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Six must-see documentaries of 2014

Journalism has always played a vital part in uncovering human rights abuses and corruption around the world. Film is a powerful way to bring these issues to life – it can educate, expose, galvanise, amuse, terrify, and even hold to account.

So to relieve you from the usual 'festive programming' over the next fortnight, we've picked six of our favourite human rights documentaries of 2014. Happy watching...

1. ‘Dancing in the Danger Zone’ by Marcel Mettelsiefen, Channel 4 Unreported World Shorts

Running time: 2 mins

Meet the young dancers and musicians at Iraq's only music and ballet school. Every day 17-year-old Leezan risks her life to keep her art alive against the backdrop of violence and increasing repression.

Our verdict: brilliant, haunting and brave storytelling. This short film is the winner of Amnesty’s Gabo Rado Media Memorial Award 2014.

2. ‘Bucharest’s King of the Sewers’ by Paraic O'Brien, Channel 4 News

Running time: 12 mins

Deep below the streets in the heart of Romania’s capital city, live Bucharest’s forgotten generation. The underground tunnels and sewers are home to men, women and children addled with drug addiction, HIV and TB.

Under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, thousands of children were placed in state orphanages. With the fall of communism in 1989, many of those children moved onto the streets. This is what happened to them – twenty-five years on.

Paraic O’Brien’s courageous and compassionate reporting won him the Amnesty Media Award for TV news. The fact that this is taking place in a European country in the 21st century makes it all the more extraordinary.

Warning: This video contains strong scenes of drug use that some viewers may find distressing.

3. ‘The Act of Killing’ by Joshua Oppenheimer, Final Cut for Real/Sky TV

Running time: 166 mins

This truly chilling documentary challenges the unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads to recreate some of their killings in the style of different Hollywood genres: gangsters, westerns, musicals. As they re-enact their atrocities, they become increasingly aware of the true horror of their actions.

Yes, it's as surreal as it sounds. But it's also a clever and powerful use of film to expose a long-standing culture of impunity – so no wonder Joshua Oppenheimer's film was in our shortlist for ‘Best Documentary’ at this year’s Media Awards.

You can download ‘The Act of Killing’ in full here, or if you're still not convinced read more about it.

4. ‘Who is Dayani Cristal? ’ by Marc Silver, Pulse Films

Running time: 98 mins

In the Arizona desert, the body of an unidentified migrant is found. The name ‘Dayani Cristal’ is tattooed on the dead man's chest. Filmmaker Marc Silver and actor-activist Gael Garcia Bernal decide to investigate, taking them on a journey spanning the US-Mexico border in an effort to retrace his steps.

The film delves into the much-debated issue of migration, but does so through the story of one real human being. It was awarded ‘Best documentary’ at the Amnesty Media Awards 2014.

Watch the trailer below and visit to buy the film or find screenings near you.

5. ‘The Cruel Cut’ by Leyla Hussein and Vicki Cooper, Love Productions/Channel 4

Running time: 47 mins

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is when a female’s genitals or part of her genitals are removed for non-medical reasons. Leila Hussein’s captivating and powerful documentary explores the complex world of FGM.

Watch ‘The Cruel Cut’ in full on 4oD (You’ll need to register – it’s free – and log in to view it.)

Warning: This video contains very strong language, graphic images and descriptions of FGM. You must be 16 years or over.

6. The Unknown Known by Errol Morris

Running time: 105 mins

This portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense, is named after his famously vague answer to a journalist at a 2002 press conference when asked whether US forces in Iraq could be justified.

Rumsfeld plays the crafty politician and master of riddles throughout – as you might expect. He never cracks under the filmmaker’s lens, but nevertheless, it makes for fascinating viewing. Note his description of Guantánamo as a ‘well-run’ prison...

Download 'The Unknown Known' in full

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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