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The Unusual Subjects

MUBI Special

Have you ever wondered about the diverse reaches (and implications) of dust? Wanted to know the history of a Coney Island roller coaster? What about what it’s like to work on a globe-trotting cargo trip? Or what it takes to compose some of the world’s most adventurous electronic music? Welcome to The Unusual Subjects, a series of eclectic documentaries plunging into topics few venture to explore.

Agave: Spirit of a Nation

Nick Kovacic, Matthew Riggieri United States, 2018

Carefully observing the harvest of agave and its production into liquor, this enthralling documentary looks at the plant and its place in Mexican culture. Following multiple families and their history, the film uses animation and archival footage to investigate its fascinating botanical subject.


Vanessa Gould United States, 2016

A single day in the New York Times’ obituary writers’ room, Vanessa Gould’s deftly structured Obit is a journey into one of the world’s most fascinating professions. Moving beyond curiosity for writing craft, the film hints at the philosophical questions about mortality that concern us all.

Saving Brinton

Tommy Haines, Andrew Sherburne United States, 2017

A delicate portrait of a rare film collection and the man who has dedicated his life to preserving it, this delightful documentary is a must-see for film lovers. Saving Brinton also wonderfully showcases some of those movies (including ones by Georges Méliès!) and the community that they unite.

The Lost Arcade

Kurt Vincent United States, 2015

Coming in 7 days
The Unusual Subjects

Chinatown Fair opened as a penny arcade in Manhattan’s Chinatown in 1944. Over the decades, it became an institution, surviving turf wars, changing tastes and the growth of home gaming. As the neighborhood gentrified this haven for a diverse, unlikely community faced its strongest challenge yet.

Dawson City: Frozen Time

Bill Morrison United States, 2016

A history lesson had never been so mesmerizing! This wondrous work of cinematic excavation by Bill Morrison is an archival odyssey into the abyss of capitalism. The documentary is an exquisite ode to the materiality of celluloid and a political and poetic act of resistance in the digital age.

Second Time Around

Dora García Belgium, 2018

Dora Garcia’s daring film asks what Lacanian-theorist Oscar Masotta’s work from Dirty War-era Argentina tells us about the present. Sharply meshing various forms—performance, text, dramatization—Second Time Around engages with Masotta’s legacy and its context of state-sanctioned terror.


Agostino Ferrente France, 2019

The Unusual Subjects

Agostino Ferrente provided two Neapolitan teenagers with phones to record their surroundings, forming this tender look at friendship. Despite dealing with a death and the background presence of the Mafia, it retains the boys’ youthful innocence by removing the contrived qualities of performance.

Memory Exercises

Paz Encina Paraguay, 2016

Through the childhood memories of Agustín Goiburú’s children, Paz Encina traces the life in exile and disappearance of a dissident of Paraguay’s dictatorship. Absence imbues the poetic images of this evocative documentary, conveying the impact of the violent, political past on the personal present.


Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen United States, 2017

Jeff Malmberg, director of the beloved doc Marwencol, returns with another uncanny venture into the world of storytelling. Entirely immersed in the culture of the remote town of Monticchiello, Spettacolo slowly unfurls the many curative possibilities performance holds for this moribund community.

Infinite Football

Corneliu Porumboiu Romania, 2018

Is there a better way to play soccer? Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu (The Whistlers) brings his delightfully inquisitive and dryly humorous perspective to a truly one-of-a-kind man who imagines just that. And if a beloved sport can be re-thought, can we re-imagine a better world?

Angry Inuk

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril Canada, 2016

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril takes her crew back to her home village of Kimmirut, Nunavut to rally a rebuttal to the misguided and oppressive worldwide anti-sealing movement in this refreshing piece of activism-as-cinema. Angry Inuk offers an imperative perspective of the Canadian First Nations experience.

The Other Side

Roberto Minervini Italy, 2015

Italian auteur Roberto Minervini has forged his own immersive style of hybrid docudrama. Here, he ventures to Louisiana to provide a bifurcated view of Southern white poverty. Through an intimate bond with his subjects The Other Side patiently deciphers the recent turns in American politics.


Steven Eastwood United Kingdom, 2017

The Unusual Subjects

Actively exploring ethical boundaries and the limits of non-fiction representation, British artist filmmaker Steven Eastwood’s vital second feature quietly interrogates our cultural taboo of death and—in an act of cinematic generosity—chooses to not look away from those whose life is about to end.


Michael Almereyda United States, 2016

The uncanny life of an unsung Hollywood legend is unfurled in this intimate documentary by Michael Almereyda (Marjorie Prime). Anecdotes ranging from past romances and the inception of Blade Runner to the world flamenco are indelibly matched with tangential cinematic scenes rephrased as memories.

Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections

Jonas Mekas United States, 1990

A career-spanning chronicle of one of Jonas Mekas’ contemporaries: the American artist Andy Warhol. In diaries between 1962 and 1982, Mekas captures his everyday life, celebrity, and friends, among them: The Velvet Underground, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Grizzly Man

Werner Herzog United States, 2005

Werner Herzog realized one of his most (and justly!) renowned films with this portrait of the tragic environmentalist Timothy Treadwell. Grizzly Man is perhaps the German auteur’s most lucid rumination on a theme so central to his prolific career: humanity’s tenuous relationship with nature.

