DocFest 2019 – satanism, magic and very scary politics

I was lucky enough to attend DocFest 2019, I LOVE the festival and managed to see to 13 (mostly wonderful) films this year. I don’t have time to include reviews of them all – maybe I’ll edit and add to this list in coming weeks but, for now, here’s my own personal top three, a selection I think everyone should see if they can and why:

#1 Hail Satan? – trailer here

There are two films that came joint first for me, but this one just about pegged it – it was funny, entertaining and intelligent but also very politically apt and thought-provoking n top of all that. It was also a twist on the ridiculous fun-poking I had expected. It wasn’t really about religion or even bonkers people per se, in fact there were some super-smart liberals here who made some excellent points about democracy, freedom of speech, religious tolerance in a very wry way. When you end up firmly on the side of the satanists, you know there’s something seriously wrong with the world today. I’m hoping to show this to my students next year.


#2 – The Amazing Johnathan Documentary – trailer here

This was pretty much my joint favourite but is not strictly comparable to Hail Satan? as it is far less politically motivated. However, it is pretty much the mother of all documentaries in an artistic sense – a kind of meta-documentary, raising existential questions about the format itself whilst of course having a very funny, entertaining subject at its heart, the magician Amazing Johnathan (who I remember seeing on TV in the ’90s and enjoying his irreverent style). I can’t really say much about this at all without ruining it, but I can tell you that director Ben Berman (who has directed many fantastic US comedies) becomes as much as subject as Johnathan himself, and he hosted an excellent Q&A afterward – I was super excited to run into him for a chat after the screening also.


#3 – The Brink – trailer here 

A fly-on-the-wall documentary following Steve Bannon, former white house chief strategist. This is fascinating and utterly terrifying, showing how he is orchestrating the rise of the extreme populist right (Bannon calls it “The Movement”) across the globe, getting right wing leaders together behind closed doors, networking, raising funds and profiles – and it seems that he’s not even doing it for some strong ideological reason, but just for the kicks and power.  I’m including it here not because it was ‘enjoyable’ as the two above, but the subject matter seems very very important to shed light on right now. Seeing  backroom behind-doors snippets of Nigel Farage around a dinner table with Bannon and various European leaders of fascist right wing parties discussing how best to increase their popularity and power (just like Trump managed with Bannon’s help) made me feel physically ill: “every nationalist party that looks viable, I want to help”. That and Bannon’s admiration of Nazi planning tactics, and his overt (eventual) admission that his pro-Trump ‘press releases’ and trailers are actually propaganda.  I see online that the film has been criticised in parts for inadvertently honouring Bannon, in the sense that “Trump taught me [Bannon] a great lesson: there’s no bad media. . . . and the more the mainstream media gets obsessed with us, it’s gonna be your biggest ally.”  Despite this, it’s obvious the filmmakers do not share his politics and it seems important to document how these things actually happen, and that we should be afraid. Very, very afraid.


The other films I saw:

Don’t Be A Dick About It  – EXCELLENT

Mike Wallace is Here – EXCELLENT

Romantic Comedy – ENJOYED


Cool Daddio: The Second Youth of R. Stevie Moore – FUN

Hi, AI – INTERESTING but a bit slow and sparse

Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love – INTERESTING but

Maradona – INTERESTING but football is not for me

On The President’s Orders – IMPORTANT but too long

Plus another I’ve forgotten