Raindance Picks Films: Documentary Film | Raindance Film Festival

When you are a film buff, filling up all those long, long hours that were suddenly gifted to us all by coronavirus (always look on the bright side of life, right?) is easy. Watch a few films; and then watch some more. What might not be so easy is navigating through all the content that is now available online. Trying to find something worth actually watching.

Let us help. Those that have been to the Raindance Film Festival already know our expert curatorial choices when it comes to the best independent films. Now we want to help you pick your next great movie to watch while stuck at home, with our personal list of indie and arthouse gems. These are films that made an impression on us, Raindance’s programmers. Every other Tuesday there will be a new list with a new film category, genre or theme, to get you through the next couple of weeks.

If you liked, or disliked for that matter, our suggestions, and would like to discuss the choices or get other suggestions on subjects closer to your heart, just email us:

Malaika Bova & Martyna Szmytkowska

Documentaries. One of the oldest strands at Raindance. And there is a reason for that. First, every year we receive very high quality documentaries. It is a fierce competition and for us a hard choice, but a very rewarding one. Secondly it has to do with our ethos. At Raindance we love to get a little political, to raise awareness and stir emotions and what better way to do so than a well done, cord-touching documentary? We believe in the power of films to inform and start big changes through open conversations and for us documentaries are the tools to do just that.

Martyna’s Recommendations

Documentaries are a powerful tool in bringing stories of social injustice, remote cultures or just awe-inspiring characters to a wider audience. As it happens, all my favourite docs are biographies of a sort. I’m drawn to narratives about extraordinary human beings and their extraordinary life stories. I find them motivating and inspiring. I hope these films will affect you too.

Free Solo

Dir. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 2018

The story of an incredible achievement, Free Solo follows daredevil free climber Alex Honnold and his journey to the top of El Captain, without ropes. It feels like watching a thriller, as the documentary brings the same sense of tension and fear of what might happen next. Only it’s more powerful because we know this is not fiction. A mesmerising film both because of the achievement and its portrayal of Honnold’s fascinating personality.

Available on Amazon Prime & available on Disney+ 


Dir. Asif Kapadia, 2015

The heart-breaking story of a lost young woman, who was also one of the most prodigious music talents of our time. This intimate portrait, built almost entirely from archive footage, details Amy Winehouse’s musical genius, but also Amy as a human being. Her fragility, the price she pays for stardom, how unbelievably personal her work was and how destructive her relationships were, including with her own father. The film leaves you with endless admiration for her artistic capacity but endless sadness for how her life turned out and ended.

Available on Channel 4


Dir. Wim Wenders, 2011

It was meant to be a film about Pina with Pina, but unexpectedly she passed away just as filming was about to begin. Wim Wenders had to pause and rethink. As a result, he gave us a breath-taking ode to the phenomenal modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch. The director and dancers from Bausch’s company say their farewells by sharing memories of the late artist, but mostly by staging and dancing the outstanding choreographies that were Pina’s life’s work. A must see for fans of modern dance, and Wenders aficionados.

Available on Amazon Prime

Malaika’s Recommendations

What is interesting about the documentary format is its fluidity. Somehow the film-maker is freer to address the audience and play with the genre, there are less formal boundaries than in a narrative feature. I have noticed that I like documentaries where the directors play with a format make it entertaining, captivating or offers a different angle on how to shape the characters and to stir a narrative. Below a few examples…

Bowling for Columbine

Dir: Michael Moore 2002

Some people find Michael Moore partial, I think he is a great storyteller. Bowling for Columbine is a display of genius narrative tricks to build the argument against America’s love affair with firearms. Michael Moore fires questions after questions, some may not get answered, others may get the wrong answers but his merit is to ask them and make them available and accessible to the mass. And what is impressive is that, made in 2002, this doc is still so sadly relevant today.

Available on Amazon

The Act of Killing

Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer 2013

In 1965 half a million people were slaughtered in Cambodia as alleged communists. Oppenheimer finds a few of the perpetrators, now happy elderly grandads and convinces them to act their crimes in the styles of their favourite movie genres. What is mind blowing is that through this extravagant and absurd ploy, the gruesome and unbearable reality slowly starts to dawn on the killers and through their eyes on us spectators. The unique way this documentary plays with the representation of a crime, involving the audience as witnesses of the perpetrated violence and drawing them into experiencing the killers’s catharsis makes The Act of Killing one of my favourite documentaries of all times. 

Available on Amazon

Dreams of A Life

Dir: Carol Morley

A picture of urban normality and loneliness, Dreams of A Life is a documentary about a beautiful and mysterious woman, Joyce Carol Vincent, whose body was found in a London council block three years after her death. Nobody had known, nobody had looked for her. Through the accounts of people who knew Joyce when alive, the film-maker embarks in a quest to give an identity and memory to a forgotten soul and questions the margins of normal lives in modern big cities.

Available on Amazon

Other Raindance Pic(k)s

QueerRomanceFeel-Good Films | Dark Humour | Absurdities | Women



Raindance’s senior programmer and programme manager, Martyna, has helped with curating the Raindance Film Festival lineup since 2013. In her previous, pre-Raindance life she was a talent agent in one of the leading Polish talent agencies. She has an MA in Film History and Theory.

Malaika has been a Programmer and Programme Manager for Raindance since 2017. Prior to that she worked as a TV producer with ABC News, BBC and Fremantle Media and programmed for five years the Italian Film Festival in London.