The Railway Children Return (Morgan Matthews)
Perhaps it was the drizzle of apocalyptic news headlines from which I needed shelter, but I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel to Lionel Jeffries’s 1970 film. E. Nesbit’s story has been moved forward to the Second World War, with the railway children now evacuees learning to live in the country. A key storyline is the help they offer an under-age black GI on the run from his racist American squadron. It doesn’t try to be a radical reworking of olde Edwardiana. But there are delightful cardigans and gorgeous landscapes, game performances by Jenny Agutter and Tom Courtenay, and happy echoes of Whistle Down The Wind. Respite during a long, chilly year.
Being In A Place: A Portrait of Margaret Tait (Luke Fowler)
The magical and mostly self-funded films of Orkney Islander Tait, who died in 1999, have many notable admirers—novelist Ali Smith among them—and they are increasingly being discovered by younger cinephiles. This exploration, by Glasgow-based artist and musician Luke Fowler, takes as its starting point a one-page (and never-realised) proposal entitled Heartlandscape that she submitted to Channel 4. He shows us the soil and skies so important to her, unearths rare archival materials of and about her, records old-timers who still remember her. This is no stiff, stifling biopic. Fowler doesn’t want to capture Tait. He leaves her free—still seeking, her gaze undimmed.
My Imaginary Country (Patricio Guzmán)
Guzmán is Chile’s most vigilant documentarian, its moral conscience. From The Battle of Chile in the 1970s through to more recent masterpieces such as Nostalgia for the Light, he has devoted himself to recording the country’s uneven, at times seemingly hopeless, efforts to be free. His latest is a searching, quietly livid chronicle of the anti-establishment protests that erupted in 2019 and that led to the decision to replace General Pinochet’s bent 1980 constitution. He channels the collective dreaming that ensues and gives a premium platform to an array of brave, startlingly articulate women in the forefront of the struggle.
The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska)
There have been many films, plays, songs and books about June and Jennifer Gibbons, two identical twins born in the 1960s to Caribbean parents, who grew up in Wales and for much of their lives communicated only with each other. Were they elective mutes? Crazy? (They were held in Broadmoor Hospital for over a decade.) Theirs is a story at the edges of comprehension. Polish director Smoczynska captures its social pathos, dark humour, sheer otherworldliness. She also wrests cold, compelling performances from Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance in the lead roles.
A Bunch of Amateurs (Kim Hopkins)
The most charming film of 2022 begins with a quote from Susan Sontag: “If cinephilia is dead, then movies are dead too.” The ageing members of the Bradford Movie Makers’ Club, which was set up in 1932, are intent on flying the flag for cinema until the end of their days. Their equipment may not be state of the art, and their budgets barely reach shoestring level, but nothing’s going to stop them making The Haunted Turnip or remaking Oklahoma! Along the way, there are some sharp insights about friendship, working-class creativity, and the value of amateurism.
Last Things (Deborah Stratman)
“What happens to us / Is irrelevant to the world’s geology / But what happens to the world’s geology / is not irrelevant to us.” So wrote the great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. His thinking implicitly informs this riveting essay film by one of America’s most consistently out-there directors. Drawing on science fiction, geopoetics and experimental sound, Stratman explores both the history and the future of the planet from the perspective not of humans but of rocks. She floods the screen with a stream of extraordinary images, colours and shapes that are as visually captivating as they are intellectually detonating.
Fire of Love (Sara Dosa)
Fans of Werner Herzog’s 2016 volcano documentary Into The Inferno will surely love this portrait of Katia and Maurice Krafft, the French husband-and-wife team who travelled the world filming and studying volcanoes before they were killed in a 1991 eruption. Dosa leans on their primary archive of sublime, sometimes extraterrestrial footage of angry craters and ash clouds. The Kraffts are quite a spectacle themselves as they yomp across inhospitable surfaces in silver jumpsuits. While the data they collected was precious, they were propelled by wonder rather than scientism. At its heart, Dosa’s film is an enormous romance.
All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen)
The sky’s almost the limit in this beautiful documentary about two brothers Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud who shared dreams of becoming professional bodybuilders but have now devoted their lives to caring for injured birds—specifically, black kites—that fly over Delhi. Sen finds beauty everywhere across and above the smoggy, polluted Indian capital. The brothers grew up in a poor Muslim neighbourhood that, in a time of heightened Hindu nationalism, is almost as much at risk as the birds. Yet the kindness the show to the kites, as well as the poetry of their observation, offers much-needed hope.
The African Desperate (Martine Syms)
I rather like the fact that I’m not sure whether I loved or hated American artist Martine Syms’s satire about highbrow art schools. It’s super-sharp, super-sad, utterly squirm-inducing. Fellow artist Diamond Stingily plays a black female student who’s on the brink of graduating from her MFA. She presents her work to a panel of pompous, sometimes patronising academics; takes too many pills and attends bathetic club nights on campus; has the most dramatic and disturbing make-out session since Malcolm McDowell played tiger in If.... It’s clammy, dispiriting, and makes pin-perfect use of hyper-modern sonics.
Photographing Justice: The Corky Lee Story (Jennifer Takaki)
Many Asian-American artists and campaigners have struggled to dispel the widely held image that they are quiet, passive “good immigrants”. No one did more to document that struggle than Corky Lee, a self-taught New York photographer who, from the 1970s to his death from Covid-related complications last year, pounded the city’s streets, chronicling protests against police violence, rallies for better public housing, basement-level poetry readings. This is a loving celebration of a shy dissident who, according to the New Yorker, “was to Chinatown what Bill Cunningham was to the sartorialists of Manhattan”.