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Concrete Playground's Picks For The 2017 Doc Edge Film Festival

Stories of a world in flux.
By Sarah Murphy
May 10, 2017
By Sarah Murphy
May 10, 2017

If you're anything like us, you're loving this colder weather because it's the perfect excuse to spend nights out cuddled up in the cinema. You've probably also been hanging out all year for the Doc Edge Festival to release its program. Well lucky you, it's out now and there are some real gems among the lineup.

This year's festival echoes stories of a world in flux. Mass immigration, refugees and life in war zones are all themes explored alongside stories of the underdog and those who inspire change.

Unless you review documentaries for a living, chances are you aren't going to be able to make it along to each and every film in this year's festival. To help you cut down your list to a more manageable size, here are our top picks.


Mohamed Jabaly takes his camera out on the streets of a city at war, joining an ambulance crew in Gaza to document the war in the summer of 2014 that left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead. Filmed each night over the 51-day war, the 24-year-old's portrait of conflict takes you right into the heart of the destruction and impact on civilian life. Expect to be thrust right in the thick of things from the word go.

Wellington: Tuesday 5 May, 8.30pm/ Saturday 20 May, 12.15pm

Auckland: Saturday 27 May, 6.15pm/ Tuesday 30 May, 4.20pm


Over two million Syrian children have had to flee their homes and make the treacherous journey to safer nations. As stories of the refugee crisis emerge, theirs are voices not often heard. Born in Syria changes that narrative. Told from the perspective of seven children with different experiences of migration, among them they have faced abuse, the harsh sea, the death of parents and bombed houses. Now, as they navigate life in new lands, they reflect on their journey so far.

Receiving praise for its beautiful visuals, Born in Syria is the latest feature documentary from Spanish director Hernan Zin who previously brought us Born in Gaza.

Wellington: Sunday 14 May, 4.30pm/ Wednesday 17 May, 6.15pm

Auckland: Friday 2 June, 6pm/ Sunday 4 June, 6.15pm


Fallen Flowers, Thick Leaves explores female sexuality in a society that holds tightly onto tradition. Giving sex workshops encouraging women to explore their sexuality, Hongli Zhen is a sexual psychologist working in a time of China's sexual revolution. In a nation where unmarried women over 27 are official known as 'leftover' and are seen as a threat to the ego of men, sex and sexuality is not a common topic of discussion.

The documentary highlights a range of stories, including that of a queer woman, those known as 'left-over' and 50-year-old Xiao who was widowed several years ago and is trying to come to terms with her new life while navigating societies expectations of her.

Wellington: Sunday 14 May, 2.45pm/ Tuesday 16 May, 6.45pm

Auckland: Thursday 25 May, 8.15pm/ Sunday 28 May, 6.30pm


The Toiinbo Cliffs in Japan offer a beautiful view out to jagged rock and the rough sea. They also happen to be a hotspot for those wishing to end their life and are the site of over 70 suicides every year. Such a common occurrence that the local community has taken advantage of the high incidence of suicide and now use it as a tourist attraction.

Yukio Shige has made it his mission to keep watch over the cliffs in an attempt to save the lives of those planning to jump. It's clear this is a documentary that not only delivers a poignant message but that you fall into, captivated by the seductive filming. In my opinion, these are the best kind of documentaries.

Wellington: Thursday 11 May, 4.45pm

Auckland: Thursday 25 May, 4.30pm


A supreme court trial, a community fighting against the injustices of power and a documentary that was challenged in court by a politician. You know this is going to be good. The Opposition tells the story of a small community in Papua New Guinea who are in a battle over land as a luxury hotel construction project threatens their homes. Exploring the ethics of development in emerging nations, the further it delves into the situation at hand, the more dirt that is uncovered.

Award-winning director Hollie Fifer is known for her portrayal of the bizarre and courageous. The Opposition is a story that needs to be told and is sure not to disappoint. 

Wellington: Sunday 14 May, 6.30pm/ Saturday 20 May, 6pm

Auckland: Friday 26 May, 8.30pm/ Monday 29 May, 5pm


You probably remember the story of Christchurch Boys High School head boy Jake Bailey, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 only days before graduating. His inspiring graduation speech touched the lives of people from all over the world, reaching 1.7 million views on Youtube. Jake spent 50 days in an isolation ward following his diagnosis, only leaving to deliver his speech.

Shot by student filmmaker Mason Cade Packer, who has also only recently graduated from high school and who clearly has a knack for storytelling, The Common Touch follows Jake on his journey to recovery which he hopes will help others going through something similar. No doubt one that will leave you with tears in your eyes and feeling like you should be making the most out of life.

Wellington: Thursday 11 May, 6.15pm

Auckland: Saturday 3 June, 11.45am


If you're into documentaries that provide an insight into the bizarre and quirky, you're in for a treat. There are 10,000 'Idol' girls in Japan — teenage pop singers who perform for crowds of mostly middle-aged men. It's a phenomenon that's been around since the '90s and fans often spend thousands of dollars on tickets to concerts, merchandise and 'handshake events'.

It's not really about the talent, the key to their success lies on how cute they are. The fans, or 'brothers', are said to generally be men who wouldn't necessarily interact with females in their daily lives. Yes…it all sounds a little creepy. If this hasn't quite caught your attention then perhaps this isn't your kind of documentary — for the rest of us, I'm sure Tokyo Idols will open our eyes a whole other world.

Wellington: Friday 12 May, 8.45pm/ Sunday 21 May, 2pm

Auckland: Friday 26 May, 4.30pm/ Friday 2 June, 8pm/ Saturday 3 June, 4pm


This is a coming of age story of a 17-year-old navigating life as a young black teenager in the United States today. Daje Shelton attends a court-supervised alternative high school in St. Louis as the result of getting in a school fight. She's lost friends to gun violence and is committed to turning her life around so that she can have a better future.

Filmmaker Landon van Soest says he believes Daje's story speaks volumes about the immense challenges the US faces to address racial and economic disparities in the education and justice systems.



The murder of Nancy and Derek Haysom in 1985 at the hands of their daughter Elizabeth and her boyfriend Jens Soering was the first criminal trial held in front of television cameras. But are the details that gained international media attention the full story? 

The Promise is the result of investigations over the past two years that has turned up evidence that previously was either deemed inadmissible or was suppressed. A bloody car, the Judge's friendship with the victims, a missing FBI profile, photographic evidence pointing to sexual abuse — it all points to a different version of events. If you like the podcast Serial, chances are you'll love this doco.


The 12th Doc Edge International Documentary Film Festival returns to Wellington (10 – 21 May) and Auckland (24 May – 5 June).

Photo: For Ahkeem

Published on May 10, 2017 by Sarah Murphy
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