is that it is no longer rea­son­able to expect ordi­nary peo­ple to be able to ignore the media cir­cus that inevitably springs up around the more lurid cas­es. And that the sort of unin­formed tabloid jour­nal­ism that that pro­duces is impos­si­ble for a jury to steer clear of in this age of twen­ty-four hour “news” coverage.

Adnan Syed, whose story is told in Serial.

Adnan Syed, whose sto­ry is told in Serial.

Per­haps it is time to dis­pense with the jury sys­tem when it comes to mur­der tri­als. At least then, all we would have to deal with is the gross inep­ti­tude of the judi­cial sys­tem, and the blind prej­u­dices of some of its prac­ti­tion­ers deter­mined to prof­it by it.

So it was with a heavy heart that I sat down to watch A Death Row Tale: The Fear of 13. After watch­ing Mak­ing A Mur­der­er, The Stair­case, and lis­ten­ing to Ser­i­al, all of which are cap­ti­vat­ing if unre­lent­ing­ly depress­ing, the prospect of wit­ness­ing yet anoth­er inex­plic­a­ble mis­car­riage of jus­tice real­ly didn’t appeal to me.

I’ll not give any of the details of Nick Yarris’ extra­or­di­nary sto­ry away, except to say that even­tu­al­ly, and mer­ci­ful­ly, it bucks the trend.

Masterful storyteller David Yarris.

Mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller Nick Yarris.

I’m almost embar­rassed to con­fess that this is yet anoth­er Sto­ryville doc­u­men­tary that I’m rec­om­mend­ing (reviewed ear­li­er here). But then I remem­ber all those over-pro­duced, idea-free fran­chise films, the pedes­tri­an­ly pro­duced tele­vi­sion pro­grammes and all those need­less­ly pub­lished books that get foist­ed on us every week, and I remind myself that the likes of Sto­ryville need to be cel­e­brat­ed loud­ly from the tops of every and all avail­able rooftops.

But the last word has to go to Nick Yarris. It was incred­i­bly brave of film mak­er David Sington to make a film made up almost entire­ly of one man sit­ting in a chair and talk­ing to us. But then again, what a man.

When Nick Yarris went to gaol at the age of 22, he arrived there as an anti-social drug addict who was bare­ly able to read and write. And yet, through noth­ing than his his own force of will, he re-made him­self as a thought­ful, edu­cat­ed and qui­et­ly intel­li­gent man who would even­tu­al­ly trans­form him­self into a daz­zling­ly bril­liant sto­ry­teller. And what a tale.

You can see the trail­er for A Death Row Tale here, for Mak­ing a Mur­der­er here, and The Stair­case here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Storyville and this golden age of documentary film making.

Muscle Shoals.

Mus­cle Shoals.

The BBC4 doc­u­men­tary strand Sto­ryville isn’t part of what is clear­ly a gold­en age of doc­u­men­tary film mak­ing, it’s the prin­ci­ple dri­ving force respon­si­ble for bring­ing this age into being.

Since kick­ing off in 2007-08, Sto­ryville has helped fund over one hun­dred doc­u­men­taries, each one even more impres­sive than the last.

In the 2013–14 sea­son there was The Gate­keep­ers where we heard from the last six heads of the Israeli secret ser­vice, the Shin Bet, reviewed ear­li­er here. Plus the myth­ic Mus­cle Shoals: The Great­est Record­ing stu­dio in the World, reviewed ear­li­er here, and the fas­ci­nat­ing Google and the World Brain on Google’s attempt to dig­i­tize the world’s books, and what that might mean for the rest of us. And then there was the absolute­ly riv­et­ing The House I Live In, on America’s doomed war on drugs, and the way that their whole penal sys­tem has become lit­tle more than an elab­o­rate excuse for insti­tu­tion­alised racism, reviewed ear­li­er here.

The remarkable Rodriguez.

The remark­able Rodriguez.

