Apart from a couple of episodes of South Park and Family Guy and Justin Kelly's I Am Michael (2015), film-makers had felt no need to explore the theme of gay conversion therapy since Jamie Babbitt tackled it with such wit in But I'm a Cheerleader (1999). However, with Vice President Mike Pence vocally backing such Christian initiatives, two features on the topic are currently doing the rounds. Adapted from a memoir by Garrard Conley, Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased stars Lucas Hedges as a 19 year-old who is forced into entering a correction programme by his parents, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. who is a small-town Baptist preacher. But the first to reach UK screens is Desiree Akhavan's take on Emily M. Danforth's bestseller, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which is set in Montana in 1993.

Having been caught by boyfriend Jamie (Dalton Harrod) canoodling with best friend Coley Taylor (Quinn Shephard) in the backseat of a car at the school dance, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is sent to God's Promise by her Aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler) in the hope that she can be cured of her sinful tendencies. Founded by Dr Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle), the boarding school employs the methods that she used to cure her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher, Jr.), of his homosexuality. He searches her luggage in the presence of roommate Erin Garrity (Emily Skeggs) and reminds her of the need to stick to the rules in her contract before welcoming her as a `disciple'. 

Spooked during the night, when Rick wakes her with a torch beam while she is dreaming about making out with Coley while watching Donna Deitch's Desert Hearts (1985), Cameron breakfasts with Erin, who points out classmates Mark (Owen Campbell), Helen Barberri (Melanie Ehrlich) and Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), who rolls her tongue across her lips when Cameron looks at her. Erin confesses to a crush on Mark and reveals that Rick is dating their form teacher, Bethany (Marin Ireland), who is getting to know Cameron when Lydia enters the classroom to introduce herself and to chide Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) for letting his hair fall over his eyes. 

During a session with Lydia and Rick, he shows Cameron a drawing of an iceberg and invites her to list the issues beneath its tip that might have caused her to experience SSA (`same sex attraction'). Unable to think what to say, Cameron reads what Erin, Helen, Mark and Jane have written on their sheets (with their confessions being shown as cutaways). Jane (who was raised on a commune and has a prosthetic leg) catches her in her room and suggests that Cameron adds the fact that her parents were killed in a car crash on her iceberg. However, she drops her guard when Cameron reveals that she saw Jane and Adam smoking dope in the cellar and hints that she would like to join them. 

Despite Lydia's promptings, Cameron keeps her counsel in group sessions and is taken aback when the patrician Dane Bunsky (Christopher Dylan White) rips into Steve Cromps (Isaac Jin Solstein) and, without provocation, accuses her of being a `dyke'. However, she asks Rick about his experiences during a game of table tennis and he reveals that God saved him when he sent two members of his church to rescue him from a gay bar. She learns that Lydia used Rick as a guinea pig for her methods when she goes for a hike into the woods with Adam and Jane to tend the marijuana plants they are growing in a clearing. 

Rick takes the class on a trip to see a Christian rock band and Erin catches Cameron stealing a cassette in a bookshop. She wants to report the theft to Rick, even though Cameron returned the item to its shelf and she is only persuaded to let the matter drop when Mark intervenes. Back at God's Paradise, Helen is paired with Cameron during a trust session and she reveals that she was thrown out of a band for having feelings for another singer. When Cameron struggles to make a similar disclosure, Helen accuses her of not taking the therapy seriously and Erin urges Cameron to tell the group about Coley. Lydia wonders whether Cameron felt drawn to Coley because she wanted to be like her and reminds her that she will only benefit from the programme if she commits to it. 

That night, Cameron tries to masturbate while thinking of Jamie, but quickly gives up. While at a diner with the group, she slips away to phone Coley and learns that she has sent her a letter. Jane informs her that she hasn't qualified for mail privileges yet and she seems likely to be made to wait longer after Lydia catches her on a kitchen tabletop singing along to the 4 Non Blondes song, `What's Up?' However, she gives Cameron a box of correspondence that includes a confession from Coley that she had outed them rather than Jamie because she felt that Cameron had taken advantage of her friendship. 

