In Depth

Truth be told: Unorthodocs screenings on the Strand

Dartmouth Films curates a series of six compelling indie documentaries at London's Somerset House this season

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It's often claimed that we're living in a "golden age of documentaries" and with many in recent years garnering the same levels of critical acclaim as their fictional film and TV counterparts, it's easy to see why. However, despite accolades, cult followings and thought-provoking subject matter, many award-winning and internationally screened productions are yet to make it on to UK television. A new series at London's Somerset House, produced by resident organisation Dartmouth Films, seeks to answer why, while providing a rare chance to see some of the leading lights of the genre in the cinema. 

Running until March, the fourth edition of annual festival Unorthodocs will showcase six independent documentaries encompassing a diverse range of topics, with the opportunity to join those involved in each film for discussions and Q&A sessions after the screenings. The War Show recounts the experiences of those in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, where any optimism attached to the revolution quickly dissipated in the turmoil that followed, while an equally personal take is explored in Hooligan Sparrow. The covertly recorded documentary follows filmmaker Nanfu Wang and Chinese gender activist Ye Haiyan as they fight against the police and local governments for the justice of six girls abused by their elementary school principal.

Some of the biggest challenges facing society today are also explored. The Islands and the Whales traces the impact of climate change and global pressures through the prism of the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands in Denmark, as the community's fishing livelihood is threatened. Meanwhile, with tumultuous times ahead on both sides of the Atlantic, the inequality of income in both the UK and the USA that is examined in 2015 film The Divide, which features contributions from philosophers Noam Chomsky and Kwame Anthony Appiah, continues to be just as relevant to political discourse as we head into 2017.

Others offer intimate insight into the journeys of forward-thinking individuals around the globe. Tashi and the Monk follows Buddhist monk Lobsang Phuntsok, who trained under the Dalai Lama, as he leaves behind his spiritual past to create a charitable venture in the foothills of the Himalayas. An innovator of a different variety – Rene Redzepi, the maverick chef behind four-time winner of Best Restaurant in the World award, the Copenhagen restaurant Noma – is the subject of My Perfect Storm, which follows his attempt to recapture the title during the most difficult year of his career.

Unorthodocs screenings will take place between 9 January and 20 March at Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA; somersethouse.org.uk

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