The Best Episodes of Storyville
Last Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Series showcasing the best in international documentaries on BBC Four. Storyville has developed an enviable reputation since its inception more than a decade ago. Screening over 340 films, from some 70 different countries, the strand has garnered a staggering array of awards: five Oscars, 15 Griersons, three Peabodys and two International Emmys. In true, unique, Storyville style, the new series promises to deliver the strand's usual eclectic mix of compelling stories from across the globe.
#1 - Hitler, Stalin, and Mr Jones
Season 2012 - Episode 17
An investigation into who killed Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. Jones's greatest scoop was to reveal the starvation to death of millions in 1930s Ukraine, caused by Stalin's policies. A portrait emerges of a fiercely bright young man who preferred a journalist's life of courage and danger which took him from smalltown Wales to even hitching a lift in Hitler's private plane. However, in a 1930s world of competing ideologies, there existed a fine line between journalism and spying. This film explores to what extent this dual role, and taking on Stalin, may have contributed to his early death on the plains of Mongolia.
#2 - Man on Wire
Season 2009 - Episode 27
Documentary based on Philippe Petit's autobiographical book To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers. In August 1974, French wire-walker Philippe Petit spent nearly an hour walking, dancing, kneeling and lying on a wire which he and his friends had strung in secret between the rooftops of New York's Twin Towers. Six years of intense planning, dreaming and physical training fell into place that morning. Already an accomplished wire-walker, Petit had caught sight of an article about the planned construction of the Twin Towers while in a dentist's waiting room in 1968, and at that moment an obsession was born. He spent every waking moment since that day plotting the details of his walk (which he called 'le coup') and gathered a team of people around him to assist in the planning. Petit's preparation was expert, thorough and top secret: he took precise measurements and even aerial photographs to help him construct models of the rigging; learned about the physical effects of the wind on the swaying of the buildings; even created fake ID cards and spied on office workers to plan how best to gain access to the towers without arousing suspicion. On that August morning, his dream was realised. Using contemporary interviews, archival footage and dramatic reconstructions, the film tells the story of this extraordinary feat, and also of Petit's previous walks between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris, and of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
#3 - From the Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain's Coast on Film
Season 2012 - Episode 24
Made from over 100 years of BFI archive footage, From the Sea to the Land Beyond offers a poetic meditation on Britain's unique coastline and the role it plays in our lives. With a soundtrack specially created by Brighton-based band British Sea Power, award-winning director Penny Woolcock's film offers moving testimony to our relationship to the coast - during wartime, on our holidays and as a hive of activity during the industrial age.
#4 - Muscle Shoals: The Greatest Recording Studio in the World
Season 2014 - Episode 9
Located alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals in Alabama is the unlikely breeding ground for some of America's most creative and defiant music. Under the spiritual influence of the 'Singing River', as Native Americans called it, the music of Muscle Shoals has helped create some of the most important and resonant songs of all time. At its heart is Rick Hall, who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming poverty and tragedy, Hall brought black and white together in Alabama's cauldron of racial hostility to create music for the generations. Greg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge and others bear witness to Muscle Shoals's magnetism, mystery and why it remains influential today.
#5 - Arms Dealer: The Notorious Mr. Bout
Season 2014 - Episode 20
Storyville follows Viktor Bout, Russian entrepreneur, arms smuggler and, strangest of all, amateur film-maker. Until three days prior to his 2008 arrest on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, Bout kept his camcorder running. He documented a life spent in the grey areas of the arms industry, crossing the line morally, if not legally, many times over before he was eventually undone by a post-9/11 crackdown. Dubbed by some the Merchant of Death and portrayed by Nicolas Cage in Hollywood's Lord of War, Viktor Bout gained notoriety as the world's most famous arms dealer. With unprecedented access to Bout's home movies and US surveillance material gathered during the sting operation to bring him down, this film is a portrait of a garrulous, adventurous individual, intent on exploiting the murky loopholes of the arms industry. Interviews with his wife, family and former business partners describe moments both comical and harrowing in a career which ended in a 25-year prison sentence.
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#6 - Weiner - Sexts, Scandals and Politics
Season 2016 - Episode 16
Documentary about American politician Anthony Weiner, renowned for scandals relating to sexting. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after his sexting exploits were made public. He attempted a political comeback by running for mayor of New York City, but his ambitions were thwarted once more as he was foreced to admit to fresh allegations. The programme also traces the personal cost to Weiner, his family and campaign team and the unrelenting media scrutiny on him.
#7 - This Was My Dad: The Rise and Fall of Geoffrey Matthews
Season 2017 - Episode 16
A profoundly intimate documentary filmed by Bafta-winning director Morgan Matthews over a period of more than ten years in the life of Morgan's father Geoff and his wonderfully eccentric partner Anna. In an attempt to reconnect with his dad after becoming estranged, Morgan uses the camera as both a facilitator and a filter that enables him to stay close during challenging times. The film follows Geoff and Anna through a financial crisis that sees them losing their home, it captures the challenges of their relationship, and documents the decline in Geoff's health as a result of emphysema and cancer. With the warmth, love and humour that is so often mixed up in family dramas, this is a documentary made from the inside by a film-maker who is used to turning his camera towards other people's families - but never his own. The result is deeply personal, but the themes of a challenging paternal dynamic, a relationship under pressure, and death in the family, are widespread and universal.
