Political Docs: Gun Control, Terrorism Among Hot Topics Tackled By Filmmakers

Winter on Fire Still - H 2015
Arturas Morozovas/Netflix

Winter on Fire Still - H 2015

Politically focused docs in contention this year — including Morgan Neville's 'Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal' and Abigail Disney's 'The Armor of Light' — chronicle past and current leaders, movements and conflicts.

This story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The hyperliterate ideological jousts between conservative William F. Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal in the 1960s, captured in Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal, seem far removed from today’s Trump-dominated election fray. But Enemies and the many other political documentaries in contention this year still resonate as they chronicle past and current leaders, movements and conflicts.

Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, which burns with some of the intensity of recent nominee The Square, plunges viewers directly into the violent demonstrations of 2013 and 2014 that led to the downfall of Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych. Richard Trank’s The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, goes inside the offices of Israeli leaders, while in The Diplomat, David Holbrooke recounts the career of his father, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke.

In an attempt to peel back some of the mysteries of the Middle East, Sophie Deraspe’s A Gay Girl in Damascus looks at the case of a blogger who turned out to be a fraud, while gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma embarks on the Hajj pilgrimage in A Sinner in Mecca.

Closer to home, Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution documents the rise and fall of the black militant group that grabbed headlines in the ’60s. Johanna Hamilton’s 1971 revisits FBI surveillance in the ’70s, while Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s (T)error looks at a more recent FBI counterterrorism sting. Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land zeroes in on vigilante groups battling drug cartels on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Abigail Disney’s The Armor of Light plunges into the debate over gun control, finding common ground between an evangelical minister and a mother whose unarmed teenage son was murdered. And Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome to Leith explores a white supremacist group that attempted to take over a North Dakota town.

Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald with children from one of the thousands of schools he built. 

The news isn’t all grim, though: Aviva Kempner’s Rosenwald tells the inspiring story of late American businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, a high school dropout whose close friendship with Booker T. Washington led him to build more than 5,000 elementary schools for African-American children throughout the American South.