Jane rips up the pink notepaper and tells Cameron to stay true to herself and not believe that she has let hormones get the better of her. Mark and Adam also support her, but Ruth insists that she has to stay at God's Promise when Cameron sneaks into the office and hides under the desk to phone home. Resigned to her fate, she starts doing aerobics with Erin, who has a video of a Christian exercise routine called `Blessercise' that she has been allowed to keep. Slowly, Cameron begins adding items to her iceberg and Lydia commends her on her new focus. However, she still has fantasies about kissing Bethany in class and responds when Erin seduces her in the middle of the night, only to return to her own bed in shame after bringing Cameron to orgasm. She claims she wants to get well and pleads with Cameron to say nothing about what has happened. 

Time passes and Cameron goes with the flow. But she is shocked when Mark challenges Lydia's authority during a session, after his father refuses to let him come home because he is still too effeminate. However, she is appalled to learn that he has attempted to mutilate his genitals during the night and, when Rick comes to offer one-to-one counselling, Cameron reduces him to tears by accusing him of having no idea what he is doing. When Mr Jacobs (Andre B. Blake) comes to conduct an inquiry, he asks Cameron if she trusts the staff. Yet, when she claims that they are inflicting emotional abuse by persuading students to hate themselves, Jacobs insists that he is not here to judge the facility's mission, but its pastoral competence. 

Stressed at having found Mark and unwittingly provided him with the razor, Adam persuades Jane and Cameron to cut and run. They get up early and tell Rick over breakfast that they are going on one of their regular hikes. Once in the woods, however, they change out of their uniforms and burn their icebergs on a bonfire. Once on the open road, they hitch a ride in the back of a pick-up truck sporting a Clinton-Gore campaign sticker and - in an echo of the closing scene in Mike Nichols's The Graduate (1967) - they prepare to face together whatever a new future might hold. 

Markedly less satirically abrasive than Akhavan's bold debut, Appropriate Behavior (2014), this is a considered, but curiously uninvolving drama that seems content to tut at the God's Paradise rationale without subjecting it to forensic analysis. Similarly, Akhavan and co-scenarist Cecilia Frugiuele resist delving too deeply into Cameron's personality and past, with the result that she fails to become a fully rounded character, in spite of the deft efforts of the typically excellent Chloë Grace Moretz. Indeed, despite the measured performances of a solid ensemble - that includes Jennifer Ehle seemingly limning Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched from Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) - few of the staff members or the other residents are presented as more than the ciphers sketched out in the iceberg flashback sequence.

Moreover, the writers steer clear of overtly demonising depictions of aversion therapies and focus instead on the recitation of prayers and fortune-cookie aphorisms. More positively, even though Erin and Helen repeatedly try to please their carers, Akhavan never shows Cameron, Jane or Adam questioning their sexuality. Such affirmation should encourage teenage viewers facing their own identity crises, but it removes the possibility for dramatic conflict and, thus, makes this more sincere than incisive. Indeed, it says much that the most provocative line in the entire film is delivered by Pastor Crawford (Steven Hauck) in the opening sequence: `Do you know what we as adults are doing in church every week? We’re trying to undo the things we did at your age.'

On the technical side, Akhavan directs with a detached steadiness that recalls Sean Durkin's handling of Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). She is ably abetted in this regard by Ashley Connor's discrete camerawork and Sara Shaw's cadenced editing, while the mood is deftly reinforced by Markus Kirschner's interiors and a Julian Wass score that only occasionally errs into over-emphasis. Consequently, Akhavan prompts the audience to go looking for the nuances in her message, which proves a much subtler and shrewder approach than littering the action with fanatical practices and denunciatory monologues.

