12 must-see documentaries on the Middle East

Published January 16th, 2014 - 12:50 GMT

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5 Broken Cameras
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Image 1 of 12: 5 Broken Cameras: One man’s chronicle of everyday life in the West Bank and the frustrations of Palestine’s peaceful protests against the occupation has won this heartbreaking documentary a slew of awards, including an international Emmy. Co-directed by an Israeli, this is about the power of community spirit against all odds.

Iran is my home
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Image 1 of 12: Iran is My Home: Shot around Iran in 2000, this video diary of LA-based David Diaan’s first trip back to his homeland after 20 years provides amazing insight into the Islamic Republic. Haunted by fading memories of childhood, Diaan travels the streets of Iran capturing every moment using a hand held camera hidden from the authorities.

Checkpoint
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Image 1 of 12: Checkpoint: Yoav Shamir’s 2003 documentary focuses on Israeli checkpoints across Palestine and vividly demonstrates the banality of the occupation. It shows the demeaning humiliation at Israeli military checkpoints, perpetrated by barely-legal soldiers, that thousands of Palestinians must endure as they attempt to go about their daily lives.

Epicenter
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Image 1 of 12: Epicenter: based on a New York Times best-seller, this documentary shows how Jerusalem is the epicenter of Israel, which is the epicenter of the Middle East, which is the epicenter of the world. Packed with interviews - Benjamin Netanyahu makes a cameo - it gives a foundation and historical context for how current events will shape the future.

It’s all about Lebanon
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Image 1 of 12: It’s All in Lebanon: Over 20 years since the Civil War, this mesmerizing documentary packs a punch showing the journey of Lebanon in the post-war years, and how it managed to rebuild itself. Via political propaganda clips, Wissam Charaf created a must-see film for all those curious about Lebanon, politics and the media. What's not to watch?

Syria Undercover Wael Dabbous
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Image 1 of 12: Syria Undercover: Reporter Ramita Navai goes undercover to capture the early bloody months of the uprising from inside Syria. Directed by Wael Dabbous, this Emmy-winning doc offers a first-hand glimpse of resistance fighters forced into hiding, protesters & army deserters risking all. As the conflict rages on, this film is even more prescient.

Iraq’s death squad
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Image 1 of 12: The Death Squad: This documentary is shocking and disturbing exposé of the torture and slaughter of Iraqi civilians - and how the Iraqi and U.S. governments help form “death squads”. The film also links the death squads and high-ranking Shia politicians, revealing how the Shia militia that these politicians control the Iraqi government.

The Oil Factor
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Image 1 of 12: The Oil Factor: AKA “Behind the War on Terror”, this documentary questions the motives for the U.S. wars in the Middle East - where 3/4 of the world's oil and natural gas is located. Using interviews and speeches by President Bush and other administration officials, it puts forward an untraditional point of view wars and U.S. foreign policy.

My love awaits me by the sea
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Image 1 of 12: My Love Awaits me by the Sea: Written and directed by Mais Darwazah, this documentary chronicles a woman’s first journey back to Palestine and is bizarre and beautiful in equal measures as it weaves together fantasy and reality. The woman is accompanied by her imaginary lover, Hasan, and she pays homage to a country tired of the occupation.

Frankincence Trail
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Image 1 of 12: Frankincense Trail: This BBC doc follows Kate Humble as she travels the epic journey across Arabia’s ancient frankincense trade route. Full of history and unforgettable characters, Kate’s journey also shows off the beautiful Middle Eastern landscape perfectly.

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Image 1 of 12: 9/11 Through Saudi Eyes: Much demonized by the Western media following 9/11 for its ultra-conservative religious views, this eye-opening documentary talks to all sections of Saudi society - accused attackers, politicans, journalists and ordinary people about their perception of the terror attack that changed the world.

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Image 1 of 12: Taxi to the dark side: Afghan taxi driver Dilawar was in the wrong place at the wrong time and wound up being one of many Afghans beaten to death by U.S. soldiers at the notorious Bagram prison. This 2007 doc examines America and the CIA’s shocking policies on torture and interrogation in the Middle East via a series of telling interviews.

With all the hype and the hyperbole of the Western media these days, reading the news headlines or watching a movie about the Middle East is enough to make your headspin. Sometimes you need to take yourself into a personal journey in order to understand the intricacies of any situation - away from Hollywood’s “artistic license” and sometimes institutionalized “Orientalism”. And that’s where the documentary comes in - the humble artform that strives to shed light on issues and get you thinking.

Now that everyone has an opinion on the Middle East - whether it's on the Palestine-Israel issue, the Syrian conflict or the U.S.’ past wars in the region - sometimes the best way to clear your muggy head is to immerse yourself in some non-fiction. Yes, bias does still exist in the realm of documentaries, but in a film genre that has no boundaries, you can’t help but learn.

So, to help clear your muddled brain when it comes to the Middle East, sit back and relax - in front of these 12 thought-provoking must-see documentaries on the hot-bed region of news.

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