Tuesday 21 May 2019

Television: The documentaries that engaged and enraged us

'When Ali Came to Dublin'
'When Ali Came to Dublin'

John Boland

RTÉ got the year off to a good start with When Ali Came to Dublin, Ross Whitaker's informative, evocative and engaging film about the great boxer's 1972 visit (pictured left) for an exhibition bout in Croke Park. And late in the year it screened The Disappeared, a chillingly powerful film about people killed and secretly buried by the IRA.

That belonged to the invariably excellent Storyville strand of documentaries, and during the year BBC4 showed two other excellent Storyville films: The House I Live In, a despairing account of America's counter-productive war on drugs, and Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which left you bewildered by the cruelty of Putin's Russia when dealing with any form of dissent.

Meanwhile, BBC One had three outstanding documentaries in its Imagine strand on the arts -- an absorbing two-parter on Woody Allen; an equally riveting profile of war photographer Don McCullin; and a fascinating film about reclusive New York nanny Vivian Maier, who took thousands of images of American street life as a private passion and is now posthumously regarded as comparable to Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Other cultural documentaries of note included America in Primetime (BBC Two), a three-part series about shifting attitudes in US popular programming throughout the last half-century; and The Sound of Cinema (BBC4), an engrossing series about the role music has played in movies.

But the year's most arresting and disturbing documentary was No Fire Zone (Channel 4), with its frightening footage (much of it taken on mobile phones) of how the Sri Lankan military dealt with the Tamil population after designating safe areas into which they were told they could flee. The viewer was left feeling enraged.

Irish Independent

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