There are more lonely souls trapped in unsplendid isolation in Michael Mayer's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. Previously filmed by Sidney Lumet (1968), Yuli Karrasik (1972) and John J. Desmond (1975), this simmering 1896 study of aristocratic ennui affords stage specialist Mayer a chance to establish his screen credentials after his lacklustre start with A Home At the End of the World (2004) and Flicka (2006). Yet, while he opens out the action with a modicum of imagination, this is a fussy facsimile that wastes the efforts of an eager cast and misses much of the melancholic wit that makes Chekhov such an insightful and compassionate commentator on the human condition. 

Rushing from the stage of the Imperial Theatre in Moscow in 1904, actress Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) travels by carriage with her beau, Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), to the bedside of her ailing brother, Sorin (Brian Dennehy). Boris has brought a copy of the magazine containing a short story by Irina's son, Konstantin Trepylov (Billy Howle). But he is disappointed that Boris hasn't read it and leaves his mother playing bingo with Masha (Elisabeth Moss), Dr Sergei Dorn (Jon Tenney) and Polina (Mare Winningham), while he plays the piano in the next room. He is interrupted, however, by a knocking at the window and he looks up to see the strained face of Nina Zarechnaya (Saoirse Ronan). 

As we flashback two years, Nina and Konstantin are inseparable, as they prepare for a woodland performance of a shadow play he has written. Sorin watches his nephew tie a sheet between two trees and despairs of his sister chiding the maid for not having champagne on ice. He asks about Boris and Konstantin admits to being envious of his fame as a writer and his reputation as a ladies' man. However, he is blithely unaware that he is adored by Masha, who informs besotted schoolteacher Mikhail Medvedenko (Michael Zegen) that she is wearing black because she is in mourning for her life. 

Gathering in the clearing as darkness falls, the household looks on as Nina appears to declaim Konstantin's wordy prose, while shadow puppets dance on the backlit sheet. Masha watches an enraptured Konstantin mouthing along to the monologue before he loses patience with Irina's carping asides to Boris and Dorn and brings the pompously avant-garde performance to a sudden end. While he sulks in the stables, Irina returns to the house and lauds Nina for her talent. However, when she finds her alone with Boris in a quiet corner, she quickly intervenes and Nina decides to head home to her father (who is described by Dorn in a stage whisper as a monster for leaving his money to his second wife rather than his daughter). 

Masha has gone in search of the crestfallen Konstantin and finds him on the jetty chatting to Dorn. The doctor insists that he liked the play and wishes he could experience the thrill an artist must feel at the moment of creation. But he cannot prevent Konstantin from bawling at Masha for being Irina's lackey and she sobs on Dorn's shoulder, as she bemoans the pain of unrequited love and he admonishes her for the dirty habit of taking snuff. 

The next morning, Masha is tipsy at breakfast and Boris jots down notes to base a character on her in his next masterpiece. Irina tries to encourage Masha to smarten herself up and occupy her mind in order to recover her diminishing youth. Dorn panders to Irina's whim when she asks which of them looks younger and she continues to regale him of her beauty regimen when they go boating on the lake. When Nina joins them for lunch, Irina asks Masha's father, Shamrayev (Glenn Fleshler), to stop asking her about bygone actors because it makes her sound old. She also insists on giving the assembled a rendition of `Ochi chyornye' when someone asks Nina to sing for them. But, when she suggests going to Moscow and Shamrayev tries to explain that the horses are needed on the farm, Irina loses her temper and storms off to pack, while the estate manager tenders his resignation.

