From 20 Days and Mariupol to Gaza: The Power of 21st Century War Documentaries

13 de març de 2024


In the evolving realm of film, the documentary genre has emerged as a crucial medium for exploring the nuanced realities of 21st-century warfare. These films go beyond traditional news coverage, providing immersive experiences that delve into the complexities of contemporary conflicts. They offer viewers a unique vantage point, presenting unfiltered stories of resilience, tragedy, and the enduring human spirit amidst chaos.


War documentaries have increasingly become essential in shaping our understanding of global conflicts. They serve not only as historical records but also as profound narratives that echo the personal and collective struggles of those entangled in war. Through intimate storytelling and rigorous journalism, these documentaries provide a visceral connection to conflicts that might otherwise feel distant or abstract.


The significance of such documentaries is exemplified by films like "20 Days in Mariupol," a piece that stands out for its candid and impactful portrayal of the Ukrainian crisis. This Oscar-nominated documentary captures the harrowing siege of Mariupol, offering an unflinching look at the consequences of warfare on a human level. It's a testament to the courage of both the citizens and the journalists who bear witness to the atrocities of war.


Top 10 Recent War Conflict Documentaries:



20 Days in Mariupol

reporter with camera in a devastated setting

An intense portrayal of the siege of Mariupol during the Ukraine conflict, this documentary captures the relentless bombardment and the indomitable spirit of its inhabitants. It’s a stark reminder of the human cost of war, emphasizing the importance of journalism in conflict zones.


The Black Flag

mercenaries intimidate the camera

On the frontlines of the conflict against ISIS, Seyyed Ahmad, and Seyyed Jafar spearheaded a battalion of Shia volunteer fighters during the pivotal battle for Jorf al-Sakhar, located 60 km southwest of Baghdad. This brigade, though not as well-equipped as their counterparts, showcased remarkable resilience and strategic acumen, managing to reclaim, within a mere two days of rigorous combat, a strategic area long considered by American forces as irretrievably lost to Al-Qaeda's influence for over a decade.


For Sama 

a girl with a veil focuses her camera on an alley from her window

An intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war, this film chronicles the life of Waad al-Kateab during five years in Aleppo, Syria. The documentary captures her struggles with love, motherhood, and survival during the Syrian conflict.


Guerrilla Voices

ordinary citizens, one of them wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt

When filmmaker Sjoerd van Grootheest embarked on the (pre-)production of his film, he recognized the significance of the period as a pivotal historical moment for Colombia. Capturing this era was crucial, especially through the lens of the former guerrilla fighters, whose firsthand perspectives were scarcely represented in existing audiovisual materials. This lack of representation from the FARC-EP rebels themselves made it essential to document their viewpoints authentically.


The Cave

veiled woman cares for a patient surrounded by nurses

Set in a subterranean hospital in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, this documentary follows Dr. Amani Ballour and her colleagues as they contend with daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages, and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks.


32 Souls

person in twilight tropical jungle landscape

The documentary "32 Souls" transcends mere storytelling, evolving into a cinematic odyssey akin to time travel. He envisioned the film as a conduit to intertwine past conflicts with the present's gaze, melding historical reflections with contemporary realities, and extending an imaginative reach into the future, encapsulated by a concluding prayer. This creation is an intricate tapestry, weaving together a personal homage to his grandmother’s cousin and a broader, poetic rumination on a society fragmented by the ravages of war, environmental degradation, and the gradual disintegration of longstanding belief systems.


Described by the director as a "quietly poetic and evocative work," the film delves into the nuanced rhythms of daily existence, the inescapable presence of mortality, and the enduring power of memory. It stands as a reflective piece that invites viewers to contemplate the profound impacts of historical tumults and the subtle yet persistent traces they leave on the fabric of human experience, intertwining the personal with the universal in a contemplative visual meditation.



a soldier aiming his rifle

This gritty, front-line reportage follows the Iraqi city of Mosul's liberation from the Islamic State. It provides a visceral, ground-level look at the war's toll, showcasing the personal and collective fight of Iraqi journalists and soldiers against ISIS.


The Empire Of Evil

A boy in a red shirt and a man with short hair stand out among the kneeling torsos of the believers.

Our perception of Iran is often shaded by media portrayals, but Mohammad Farokhmanesh, an Iranian by birth and Hamburg resident, delves deeper, exploring Tehran's contemporary society. His encounters reveal a community grappling with the tension between inherited prejudices and the search for personal identity, where individuals speak candidly about their challenges, hopes, and visions for the future, offering a nuanced perspective far removed from prevalent stereotypes.


City of Ghosts

two Taliban taking photo

Chronicling the efforts of the citizen journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, this documentary captures the personal and perilous endeavor to expose the horrors faced by the citizens of Raqqa, Syria, under ISIS control, revealing the power and impact of citizen journalism.


The Silent Majority Speaks

Using the latest revolt in Iran as a launching pad and as a central focus, this film explores ideas of collectivity, authority, patriarchy, memory, and repetition through a re-assessment or deconstruction of Iran's modern history and the images used to construct it.

Connecting and disconnecting the images and the moments of revolutionary consciousness, the film thinks through cinema and the use of the moving image as an obsession with a certain version of modernity and revolution as well.



Documentaries about war and conflicts particularly those set in the 21st century, serve as powerful tools for awareness, education, and empathy. They shed light on the harsh realities of modern-day conflicts, offering up-close and personal perspectives that are often overlooked in mainstream media coverage. As seen in the visceral storytelling of "20 Days in Mariupol" and its peers, these films play a vital role in documenting human resilience and the pursuit of truth amidst turmoil.


These documentaries not only serve as a bridge connecting viewers with distant conflicts but also act as a call to action, urging us to reflect on our collective responsibility towards global peace and human rights. They remind us of the power of storytelling in preserving history, fostering empathy, and inspiring change, ensuring that the voices of those who have endured the horrors of war are never forgotten.


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