#8 - This is Congo
Season 2018 - Episode 4
A Storyville documentary. A raw and unfiltered insight into the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War. Over the last two decades, the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo has witnessed over five million conflict-related deaths, multiple regime changes and the impoverishment of its people. Following the lives of four diverse characters - a government whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer and a displaced tailor - this programme offers a visceral, yet intimate insight into a nation caught between the foreign-backed M23 rebels and the government ruled by president Joseph Kabila, who cancels elections and refuses to relinquish power. As the conflict resonates through their lives, the film reveals the insidious legacy of colonialism, resource exploitation and the genocidal wars that has created a never-ending cycle of violence.
#9 - The Internet's Dirtiest Secrets: The Cleaners
Season 2019 - Episode 5
7,000 miles from Silicon Valley in downtown Manila, a secret team of content moderators have a target of 25,000 Facebook, Google and Twitter posts to delete each day. Trawling through the world’s most violent, disturbing and highly contentious online material - in the form of terrorist videos, child pornography, self-harm material and political propaganda - 'the cleaners' are individually responsible for deciding what stays online and what gets removed. This film explores the hidden and complex world of digital content moderation where undesirable material is 'cleaned' from the internet by a hidden army of nameless people. The Cleaners raises important questions for all of us who use these platforms daily without knowing what goes on behind the scenes: Who are these people that 'clean up' social media and what criteria do they operate by? Where does content moderation end and censorship begin? And what happens when their split-second decisions affect the lives of people in political hotspots like Myanmar or Istanbul?
#10 - Love Hotel
Season 2015 - Episode 5
Through remarkable access, this documentary explores daily life inside a Japanese 'love hotel'. In this intimate portrait, we meet the everyday people who frequent the fantasy-themed rooms for refuge, privacy and play - a married couple visit to keep a spark alive in their relationship, two gay lawyers have nowhere else to stay and a popular dominatrix runs a thriving business. Pay by the hour or the night and order sexy underwear, condoms or anything else imaginable. Anything goes at the Angelo Love Hotel in Osaka, run by manager Ozawa and his efficient staff. Small living spaces, long work hours and the need for privacy drive 2.8 million Japanese a day to visit 'love hotels'. But now, these unique establishments are fighting to stay afloat against the 'entertainment police' who are shutting them down for what conservative groups deem to be overly risqué elements. A rare glimpse into a world destined to disappear.
#11 - Silk Road: Drugs, Death and the Dark Web
Season 2017 - Episode 21
Documentary looking at the black market website known as the Silk Road, which emerged on the darknet in 2011. This 'Amazon of illegal drugs' was the brainchild of a mysterious, libertarian intellectual operating under the avatar The Dread Pirate Roberts. Promising its users complete anonymity and total freedom from government regulation or scrutiny, Silk Road became a million-dollar digital drugs cartel.
#12 - Barca: The Inside Story (2004)
Season 2009 - Episode 4
Documentary following the fortunes of Barcelona Football Club over a year of crisis. With poor performances and spiralling debts, reform of the club is urgently needed. The new board, under the leadership of the charismatic Joan Laporta, attempt to turn an old fashioned Catalan family affair into a global football business.
#13 - Prostitution Behind the Veil
Season 2006 - Episode 1
Prostitution Behind the Veil explores a side of Iran rarely seen or talked about. For over a year, director Nahid Persson filmed the everyday lives of two young female prostitutes in Iran as they eked out a living in a country where the profession is banned. The filmmaker often took great risks to follow Minna and Fariba as they sought out customers-men who would often marry them briefly, so as not to violate the laws of Islam by having extramarital sex. The two women are good friends and neighbor, who have experienced the widespread mistreatment of women and the double standards that permeate Iranian society today.
#14 - Leaving the Cult
Season 2010 - Episode 16
Documentary about three teenage boys who escape a polygamist Mormon cult in Utah. Powerfully emotional and compelling, a fascinating insight to a community it's hard to believe exists.
#15 - Kings of Pastry
Season 2010 - Episode 8
Imagine a scene never before witnessed - 16 French pastry chefs gathered in Lyon for three intense days of mixing, piping and sculpting everything from delicate chocolates to six-foot sugar sculptures in hope of being declared one of the best by the country's President. This is the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition (Best Craftsmen in France). The blue, white and red striped collar worn on the jackets of the winners is more than the ultimate recognition for every pastry chef - it is a dream and an obsession. The finalists, France's culinary elite, risk their reputations as well as sacrifice family and finances in pursuit of this lifelong distinction of excellence. Similar to the Olympics, the three-day contest takes place every four years and it requires that the chefs not only have extraordinary skill and nerves of steel but also a lot of luck.
#16 - Hitler's Secretary
Season 2008 - Episode 5
Acclaimed film comprising an extended interview with 81-year-old Traudl Junge, who recalls her role as Adolf Hitler's personal secretary during his final years.