Unsettled by the commotion, Nina goes for a walk and is unimpressed when Konstantin shoots a seagull and throws it at her feet in a melodramatic gesture. He claims he will end his life because it has become so meaningless, but Nina is tired of his showboating and wishes he would stop playing the tormented artist. She accepts Boris's invitation to go for a row on the lake, but gets peevish when he declines to discuss his privileged lifestyle. Keen to keep her to himself, he takes her to an island and complains about the pressures placed on him to keep churning out stories. Nina sighs because Konstantin is forever agonising over his work. But, like his mother, he is furious that Nina and Boris are together and he hammers away at the piano, while ignoring Masha's attempts to speak to him in the same way she brushes aside the lovelorn Mikhail and Dorn resists mistress Polina's suggestion that she should leave Shamrayev and move in with him. 

On returning to shore, Nina finds the seagull on the jetty steps and Boris immediately scribbles down an idea for a story that thrills her because she is its heroine (even though she doesn't know he plans to give her a tragic end). A gunshot rings out and Irina rushes to find Konstantin with a head wound after failing to kill himself. She fusses over him, while Masha informs Boris over breakfast that she has decided to rip her love for Konstantin out of her heart by the roots and allow Mikhail to marry her. He patronises her and she snaps back that he is responsible for Konstantin's misery because he is jealous of both his literary success and the hold he exerts over Nina. 

Irina has also noticed this fatal attraction and is planning to whisk Boris back to the city when Sorin suffers a turn and has to be carried to his bed. He had been asking Irinia to give Konstantin some money to travel and he now suggests the same thing for his uncle, who has been rotting away on the estate for 20 years. Konstantin asks his mother to change his bandage and he enjoys having her undivided attention. However, she doesn't remember a childhood episode that had made an impression on him and Konstantin loses his temper when she refuses to send Boris away. They trade insults during a fierce argument that takes them into the forest, where Irina tries to make her son understand that she loves Boris and that he poses no threat to him as either a writer or a lover. 

But Boris has been touched by Nina giving him an engraved medallion and he asks Irina to let him go so he can experience real love for the first time. However, Irina isn't an actress for nothing and she sinks to her knees and pleads with Boris that he is the only thing preventing the last page of her life from ending badly and he is sufficiently flattered to abandon his country girl for his sophisticated woman. Nevertheless, he keeps a rendezvous with Nina, who assures him that she is coming to Moscow to try her luck as an actress and he promises to see her the moment she arrives. They kiss and Nina twirls around the upstairs room with naive delight. 

Two years later, however, she has returned home after enduring many trials and tribulations. Konstantin recaps them for Dorn, who is dismayed to hear that Boris abandoned her after their baby died and that he returned to Irina while Nina drew poor notices for grandiloquent performances in the provinces. As Irina and Boris arrive, we see again the frosty reception Konstantin affords them before Nina turns up at the door. He overhears Boris confiding that the critics find Konstantin's work derivative, while Irina admits that she has still to read a single word he has written. 

Nina tries to raise his spirits by congratulating him on fulfilling his ambition. But she succeeds only in making him more miserable by revealing that she still loves Boris, in spite of his callous treachery. So, when she disappears into the night claiming to have become the seagull whose wings he had clipped so thoughtlessly, Konstantin burns his papers and makes a proper job of committing suicide. Irina jumps on hearing the shot, but Dorn assures her that some chemicals have exploded in his bag and she tries to concentrate on the lotto game, as Dorn takes Boris into the library to help him deal with the mess he has caused. 

In drawing comparisons between life and melodrama, Chekhov intended this play to lampoon cheap imitations and expose those who persist in playing roles for which they have no talent. Unfortunately, Stephen Karam's often radical reworking and trimming of the four-act text only exposes the gulf between himself and Chekhov, while Mayer's direction often feels closer in tone to Woody Allen than Ingmar Bergman. 

Which is a shame, as there are moments when the pair unearth the bleak humour that makes the principals more worthy of pity than censure. Annette Bening is particularly affecting, as her vain, but ageing diva seeks to conceal her vulnerability with rapier quips, while Saoirse Ronan makes a harrowing transition from daydreaming ingenue to lost soul. Elisabeth Moss also impresses as the servant's daughter who continues to reach for the unattainable even after becoming a mother. 