Then in 2014–15 there was Mugabe and the Democ­rats, the sur­pris­ing­ly mov­ing Par­ti­cle Fever: The Hunt for the Hig­gs Boson, and the majes­tic Search­ing For Sug­ar Man about the gen­uine­ly extra­or­di­nary singer Rodriguez, reviewed ear­li­er here.

Here, very briefly, are four from the cur­rent 2015–16 season:

Cartel Land.

Car­tel Land.

Car­tel Land brings vivid­ly to life quite how unimag­in­able life in Mex­i­co has become. When his three neigh­bours are behead­ed by one of the local drug car­tels, the local doc­tor Jose Mire­les decides it’s time to take the law into his own hands. So he and a few of his sim­i­lar­ly des­per­ate neigh­bours take up arms and set up the autode­fen­sas.

And with­in a few weeks, he and his civic mind­ed vig­i­lantes are mov­ing through the state, con­vinc­ing cit­i­zens from vil­lage to vil­lage to join them, take up arms, and defend them­selves against the maraud­ing cartels.

With­out wish­ing in any way to spoil the sto­ry, what hap­pens next is all too pre­dictable. It is stag­ger­ing to wit­ness quite how cor­rupt Mex­i­co has become, at every con­ceiv­able lev­el, from top to bot­tom. And quite how impos­si­ble it seems to be to free your­self from it. And although on the sur­face this isn’t a depress­ing film, the more you think about it, and you will think about it, the more dispir­it­ing a place the world seems to have become.

A sobre Amos Oz listens to his younger self.

A sober Amos Oz lis­tens to his younger self.

The six-day war: Cen­sored Voic­es is very much a com­pan­ion piece to The Gate­keep­ers above. When the cel­e­brat­ed nov­el­ist Amos Oz came back to the Kib­butz where he lived for so much of his life after fight­ing in the 6 day war, he and his fel­low sol­diers were so con­flict­ed by what they had just been a part of, that they each record­ed a series of inter­views with one anoth­er so that they could air and explore that unease.

The basic ques­tion they asked them­selves was, how can what was sup­posed to have been a defen­sive war result in the mass depor­ta­tion of tens of thou­sands of peo­ple from their land?

Near­ly half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, we watch as the elder­ly men lis­ten to what their thoughts had been bare­ly ten days after what many peo­ple at the time were cel­e­brat­ing as Israel’s finest hour.

The remarkable Brenda Myers-Powell.

The remark­able Bren­da Myers-Powell.

FBI Under­cov­er seems like an innocu­ous enough tale. We fol­low one of the many very ordi­nary, and com­plete­ly unqual­i­fied peo­ple recruit­ed by the FBI after Sep­tem­ber 11th to root out ter­ror­ism. And then we fol­low the Mus­lim man he has been sent to trap. And sud­den­ly, with­out any­thing actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing, a young man’s life has been com­plete­ly ruined.

If you’ve ever won­dered how Daesh man­ages to attract its recruits, this will go some way to help explain­ing it.

And final­ly, Dream­catch­er: Sur­viv­ing Chicago’s Streets fol­lows a reformed pros­ti­tute as she walks the streets of Chica­go bring­ing life-sav­ing suc­cour to her for­mer col­leagues. Which sounds hope­less­ly earnest and hor­ri­bly dull, but is in fact incred­i­bly mov­ing. Bren­da Myers-Pow­ell is quite sim­ply a liv­ing saint.

So often doc­u­men­taries feel like some­thing you ought to watch rather than some­thing you’d like to watch. In real­i­ty, all of the above are unmiss­able. And if you can’t access the BBC iPlay­er, get your­self a VPN.

It will take about 10 min­utes to set up, but once it’s done you’re set. I use Sat­urn­VPN. It’ll cost you no more than about $20 a year. It’s like Net­flix for the intel­lec­tu­al­ly curi­ous. It’s the best invest­ment you’ll make all year.

You can see the trail­er for The Six-day War:Censored Voic­es here.

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