Travelling and staying far from home can leave you tired and just wanting to crawl away from the outside world (actually you don’t even need to travel for this to happen sometimes). One of the most common ways of achieving this? Snuggle under the covers and watch a movie. That doesn’t necessarily mean escaping reality though: sometimes the weirdest, most fascinating stories come straight from the real world, through the camera lens and into your life. We’ve picked 9 films that do just that, which you can stream in your every hotel room for free.
The documentary genre isn’t new by any means, and nor is the phenomenon of the paparazzi – that sublayer of society that covertly (nowadays more or less overtly) documents the lives of society’s protagonists. Smash His Camera tells the story of Ron Gaella, widely considered to be the world’s first (and broadly loathed) paparazzo. Addressing timely questions about freedom of the press, privacy and the cult of celebrity, this is an important and relevant documentary for today’s times. Leon Gast follows Gaella as he retraces some of his most famous steps, talks about his subjects and responds to some of the many criticisms that have been levelled against him in over four decades as a photographer (the title of the film comes from the utterance made by one Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as Gaella chased her down a street on her bicycle; she later went on to sue him).
Covering another type of photographer altogether, The Salt of the Earth is a biography by acclaimed director (and photographer himself) Win Wenders, made together with Juliano Salgado – son of the film’s subject, the much revered conflict-turned-nature photographer Sebastião Salgado. For over 40 years, Salgado has documented some of the most disturbing real life human stories and changes taking place in all corners of the globe, including war-ravaged and unchartered territories. Now in the process of uncovering more unspoiled versions of the latter in his “Genesis” project, after the horrors suffered and caused by humanity, Salgado here presents the beauty of nature and the transformative power of encountering it: an empathetic, reassuring, life-affirming film.
Speaking of the unspeakable depths to which humanity can sink, we come to one of last year’s strangest – and one of the last decade’s most impressive feats of documentary film-making – The Act of Killing. There is no straightforward description for such a film, but essentially it is a re-enactment of the crimes committed by the Indonesian death squads, employed by the Government in 1965-66 to massacre over a million suspected communists, intellectuals and ethnic Chinese in the country. Still a raw and dangerous subject to enter into, director Joshua Oppenheimer decided to take the unprecedented step of convincing the perpetrators (many of them still in political power today) of these horrific crimes to act them out decades later, talking, singing and – unimaginably – dancing through the process. You will not come away unmoved or able to think about anything else for the rest of the evening, so watch it in company if possible!
There’s more bloodshed behind the facade of entertainment in Blackfish. Ever thought of taking the kids to a fun day out at Sea World? You won’t after seeing this. Exposing the cruelty, criminality and cover-ups of one of the world’s foremost Orca enclosures, Blackfish ventures into deep and murky waters to tell the story of how these beautiful whales ended up in such small, suffocating tanks, and what recent acts of apparently random aggression on their part towards their captors/trainers actually stemmed from – namely enforced captivity and unnatural habitats.
The open sea may be the natural living space for mammals and fish both massive and minuscule, but it is demonstrably no place for one man alone on a boat with only the water and his mental demons to answer to. This is the ultimate conclusion of Deep Water, the historical documentary that traces the tragedy of British sailor Donald Crowhurst, who in 1968 seized the challenge to circumnavigate the globe alone. Embarking on the voyage without even completing the construction of his vessel first, this should tell you most of what you need to know about how his journey ended. Except it doesn’t: Crowhurst was bent on victory and vindication, and though we can’t spoil the story, suffice to say that while he did complete the trip, he never made it back.
Anyone who’s read Stephen King’s The Shining or has seen Kubrik’s film version knows the special places in hell that the mind can take you to. Room 237 could count as one of these – “many ways in, no way out” as the official site ominously proclaims. Not so much a study of the film, author or director, this is a movie about the various conspiracy theorists and fan(tacists) who have taken their obsession with the undertones and secrets that have swirled behind the film for decades to a whole new level of invention. Room 237 picks apart each strand of symbolism, from inconsistencies in the Outlook Hotel’s layout to Holocaust references and Native American codes and even faked Apollo 11 moon landings. Outlandish doesn’t cover it.
If we’re talking about covering up the realities of life though film, Terms and Conditions May Apply sets out to do the exact opposite. You know those reams and reams of pages of Ts&Cs you’ve blindly agreed to over the years – well you’re about to discover some of what it is you have signed your name off on. It turns out that your network of group dinner pictures and social sniggering on sites such as Facebook and Google are of vast import to our Governments and big business. Thanks to Edward Snowden (the subject of his own intensely interesting and relevant documentary in CitizenFour) we are all now much more keenly aware of these practices, yet here filmmaker Cullen Hoback lifts the cyber lid on just quite how much of your private sphere you are willingly handing over to the public domain of our surveillance states.
Finally, we could all do with a dose of the wisdom imparted by famous Chinese dissident, artist and national provocateur Ai Wei Wei in the biography Never Sorry. Film-maker Alison Klayman documents his life and work, showcasing his artistic process as he prepares for an exhibition, his relationships with family members and his clashes with the government. His criticisms of his country’s censorship, policies and catalogue of public misinformation have landed him in prison, hospital and legal trouble but he only surges forth with increased vigour and passion. Fascinating, inspiring and necessary viewing.
So if you’ve got some time to spare before your next appointment and feel like learning something new, why not stretch your mind while you stretch your limbs out in your every hotel room?