The nature of their characters makes it difficult for the male leads to shine so brightly, as Billy Howle contributes an anachronistically modern and sometimes histrionic performance as the tortured Konstantin and Corey Stoll struggles to convey the hissably opportunistic Boris's fascinating charm. Yet, the ensemble works hard to offset the awkwardness of some of the interpolated dialogue, the calculation of Matthew J. Lloyd's camerawork, as he switches between jittery following shots and intrusive close-ups, and the brashness of Annette Davey's editing. However, they and clearly relish the setting (actually in upstate New York) and the costumes provided by Jane Musky and Ann Roth, while the score by Nico Muhly and Anton Sanko complements Mayer's laudable, but over-emphatic effort to let some light and air into this nest of gentlefolk..

It may not have been a vintage summer for the major American animation studios, but the likes of Richard Lanni's Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero and Philip Einstein Lipski, Jørgen Lerdam and Amalie Næsby Fick's The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear have provided amusingly intelligent alternatives. Now comes Toby Genkel and Reza Memari's A Stork's Journey (aka Little Bird's Big Adventure), which proves an admirable follow-up to the pair's previous outing, Ooops! Noah Is Gone... (aka All Creatures Big and Small, 2015).

When his parents are killed by a bear while he is hatching in the crown of a royal statue, Richard the sparrow (Cooper Kelly Kramer) is rescued by a stork named Aurora (Erica Schroeder), who persuades husband Claudius (Jonathan Todd Ross) to let her raise the foundling with their own son, Max (Jason Griffith). Safe in the turret of a ruined castle, he learns to sleep on one leg and fly high in the sky, although his fishing skills leave a little to be desired. But, when the first leaf falls, Claudius informs Richard that he cannot accompany the mustering on its annual flight south to a lake in Africa and Aurora is left to break the news that he is a sparrow and not a stork.

Waking next morning in a storm to find his family has gone, Richard takes shelter in a graveyard, where he is befriended by Olga (Shannon Conley), a pygmy owl with an invisible friend named Oleg. She rescues Richard from a trio of vampire bats and they agree to hang out together, even though each thinks the other is a little weird. When Richard refuses to speak to some other sparrows feasting off the scraps at a rubbish bin, Olga tries to interest him in a burger she steals from a drive-thru customer. But Richard is only interested in finding Max and asks three pigeons perched on an electric wire if they've seen any storks. The birds are hooked on the jolts they get from the current and Olga is also excited by it. However, Richard is impatient and he pulls her away to follow up the clue that the phalanx is heading for Gibraltar. 

Pausing on the roof of a crumbling karaoke bar, Olga draws a map to show Richard how far they still have to travel. Their conversation is overheard by a caged parakeet named Kiki (Marc Thompson), who coaxes them into opening his cage so that they can take the train from the nearby station to Gibraltar. However, as Kiki is determined to sing at the Sanremo Festival, he lures them on to the wrong express, just as Max is struggling in a thunderstorm over Barcelona. While he ploughs on, the feathered passengers hide out in the baggage car and Olga explains (in a charming 2-D flashback) how her family hadn't given a hoot about her because she was too big for the nest. Richard sympathises, but Kiki (who is scared of heights and rubbish at flying) pretends that everything is perfect in his world and urges them to get plenty of sleep, as they will have a big day in the morning. 

On reaching Sanremo, Kiki does a flit and Richard and Olga get chased off the train by a fussy passenger. They run into three crows, who offer to protect them for a small consideration before laughing at them for thinking they were close to Africa. Eager to find Kiki, Richard heads to the festival venue. But he gets distracted by a TV aerial in the shape of a stork and sits alone in a nest with a single feather. 

