Streaming Spotlight - The Write Stuff

To celebrate World Press Freedom day, we take a look at journalism and journalists on film

by Amber Wilkinson

City of Ghosts - with unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" — a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS — as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.
City of Ghosts - with unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" — a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS — as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today. Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

It's the United Nation's World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, May 3, which this year has the theme of "journalism without fear or favour". We thought we'd take a look at some of the journalists who have stepped into the cinematic spotlight - both in fiction and documentary - as this week's Streaming Spotlight.

All The President's Men, Amazon Prime, GooglePlay, YouTube (from £3.49)

If you ask anyone to name a film about journalists, Alan J Pakula's take on how Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) broke the story of the Watergate scandal is likely to top the list - and with good reason. This gripping film was made in close collaboration with Woodward and Bernstein and really gets down to the nitty-gritty of piecing together the puzzle behind the story. While Redford and Hoffman need no introduction, the strength of the cast runs wide and deep, also including great turns from the likes of Ned Beatty, Jane Alexander and Hal Halbrook. An adult treatment of an adult subject that celebrates the less glamorous side of reporting.

The Post, Netflix and from streaming services including YouTube - also available on BBC iPlayer until mid-June

More than 40 years after All The President's Men, Steven Spielberg took another run at events surrounding the Watergate Scandal and broadens it out to consider the way that The Washington Post locked horns with the Nixon Administration over the Pentagon Papers. The detailing of the newsroom is spot on, as writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer build the film around the relationship between the paper's 'accidental' owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and its editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, who neatly steps away from the great portrayal by Jason Robards in Pakula's film to make the role his own). Streep's performance is a masterclass, as she tries to make her presence felt in a world of sexist attitudes. At once a celebration of the best of independent journalism and an exploration of class and social construction, Spielberg also never lets the tension slip.

The September Issue, Amazon Prime, GooglePlay and YouTube (from £2.49)

RJ Cutler's fly-on-the-wall documentary is a reminder that not all journalism involves taking down politicians. He steps inside the offices of fashion magazine Vogue, to watch editor Anna Wintour and her team at work on the most important edition of the year. Cutler's film digs into the hard work that goes on behind the gloss and finds plenty to hook his film on in the relationship between fashion stylist Grace Coddington and Wintour as they balance the business aspects of the business with its more artistic elements.

City Of Ghosts, Free on Amazon Prime or £2.49 from services including Google Play

Not all journalists work from newsrooms and the internet age has meant that even the worst warzones can now be reported on. Matthew Heineman's film celebrates the citizen journalists in Syria, who risk their lives to report on what is happening. He focuses on the work of non-violent activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently and the extraordinary lengths they go to in order to report atrocities in the war, whoever is committing them. Heineman's film not only shows the bravery of those reporting from withing Syria but the lengths that Islamic State will go to in a bid to 'punish' those who stand against them, even after they have fled the country.

Spotlight, Netflix and from £2.49 on services including Google Play

Considered a "surprise" winner when it took home the Best Picture gong at the 2016 Oscars - where it beat stiff competition from The Revenant, The Bridge Of Spies and Mad Max Fury Road - this is a slow burn film that packs real emotional punch. Tom McCarthy - who also shared the screenwriting Oscar with his co-scribe Josh Singer, who would go on to co-write The Post - champions the sheer hard work of journalists in this retelling of how Boston Globe journalists broke a Catholic Church abuse scandal. Spotlight - which features cracking performances from Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton, among others - has a complexity that goes beyond the specific case to ask questions about the way institutions and communities can cover up wrongdoing. Read our interviews on Spotlight with Tom McCarthy, actors Neil Huff, Brian d'Arcy James, Bobby Cannavale and writer Josh Singer.

Citizenfour, from £3.49 on Amazon Prime, YouTube and other streaming platforms

If you want to see investigative journalism in action, Laura Poitras's documentary on US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is a good place to start. She was one of the first people Snowden contacted and here she takes us through the chronology of breaking the story and what happened afterwards, including footage which dates to the beginning of their meet ups. Much of it plays like a thriller - and the story would go on to be told that way in Oliver Stone's Snowden - but it also considers the basics of journalism, the digital tools of today's trade and, in particular the way that sources are used and looked after.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire, BFI Player

Jennie Kermode writes: Few aspects of journalism seem more pertinent to today’s discussions than how it responds to worldwide catastrophe. Val Guest’s 1961 thriller may have a dubious premise – that simultaneous nuclear tests carried out by the US and USSR could knock the Earth out of orbit – but what follows from there is sharply observed. It’s informed by experiences of the Second World War but its take on climate change gives it additional present day relevance. At its heart is Edward Judd’s haggard newspaperman, trying to write about the global disaster at the same time as adjusting to divorce, managing a drink problem and embarking on a possible new relationship with an underrated female colleague (Janet Munro). The paper he writes for is the then highly respectably Daily Express and parts of the film were shot in its London offices, with the famously formidable editor Arthur Christiansen playing himself. It’s deservedly regarded as a classic.

Given the wealth of features about journalists and journalism, we've been a bit stumped when it comes to suggesting a free short to stream this week - if you know of a good one, please do let us know on Facebook or Twitter as we would love to take a look. We've settled on photojournalism celebration One Thousand Pictures: RFK's Last Journey, which is available for £3.49 from YouTube and Google Play. Jennifer Stoddart's film celebrates the photography of Paul Fusco, who captured the final journey of Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy's body from New York to Arlington, Virginia. Inspired by the photos Fusco took as he road the train on its 225-mile journey, Stoddart tracks down and interviews many of the people in the images he captured. A testimony both to the work of Fusco and the research of Stoddart and her team.

If you're still looking for something to watch, then don't forget to check out this week's Stay-At-Home Seven - recommending films to catch on TV and streaming services.

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