Some of 2023’s best docos are streaming on DocPlay

Streaming service DocPlay is a gem in the crown of anyone hungry for the greatest documentaries this world has to offer. It has the variety and the volume to make its relatively cheap subscription price well worth it, but most importantly, it’s curated to a high degree. That means: film festival favourites and award winners are in, brain rot “docos” on Yeti sightings and Hitler’s secret UFOs are out.

Naturally, some of last year’s best documentaries have made their way onto DocPlay, with a couple about to debut on the platform. Here are five films worthy of your time:

Beyond Utopia

One of the most daring films you’re likely to see, this Audience Award winner at Sundance centres on a family attempting to flee the oppressive world of North Korea. Shortlisted for an Academy Award but narrowly missing out on a nomination, this experience garnered acclaim through its use of hidden camera footage and general ability to film this daring escape.

“Extraordinary, effectively gruelling,” Flicks’ Aaron Yap praised during NZIFF. “A breathless on-the-run thriller and an eye-opening crash course in the country’s nightmarish, surreally oppressive dictatorship.”

The Eternal Memory

This Academy Award nominee depicts the Alzheimer’s battle faced by Augusto, an important figure in the Chilean media landscape, and the expansive love between him and his dutiful wife Paulina. Witnessing select moments in their lives, the film lays bare the challenges of life with a fading mind and the profound joy of a love that refuses to vanish.

Clocking just shy of 90 minutes, Maite Alberdi elegantly and sensitively presents vital slices of their lives. Flashbacks of his career reveal Augusto’s understanding and value of history, which makes his condition all the crueller. But this is not a cruel film. It’s a film about softness, the kind that’s generated by longstanding love, and how it can help absorb the heaviest of impacts life can through at a person. They read. They joke. They laugh. His memory may erase those moments someday, but Paulina understands and values the present moment, making the most of every single one of them. Through sickness and through health.

A Storm Foretold

Who could have seen The Storm at the Capital coming? Well, one Danish documentarian kinda did. Christoffer Guldbrandsen paints a trail that led to the harrowing January 6 events through Trump’s presidential period and revolving around one man in particular—Trump’s political godfather Roger Stone. Here’s hoping we don’t get a sequel.

Flicks editor Steve Newall gave it a very strong recommendation back at NZIFF: “Grimly fascinating in big and small moments, taking on increasing gravity as indictments against the coup-plotting former Prez and his cronies mount (this footage actually included in the Jan 6th Committee proceedings).”

On the Adamant

Last year’s winner of the Golden Berlin Bear observes the lives of patients of a unique kind of psychiatric centre called L’Adamant—one that floats in the middle of the Seine river in Paris. Sometimes, the talk football. Other times, they try to start a band. Some share their critiques of the current medical institution and their perspectives on mental health treatment.

Cinéma verité in its purist form, director Nicolas Philibert ditches any kind of sensationalism or filmmaking manipulation to present the patients/crew members of L’Adamant as they are. The result is an experience raw with humanity, graced with humility, potent in its ability to expand our collective understanding of mental illness, and thought-provoking in the area of psychological treatment.

20 Days in Mariupol

The hot favourite for Best Feature Documentary at the Academy Awards, this pressing film of immense importance captures the struggle of trapped Ukrainian journalists as they attempt to document the atrocities during Russia’s invasion of Mariupol.

The critical praise for Mstyslav Chernov’s film is unanimous. labelled it a “harrowing miracle of a film.” Hollywood Reporter declared it “gruelling but necessary viewing.” And IndieWire very pertinently stated: “Access and shock value aside, the wholesale dismissal of Chernov’s reporting by the Kremlin is the greatest endorsement there is.”