Panorama Trailer Park: True Stories: Documentaries

The final trailer park of the Panorama stream is documentaries- 17 features that show a strong commitment to both truth and creativity. VIFF is dedicated to fostering enlightenment and provoking discussion, and non-fiction cinema is essential to that mandate. If you can’t wait to watch them, tide yourself over with the trailers parked below…

AlphaGoAlphaGo(Trailer not available)

“I think it will be five to zero, or perhaps four to one,” says a confident Lee Sedol, the world’s greatest player of Go, the Chinese game of strategy, in the lead-up to his match against Google’s AlphaGo A.I. program. Because of its simple rules and near-infinite possible outcomes, Go is ideal for testing A.I. programs; Greg Kohs’ fascinating documentary follows the Google team as it prepares for the impossible—beating the champ—and reveals what could be a breakthrough in the humans vs. machines battle.

Armed with Faith

This harrowing documentary takes us to an exceptionally dangerous area along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Hunkering down with members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bomb Disposal Unit, Geeta Gandbhir and Asad Faruqi document their bravery and dedication. America’s military actions in the region have had deadly consequences for the neighbouring nations, and this film confronts a most agonizing aspect of the struggle. Tense, taut and ultimately quite moving, it’s a tribute to bravery and much more besides.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

“Any girl can look glamorous; all she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” So declares Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr, whose legendary beauty and affinity for scandal—denounced by the Pope at 18, six ex-husbands, drug addiction, financial ruin—blinded the world to the brilliant mind behind the invention of a secret WWII communications system that became the basis for modern WiFi. “The underexposed, amazing story of a Hollywood glamour queen who could have been a scientist.”- Hollywood Reporter

CanibaCaniba(Trailer not available)

Caniba is a film that reflects on the discomfiting significance of cannibalistic desire in human existence through the prism of one Japanese man, Issei Sagawa, and his mysterious relationship with his brother, Jun Sagawa. Rather than taking cover behind facile outrage, or creating a masquerade out of humanity’s voyeuristic attraction to the grotesque… we try to treat cannibalistic desire and acts with the unnerving gravity they deserve…”- Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Viewer discretion is advised.

Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?

The political and personal intersect in Travis Wilkerson’s revisiting of a fateful Alabama night in 1946 when a white man (who also happened to be his great-grandfather) took a black man’s life and never served a day in prison. Wilkerson, returning to his hometown to uncover the truth, frames his masterful film as a mystery investigation into this family secret. As with all good historical inquiries, Wilkerson’s powerful film speaks volumes to the present—and demands that we never forget.


Dina and Scott are set to be hitched and are adorably, head-over-heals in love. But, with each of them dealing with unique challenges—Scott has Asperger’s Syndrome and Dina has a “smorgasbord” of mental disabilities—an awkward case of cold feet arises. Scott is squeamish about sex, while his fiancée, very much an expert in that department, craves intimacy. Antonio Santini and Dan Sickle’s heartfelt and charming doc portrait “is alternately comic and tragic and best when it’s both at once…”- IndieWire

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey

“Dirtbag climber: n. a person who dedicates her or his entire existence to the pursuit of climbing…” Beginning in the 1940s, Seattle’s ornery Fred Beckey, now 94, made climbing as many unscaled peaks as humanly possible his life’s goal. Hundreds of mountains and 70 years later, he gets his due with Dave O’Leske’s portrait, which offers keen insight into the climber’s life—and beautiful archival footage—while charting the successes (all those peaks) and failures (all those relationships) of a man obsessed.

