Bestiaire

The Best Documentaries of 2012

2012′s best documentaries understand people. It’s as simple as that. They include beautiful character portraits, from group pictures like Indie Game: The Movie and El Gusto to individual pieces like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Marley. Even the most issue-oriented films achieved their strength through keeping things personal, building powerful political and social arguments through the lives of their subjects. They chronicle the lives of victims who are also heroes, filmmakers who are also subjects, and unique characters who end up representing us all.

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  Editor’s note: With Bestiaire hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our Berlin Film Festival review, originally published on February 15, 2012. Before the screening of Bestiaire, writer/director/producer Denis Côté relayed a story about an audience member who approached him at Sundance and told him that she felt like the movie was less about animals and more “a movie about an audience watching a movie.” Even without planting the seed of this idea, it would have become obvious within a few minutes of watching the semi-staged documentary. It has an eerie ability to make you aware that you’re in an audience watching something, yet it does so magically without taking you out of the movie. The surrounding people are more obvious, but the images up on the screen are still transfixing. The simple way to describe this convention-bucking flick is that it’s a little over an hour of animals. That alone makes it watchable, but the brilliance of the project is in its more complex description: a film composed entirely of sequential static shots of wild beasts and humans watching or caring for wild beasts that shines a spotlight on observation and fine art.

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There’s a solid chance that you haven’t heard of most of these movies. Yet they exist – out there somewhere as a thorn in the side of movie fans trying to see as much as possible. Nuggets of potential waiting to be picked up from the movie orphanage by a distributor and given a warm home with cup holders in every seat. The European Film Market is fascinating for that reason and for the way people attend it. Tickets this year were around $600, but that’s a reasonable price for companies sending representatives trying to find the next moneymaker for their company or the hot movie to bring to their festival. That means screenings come complete with people on cell phones and unimpressed buyers walking out after ten minutes to hustle next door to see if the other movie playing has any promise to it. It’s a bizarre way to watch movies, but it makes a kind of sense given the massive size of the movie list compared to the tiny amount of time to see everything. There were upwards of 675 movies in the EFM this year, all of them with their own selling points. Here are the 87 most interesting-sounding with descriptions found in the official catalog. For the most part, I haven’t seen these movies (and didn’t even know about many of them until the Berlin Film Festival), but they all have something going for them that should earn them a spot on your radar.

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