Of all the video content I watch with semi-regularity online, the documentaries produced by VICE magazine continue to fascinate me. For years the publication has existed as an outlet for subculture, often stumbling across hard political commentary while continuing to flout an interest in going against the grain.
The team at VICE have been making use of new media to explore more facets of their warped imaginations in the form of documentaries and short films, with nearly 700 uploads on their YouTube channel to date. There’s a real range of content here, much of it of far greater stature than their written content, something I’ll try and convey in the choice of videos below.
Note: VICE are not known for their professional, Reuters-grade hard journalism but instead a penchant for the seedier, darker and quirkier aspects of life. While many of these films are not a world away from what you might see on a documentary-heavy cable channel at night, be aware that viewer discretion is advised.
Skate World: France
A video that’s as much about friendship and reminiscing as it is about skating or making a statement. Follow Samir Krim, Stephane Larance and more of France’s top amateur skaters as they take you on a tour of Paris, the city in which they grew up and fell in love with skating.
There’s a lot of archive footage of skating greats conquering massive gaps in the late 90s, as well as some anguish towards the french authorities for resisting the movement. It’s like an alternative sightseeing tour of the famous French city from the eyes of a skater.
Internet Scamming in Ghana
Ghana is west Africa’s Internet capital, and somewhere many of our old “recycled” bits of silicon go to die. Over the past 50 years of growth and stability the country has established a reputation for being the most Internet-savvy country in the region, but this has had a knock-on effect that has made Ghana a haven for Internet fraudsters.
Watch how the scams operate, learn where they originated and find out exactly what the money is spent on. If you think that these scammers are living a life of luxury in a guarded luxury compound then this documentary will make you think again.
Exploring Mexican Narco Cinema
It’s no secret that Mexico has one of the worlds most out of control drug problems, with hundreds of drug-related murders in Mexico City alone last year. It was inevitable that drugs and violence would shape some form of the country’s modern cultural movements, with “narco cinema” being the inevitable manifestation of this.
It’s not all about white lines and quick draws, it would also seem that trucks also play a large role too. Watch as VICE founder Shane Smith explores the movement and gets intimately involved with a production.
Africa’s Moonshine Epidemic
Uganda is the drunkest place on earth with the highest consumption of alcohol per capita, numbers that continue to rise. It’s not beer, wine or even whiskey that gets tickle’s Uganda’s throat though – it’s homemade moonshine that’s apparently rotting guts, destroying livers and even turning people blind.
Join VICE in Uganda as they sample some of the local hooch and try to unravel the culture surrounding alcohol that exists. Suffice to say you probably won’t want a drink while watching this one.
How Keyboard Cat Got Famous
An altogether shorter and lighter film, this is the story of one Internet meme that took the world by storm. Did you know the original keyboard cat video was filmed in 1985? And that the initial creator wasn’t even born yet?
Clearly there’s much to be learned about keyboard cat, though the video also looks at what makes an Internet sensation on this scale in the first place.
The Mafia is Trashing Italy… Literally
In case you weren’t aware, the oft-romanticised European country of Italy has some serious problems, not least a political crisis. The country is also still heavily controlled by organised criminals, except rather than counterfeit goods and cracked kneecaps the topic du jour is the problem surrounding toxic waste in the city of Naples.
This two-parter is definitely one of VICE’s more environmentally-focused productions, but the film also explores social aspects including the political spin surrounding the issue and minority groups who seem to pull the strings.
Gun Crazy USA
VICE turn their cameras around for this special which looks at the USA and gun control in 2013. The team make no effort to skirt around the issue of gun laws, illegal gun trade and the crisis that is dividing much of America, though the film isn’t gunning for either team.
The USA makes up 5% of the global population yet is home to somewhere in the region of 50% of the world’s firearms. This documentary is somewhat of a reaction to the Sandy Hook tragedy and the wide-scale political skirmishes that have taken place since.
Documenting Asia’s Illegal Animal Trade
One of the most disturbing practices that continues to this day is the illegal trade for endangered species, which forms a part of daily life for many in parts of Asia. This short film follows Thailand-based photographer Patrick Brown as he documents the tragic treatment of animals in Asia.
Much of the trade is rooted in a belief in false medicine, a “lucky charm” mentality as well as the massive demand and haven for the activity in China. The moving photographs of an illegal trade, a zoo that looks like a Soviet prison camp and the incredibly brutal treatment of animals in general might upset you but this is must-watch stuff.
If you’ve enjoyed this smattering of politically-charged, environmentally-aware and outright quirky film-making then you should subscribe to VICE and enjoy the rest of their documentaries and shorts. There’s a lot more to VICE than drugs and violence, and the publication must be praised for some incredibly hard-hitting, well-made and good-natured filmmaking.
The fact that they’re all viewable for free on YouTube just goes to show who is leading the way when it comes to the creation of quality new media.
View: VICE on YouTube
Do you have any favourite VICE films or regulars? Any other documentary channels you absolutely love? Let us know, in the comments below.