Among Wolves

Shawn Convey Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2016

In this delicate documentary from Bosnia, survivors of the war sort through the pieces of their collective trauma by answering their sense of neglect with a quest to protect a herd of wild horses. Among Wolves indelibly expresses the healing connection between human and beast amid the ashes of war.

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film

Erin Beckloff, Andrew P. Quinn United States, 2016

The Unusual Subjects

The craft of letterpress and its tactile, machine beauty is captured in all of its splendor and exactitude in this lovely documentary. Lively interviews with seasoned pros of the waning trade and the intrepid pupils set on keeping it alive capture an indispensable practice at a crossroads.

Project Nim

James Marsh United Kingdom, 2011

Winner of the Best World Cinema Documentary award at Sundance, Project Nim affectionately and humorously captures the story of the chimpanzee Nim. Mostly composed of interviews and home movies, the portrait of this experiment, both scientific and social, is as endearing as it is devastating.

The Creeping Garden

Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp United Kingdom, 2014

The scientific anomaly of slime mold is at the center of this doc which continually spirals outwards, encompassing the topics of art, the universe, and even cinema history. Whether you’re interested in the mystery organism or not, there’s much to discover in this unexpected, philosophical journey.

Two Years at Sea

Ben Rivers United Kingdom, 2011

This gorgeous documentary from UK artist Ben Rivers (whose short film Trees Down Here we showed last autumn) is the tranquil yet fascinated study of a life of unique solitude. Using 16mm black and white film, Rivers captures the palpable feel of isolation from the modern world. Transfixing.


Jem Cohen United States, 2015

One of American cinema’s foremost travelers—not only to places, but between traditional kinds of movies—Jem Cohen’s films excitedly hum as essential transmissions we need to see and hear. Perhaps none of his work is as electric in this way as Counting, an intoxicating mix travelogue and essay film.

Giuseppe Makes a Movie

Adam Rifkin United States, 2014

Focusing on the titular DIY auteur and his no-budget production in Ventura, California, Giueseppe Makes a Movie is an ecstatic plunge into ingenuity pairing with genius. The passion and community here is what the movies are all about—portraits of filmmaking don’t get any more inspiring than this.

Wild Plants

Nicolas Humbert Switzerland, 2016

Gardening is refreshingly reinterpreted as a punk, anti-establishment movement in this lively globe-trotting documentary. Doubling also as a series of inter-connected portraitures, Wild Plants offers a unique look into the humblest of sub-cultures often underestimated through diverse perspectives.

The Lebanese Rocket Society

Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige France, 2012

Subtitled “The Strange Tale of the Lebanese Space Race,” this surprising, stranger-than-fiction documentary from Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige gives an overlooked true story its due. Inspiring, against-all-odds, and finely assembled from film archives and newsreels.

In the Game

Maria Finitzo United States, 2015

From the team of producers behind the legendary documentary Hoop Dreams, Maria Finitzo’s wise, patient film similarly commits its vision to a team of high school athletes and their communal quest for a greater education through soccer. A small yet intimate gesture of humanism of immeasurable worth.

Unseen: The Lives of Looking

Dryden Goodwin United Kingdom, 2015

Artist Dryden Goodwin chases an inspiring and thoroughly challenging impetus with but his first foray into cinema: an exploration of four varying ways of seeing the world. The material and the immaterial of our lives, societies, and cultures are parsed through exacting voices and incisive images.


Pere Portabella Spain, 1971

Innovative Spanish director Pere Portabella’s “documentary” is one of the most unique and experimental horror films ever made—a horror film about the making of a horror film! In its sneaky, clandestine production, it also stands out as a key work pushing Spanish cinema against the Franco regime.

Fish Tail

Joaquim Pinto, Nuno Leonel Portugal, 2015

The filmmaking duo behind the acclaimed What Now, Remind Me?, followed up that success with this gorgeous and calming anthropological portrait of a fishing village at war with encroaching industry. Fish Tail is study in a people’s perseverance and has a rare, tangible connection with its subjects.

F*ck for Forest

Michał Marczak Poland, 2012

We continue our Unusual Subjects series with perhaps the most uncanny subject matter of the selection: Fuck For Forest, for which the title effectively doubles as a synopsis. We’ll say no more. Winner of the Best Documentary at the Warsaw International Film Festival.

Portrait of a Garden

Rosie Stapel Netherlands, 2015

A truly undiscovered subject is chased in this enveloping documentary which at first glance concerns the life of a single garden, then expands outwards in subject matter towards generational gaps, friendship, and time itself. A lovely and generous look into a world ripe for discovery.

Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride

Amy Nicholson United States, 2012

Next in our documentary series The Unusual Subjects, a Coney Island roller coaster! The Zipper takes on a symbolic role in this ground-level portrait of a changing neighborhood, as the iconic and once-glorious Brooklyn amusement park tries to finds its place in a gentrifying and changing New York.

15 Corners of the World

Zuzanna Solakiewicz Poland, 2014

With archive and contemporary footage, this documentary profile of Eugeniusz Rudnik, a composer at the very beginnings of electronic music, is a unique synaesthetic attempt to allow its viewer to see its subject’s revolutionary sounds. Winner of the Critics’ Week Prize at the Locarno Festival.


Hartmut Bitomsky Germany, 2007

Ever wondered about the diverse facets of dust? Or the history of a Coney Island roller coaster? What about what it’s like to work on a global cargo trip? We’re starting The Unusual Subjects, a new doc series with surprising topics—beginning with a wry film essay on one of the tiniest of topics.

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