The Farthest 

Marking the 40th anniversary of NASA’s Voyager launch, this wonderful documentary recounts that triumph with verve and details the still-ongoing mission. Illustrated with fascinating CGI imagery and laced with anecdotes that run from the poignant to the comical, it’s a crowd-pleaser through and through. “[A]we-inspiring…It’s rare for a film to make one swell with pride about something he or she had no direct hand in, but The Farthest accomplishes that feat with aplomb.”- Variety

Good LuckGoodLuck(Trailer not available)

Two mining communities on opposite sides of the world, one blasting away rock for copper, the other dredging water and panning for gold; one deep below the earth’s surface, the other above, in the tropical heat; one state-owned and organized, the other independent and illegal. Ben Russell reveals the working conditions of miners in Serbia and Suriname through a careful mix of calm observation, focused formalism and ecstatic surrealism, finding common ground between these men, workers and humans all.


Inside a textile factory in India’s Gujarat region, shirtless workers toil alongside the many machines needed to produce dyes and fabrics. Working 12-hour shifts, these men earn the equivalent of $3 per day… Rahul Jain’s pointedly political documentary gives a voice to these workers while capturing the paradoxical beauty of the machines, both human and man-made, at work. “With the mystery and potency of a dream, Rahul Jain’s brief, fierce documentary… [is] a sombre, relevant piece of work.”- Guardian


Maine, USA, meets Mainland China in this look at Freyburg Academy, an American boarding school known for welcoming East Asian students. Director Miao Wang follows expat teens Harry and Stella as they negotiate this new environment, and she portrays their trials and triumphs with a sympathetic eye. Warmhearted and wonderfully energetic, this is a tribute to multiculturalism that never ignores its complexity. “[S]erves to remind audiences of the power, and beauty, in differences.”- Austin Chronicle

A Marriage Story

Helena Třeštíková’s film documents a staggering 35 years in the life and marriage of Ivana and Vaclav Strnad. Starting with a humble wedding and gathering in force as it progresses, the film has its share of quotidian moments but pushes into some unexpected territory as well. As time passes on and the triumphs and defeats pile up, the film gains a novelistic density. Fans of the British 7 Up series will be pleased, but this film has its own unique virtues. It’s an indelible human portrait.

Searching for a New ScienceSearchingForANewScience(Trailer not available)

Framed around a spirited, ongoing debate between Oxford physicist/devout churchgoer Ard Louis and filmmaker/avowed atheist David Malone, this singular documentary takes a deep dive into probing questions about the nature of the universe and whether notions like meaning, purpose, morality and even “god” can be reconciled with what we now understand about the world. Bursting with catalytic ideas and captivating images, Malone’s documentary is sure to inspire endless post-screening philosophical debate.


(Original language trailer)

VIFF veteran Michael Glawogger was a bravely experimental documentary director; he looked at the world with the eyes of an awed observer but never dropped his critical stance. Shot across Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa, and completed by Monika Willi after his death, Untitled documents poverty, the aftermath of war and more, making poetry out of the momentous and the ordinary alike. Glawogger has ended his life with a valediction on film—a gesture of love towards a troubled world.

West of the Jordan River

In this examination of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Amos Gitai displays his trademark curiosity and passion, taking us to the streets of Hebron and beyond to interview citizens about their resentments, hopes and fears. Also prominent are the journalists, politicians and activists who shape the dominant narratives of this struggle. This is liberal filmmaking in the best sense: compassionate, generous and open to nuance. There are many voices to be heard and Gitai ensures that each of them seems vital.


The complicated, controversial life of South Africa’s Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the “mother of a nation,” is the focus of Pascale Lamche’s complex portrait. Beginning with her marriage to Nelson Mandela in 1958, Lamche’s sympathetic chronology marshals ample archival footage and interviews with Madikizela-Mandela, as well as family members, allies and opponents to craft a revealing perspective on the people and events that changed South Africa forever. “Densely packed and informative.”- Screen

The Work

Twice a year, members of the public are invited into Folsom State Prison to join convicts—many serving time for brutally violent offenses—for four days of intensive group therapy. Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous vérité tour-de-force powerfully illuminates how trauma and toxic masculinity impact men on both sides of the prison’s walls. “An emotionally riveting documentary that may very well be the most powerful group therapy ever caught on camera.”- IndieWire

Tickets for all of these amazing films available here.

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