Meanwhile, Olga has a row with Oleg after getting stuck in a chimney pot and is distraught when he disappears after she says she wishes she had never met him. However, she meets two more pigeons sitting on an internet cable and is soon racking up friend requests on her new profile page. By contrast, Kiki is having a rotten time, as another parakeet steals his song at the bird festival in the eaves (`I'm Coming Out') and he decides to find Olga and Richard so that they can sail to Africa on a liner about to leave the port. 

Unfortunately, the wind blowing across the cliffs is very strong and a flock of seagulls take bets as to whether the friends will make it. As Richard plummets towards the rocks, Olga and Kiki swoop down to save him and they link wings to form a big enough span to help them buffet the currents. As darkness falls, however, they have a close encounter with a jumbo get and go spinning downward towards the sea. Luckily, they splash land in the swimming pool on the deck of the liner and a little CPR from Kiki and Oleg's timely return help the winded Olga pull through. 

During the voyage, Richard comes to accept that he's a sparrow. But he is still keen to find Max and, when they land in Tangier, he learns from a couple of wired-in pigeons that his brother has fallen down a deep hole near the dried-up oasis. They agree to show him the way and Claudius and Aurora are astonished to see their son. Kiki warns Richard that Max has fallen into a honey badger's lair, but he is determined to rescue him and Olga drags Kiki through the entrance with them. 

He runs across some luminous spiders, while Olga treats herself to a delicious scorpion. But, no sooner has Richard found Max, than the snarling honey badger enters the chamber and Kiki has to burst into song to distract him when Richard gets his claw caught under a rock. Urging Olga and Kiki to get Max to safety, Richard zips around the badger, who becomes more enraged by the second. When the other storks help peck a hole in the parched ground for Max to squeeze through, Aurora sees the badger menacing Richard and prod him with her beak through a groove in the ground. 

Seeing the prop supporting the tunnel is about to give way, Richard tricks the badger into colliding with it and he is buried while Richard scrambles to the surface. Delighted to see him, Claudius apologises and asks Richard if he would be willing to be his son. He also gives him the honour of leading the way to the lake and Kiki, Olga (and Oleg) fly alongside him with pride. 

Similar in storyline to Árni Ólafúr Ásgeirsson's Flying the Nest, but vastly superior in terms of form and content, this is a highly engaging saga that should keep the whole family entertained. Mercifully free of cornball songs (apart from the pop tunes that Kiki belts out in true disco diva style) and more restrained than most in its use of video game swoop-and-swirl chase sequences, the visuals are bright, colourful and uncutified. The dialogue is also refreshingly free of American slang and cheesy double entendres, which perfectly suits the three amigos, who are innocents abroad rather than rebellious wiseacres. 

Most importantly, even though Richard has big wide eyes, the birds are neither caricatured nor overly anthropomorphised. The interaction between the species provides a valuable message that isn't forced down the audience's throat, although it might have been advisable to avoid using crows for the Mafia reception party. But the sequences involving the pigeons getting a rush from technology are very funny, as is the fact that a pygmy owl would have an imaginary friend. However, only the politically clued-in grown-ups are likely to get the connection between the honey badger and Donald Trump's onetime buddy, Steve Bannon.

`Nothing,' the German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, `is everything that doesn't happen at this very moment.' Intrigued by this idea, Serbian documentarist Boris Mitic seeks to explore our understanding of the slippery existential concept of nihility in In Praise of Nothing, which is showing this week at The ICA in London. Made over eight years and featuring images captured by 62 cinematographers in 70 countries, this unique enterprise imagines that Nothing has run away from home and refuses to return until it has justified its existence. 

Taking its cues from Erasmus's In Praise of Folly, the narration is couched in rhyming couplets that are delivered in a world-weary manner by Iggy Pop in a persona that seemingly owes much to Hugh Pratt's comic-book creation, Corto Maltese. The verse was written by Mitic, who also gave his cinematographers strict instructions on how to form their images. In the first phase, they were allowed a free hand to film according to personal aesthetics and local cultural interpretations. However, they were dispatched again after receiving a list of Mitic's 100 favourite quotes on Nothing and again after being sent a 100-page research digest on Nothing that had been condensed from a 20,000-page bibliography. Then, Mitic asked them to record according to his screenplay without camera instructions before requiring them to complete the project using the full shooting script. 

