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10 Great Documentaries That Put The Filmmakers’ Lives in Danger

04 January 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Polina Zelmanova

5. Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (Anders Ostergaard, 2008)

Burma VJ Reporting from a Closed Country

As the title suggests, reporting from a closed country can never be easy. Burma VJ was filmed by participants of the Democratic Voice of Burma, who took it upon themselves to become video-journalists and take as much footage out of the closed country as possible via the internet or satellite phone transmission or simply by attempting to smuggle it out physically.

Despite most of the footage coming across the border successfully, parts of it had to be reconstructed, which despite creating controversy regarding the ‘truth’ factor still maintained the documentary as authentic.

Initially, the Democratic Voice of Burma’s mission was to secretly create footage and interviews of the general life in the closed city, but the passive fight soon turned active and the video journalists were in the centre of it all to document the gathering and uprising against the government regime, with Monks emerging as the leaders of the protests as together they bravely show the world something ordinary journalists could not get to.


4. E-team (Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, 2014)


The E-team shows the lives of four people on the ’emergency team’, that take time out of their personal lives and problem to travel and sneak into some of the most dangerous and war-struck areas of the world like Libya and Syria in order to document and film the lives and experiences of the people there and the terrors they face as well as note the lack of human rights, which they then give to the media or use in court as evidence for justice.

The E-team members are in fact shown to be ordinary citizens with children and families, that only strengthens their courageous acts as their work constantly has them under a life threat as they participate in a war that they believe is everybody’s to fight.

The documentary will chill you to the bones as the audience is immersed into the tragedy and violence of some people’s every day lives, as the E-team inspires every viewer to step up to action.


3. Grizzly Man (Warner Herzog, 2005)


Grizzly Man is a particularly unusual wildlife documentary, not only in its style, but in its dark ending. Warner Herzog used the footage of Timothy Treadwell as well as interviews with his associates and family. Treadwell lived with the bears in Alaska and was campaigning for their protection for 13 years, the last 3 of which he was joined by his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, as he continued to shoot his experience and bond with the wild animals.

The two experienced a tragic death as they cancelled their flight home due to an argument with the pilot and returned to the hibernating spot of the furry friends where they were horrifically attacked by an unfamiliar bear, the audio recording of which was found but not used in the documentary.

Assisted with the footage, Herzog unravels the identity of Treadwell in an interesting manner that causes us to both glorify and yet feel slightly unsympathetic towards the man as we come to know his strengths and weaknesses through the picked out footage clips we are shown.


2. Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014)


In the age where technology has become a common part of our daily lives, Citizenfour, the documentary about whistleblower Edward Snowden becomes a must-watch for all citizens who value their freedom.

Poitras has been on the government watch list long before the release of this documentary, and so it is no wonder that Edward Snowden wanted her, along with journalist Glenn Greenwald to become the medium through which such vital and secretive information as that regarding the government’s public surveillance will be revealed.

The documentary follows Poitras and Greenwald throughout their extensive interviews with Snowden in his room in Hong Kong where they try to maintain privacy while getting their hands on the most dangerous information as Snowden uncovers the ridiculous extent of government surveillance over all US and UK citizens, as far as his knowledge goes, that threaten to turn the world into something out of Orwell’s novel, if it hasn’t come to that stage already.

All the way through the interviews there are paranoid interruptions as they await to be seized by the government at any moment, that makes us realise just how brave and dangerous what Snowden and the journalists are uncovering is, as they try to decide on the best and safest ways to reveal this knowledge to the unknowing public in the name of freedom.


1. The War Show (Andreas Mol Dalsgaard, Obaidah Zytoon, 2016)

The War Show

The Syrian conflict is presently one of the most relevant and tragic themes, affecting everybody with the amount of refugees being forced to flee. Despite the desensitisation society has experienced by being shown horrific photos and footage online and on the news every day, The War Show has enough heartbreaking and sincere power to put even the toughest viewer to tears.

The documentary is a brilliant footage collection showing the story of Zyloon, and her close friends, shot from 2011-2013 as they illegally shot (as cameras and filming are strictly prohibited) and put themselves in grave danger by documenting their lives in war-struck Syria.

Unlike the concerns of Western teens, their only goal is to survive another day, and do what they can to participate in the revolution and to fight the propaganda with their solid beliefs that at such unstable times become unstable themselves. Despite the personal approach, the viewers experience the conflict from within, getting access to the historical context of the war.

Being filled with disturbing images, and the tragedy of losing characters – people, that you come to connect with on screen by witnessing their every day simple lives the movie never comes across as ‘war porn’, but in fact emphatically yet honestly reveals its brutality and effect on the victims, portraying the war as nothing more than a show as we come to see.

Author Bio: Polina is an aesthete and cinephile, devoted to using the arts to revive “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” in hopes of loosening up the world by defying the unnecessary social restrictions. When taking time off her edgy crusade she can be found soaking in a bubble bath with a Dostoevsky novel.



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  • Abhishek

    Need to watch a lot of them.

  • Tiago Couto

    The Ambassador not only should be a in this list as it also should be the number one

  • shane scott-travis

    Strong list but Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana should top the list. He and his DOP were imprisoned and tortured as they tried to flee North Africa during filming.

    • David Cole amidst death threats went into hiding for a decade, had to change his name. $25K bounty on his head from the Jewish Defense League.

      • I don’t know. Cole is a strange figure, and self-ids as alcoholic. I’m not saying didn’t happen, but I’m sure he also recognises the value of promotion. Also manages to get his books published and writing gigs now– see his neocoen-ish yammerings at Takis. Fred Leuchter didn’t fare so well. He really was rendered persona non grata.

        • His documentary was probably the first of its kind I ever watched. Sort of randomly came across it on a P2P network long ago back in Yeshiva.

          • Watched it with your cousin Yankel, did ya?

            I also happened to enter the Holocaust history field at just the right time. Several things were in play. The freedom of travel and research in Poland, not possible during the Cold War years. And the amazingly inept, self-defeating criminal trials of Holocaust denier (yes, denier, not revisionist) Ernst Zundel in Canada, throughout the ‘80s, which made a lot of people who would have otherwise ignored revisionism think twice about the reliability of the Auschwitz story.
            Blame Canada! (…)

            If timing is everything in comedy, Cole’s seems to have been impeccable. His real preference was that belief in the orthodox narrative had continued undisturbed. But, failing that, he saw an opportunity to go larking about in a taboo field of study as well as in a newly opened-up Mitteleuropa. He could enjoy himself while gathering kudos for playing the beneficent Jew among a group of despised Nasis. Later, when he got bored, he could still list it as an item of expertise on his CV while potentially befouling the very idea of revision with his perfidy and obnoxious presence. The Jerry Lewis of Holocaust-Inanity Revisionism.


          • Reprise which comment? I remember everything, including the sea smoke from when you sent it to me last year. Multi famam conscientiam pauci verentur..

          • We’ll see OP from you on 88’s artwork 1/27. Also, looking ahead I will get acknowledgement of receipt of email within 48 hrs. You need to grasp I’m not exalted but burdened to know all your deep dark secrets. Less trouble or more one.