#17 - My Mother the Secret Baby
Season 2015 - Episode 14
In this funny and moving documentary, acclaimed film-maker Daisy Asquith tells the very personal story of her mother's conception after a dance in the 1940s on the remote west coast of Ireland. By exploring the repercussions of this act, Daisy and her mother embark on a fascinating and emotional adventure in social and sexual morality. Her grandmother, compelled to run away to have her baby in secret, handed the child over to 'the nuns'. Daisy's mum was eventually adopted by English Catholics from Stoke-on-Trent. Her grandmother returned to Ireland and told no-one. The father remained a mystery for another 60 years, until Daisy and her mum decided it was time to find out who he was. Their attempts to find the truth make raw the fear and shame that Catholicism has wrought on the Irish psyche for centuries. It leads Daisy and her mum to connect with a brand new family living an extraordinarily different life.
#18 - Last Days in Vietnam
Season 2015 - Episode 16
Documentary which combines astonishing footage from Saigon in April 1975 with contemporary reflections from those who were there. During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confront the same moral quandary - whether to obey White House orders to evacuate US citizens only - or to risk punishment and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can. The events recounted in the film mainly centre on the US evacuation of Saigon, codenamed Operation Frequent Wind. Vividly annotating one of the most haunting images of the Vietnam War, that of dozens of South Vietnamese struggling to climb the steps to a rooftop helicopter as Saigon fell, Last Days in Vietnam is a moving and visceral insight into this key moment in history.
#19 - The Golden Age of Circus: The Show of Shows
Season 2016 - Episode 1
Roll up, roll up for an unforgettable experience! This film tells the story of itinerant circus performers, cabaret acts and vaudeville and fairground attractions. Rarities and never-before-seen footage of fairgrounds, circus entertainment, freak shows, variety performances, music hall and seaside entertainment are chronicled from the 19th and 20th centuries. Featuring early shows that wowed the world and home movies of some of the greatest circus families.
#20 - Forever Pure - Football and Racism in Jerusalem
Season 2016 - Episode 20
Documentary which follows events at Israel's most notorious football club. Beitar Jerusalem FC is the most popular team in Israel and the only club in the Premier League never to sign an Arab player. Midway through a season the club's owner, Russian-Israeli oligarch Arcadi Gaydamak, brought in two Muslim players from Chechnya in a secretive transfer deal that triggered the most racist campaign in Israeli sport and sent the club spiralling out of control. The film follows the famous football club through the tumultuous season, as power, money and politics fuel a crisis and shows how racism is destroying both the team and society from within.
#21 - Poisoning America: The Devil We Know
Season 2018 - Episode 12
A Storyville documentary following a group of citizens in West Virginia who take on a corporation after they discover it has been dumping a toxic chemical into the water supply.
#22 - Zero Days: Nuclear Cyber Sabotage
Season 2017 - Episode 1
Documentary thriller about warfare in a world without rules - the world of cyberwar. It tells the story of Stuxnet, self-replicating computer malware, known as a 'worm' for its ability to burrow from computer to computer on its own. In a covert operation, the American and Israeli intelligence agencies allegedly unleashed Stuxnet to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility. Ultimately the 'worm' spread beyond its intended target. Zero Day is the most comprehensive account to date of how a clandestine mission opened forever the Pandora's box of cyber warfare. A cautionary tale of technology, politics, unintended consequences, morality, and the dangers of secrecy.
#23 - Mad Dog: Gaddafi's Secret World
Season 2014 - Episode 4
Documentary about the dark world of Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator who cannily combined oil and the implied threat of terror to turn Western powers into cowed appeasers.
#24 - Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds
Season 2014 - Episode 25
Renowned magician James 'The Amazing' Randi has been wowing audiences with his jaw-dropping illusions, escapes and sleight of hand for over 50 years. When he began seeing his cherished art form co-opted by all manner of con artists, he made it his mission to expose the simple tricks charlatans have borrowed from magicians to swindle the masses. This entertaining film chronicles Randi's best debunkings of faith healers, fortune tellers and psychics. It documents his rivalry with famed spoon-bender Uri Geller, whom Randi eventually foiled on a high-profile television appearance. Another target was evangelist Peter Popoff, whose tent-show miracles and audience mind-reading were exposed as chicanery when Randi revealed a recording of Popoff's wife feeding him information through a radio-transmitter earpiece. In telling Randi's strange, funny and fascinating life story, the film shows how we are all vulnerable to deception - even, in a surprising twist, 'The Amazing' Randi himself.
#25 - Blackfish: The Whale that Killed
Season 2013 - Episode 23
Documentary which unravels the story of notorious performing whale Tilikum, who - unlike any orca in the wild - has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. So what exactly went wrong? Shocking, never-before-seen footage and interviews with trainers and experts manifest the orca's extraordinary nature, the species' cruel treatment in captivity over the last four decades and the growing disillusionment of workers who were misled and endangered by the highly profitable sea-park industry. This emotionally-wrenching, tautly-structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.