Mitic retained this blend of auteurial and collaborative instincts at the editing stage, as he loaded the unlabelled rushes on to a group website and invited the cinematographers to submit anonymous critiques. He then collaged the crowdsourced images according to their comments in a bid to rescue the documentary from the realms of talking heads, special effects and `cultural paralysis' and return it to the innovative purity achieved in the silent era by Walter Ruttman and Dziga Vertov and, more recently, by Godfrey Reggio, Ron Fricke and the late Michael Glawogger, who forms part of the stellar crew alongside César Charlone, Viktor Kossakovsky, Wojciech Staron and Jack Cahill.

As the opening intertitles to this `whistleblowing documentary parody' reveal, Nothing ran away from home as it was tired of being misunderstood. It crossed eight mountains and eight seas before landing in a lost valley. As Nothing takes over the narration, he claims that he will be present in every image and if viewers can't be bothered to take the trouble to find him, he invites them to take each perspective as his own. He likes the idea of asking lots of questions and hopes to gain a greater appreciation of himself and us, as he admits his shortcomings and points out our own. 

Wandering through vast expanses of open land, as well as alleyways, mazes and tunnels, Nothing begins to explore. He sympathises with humans having to devote themselves to leaving a legacy that will soon get swept away, but wonders how they can allow holocausts to happen after hearing poetry. Too proud to go on welfare, Nothing applies for jobs and cites his capabilities. But there are no takers and he becomes disillusioned until he discovers love. Yet, while he likes the idea, he laments that the casting rarely matches the plot, as even those bound by love often want different things. 

Dropping in on America, Nothing bemoans the fact that it's enviable Dream has become Disneyfied and he accuses the country of becoming the planet's black hole. He concedes that Asians make up half the population, but reminds them that might isn't always right and suggests that they reconnect with the elegance and tranquility of their rituals and art. Similarly, he thanks the Arabs for preserving so much ancient wisdom and giving the world the benefit of their knowledge. But he also urges them to stop imposing their beliefs on others and denouncing theirs as blasphemy. Turning to Europeans, he commends them on fragments of their history, but points out that no country has a monopoly on morality and notes that the insistence on putting everything to a committee has resulted in drudgery rather than decisive action.

According to Nothing, the rest of the world still believes in him and he encourages these citizens to stick to their traditions and resist the thrusting of their arrogant neighbours. But he soon becomes demoralised again and challenges astronauts. philosophers and priests to a duel in the footnotes of history. Yet, when he tries to make a farewell speech, Nothing realises that he has no home to go to and fits in nowhere because he's a baroque minimalist, a cynical optimist, a gentle sadist and an approximate perfectionist. As he prepares to move on (taking with him only his moustache), Nothing implores people to imagine being him and stand on his shoulders to get a better view of the world around them. 

It says much for Mitic's bold conceit that this film can be appreciated by both those who wish to engage with its poetic pensées and those who simply want to let the ideas and images flit by as though through a train window. Fittingly, a shot of a sleeping person missing the view outside is included in this album of pictures that are truly moving in both senses of the word. Whether the focus falls on sleeping dogs or bouncing snowballs, the destitute or the dilettante. the footage is perceptively counterpointed by a jaunty, if sometimes disconcerting score by cabaret performers Pascal Cornelade and The Tiger Lilies. There are dips and some of the doggerel is a bit strained. But Iggy Pop proves a splendid choice as the personification of Nothing, as he manages to combine insouciance and sincerity, wit and wisdom without sounding pompous or trite.

An inquest is due to start on 11 September into the deaths of 11 residents of the Ballymurphy district of West Belfast in the three days following the introduction of internment without trial in August 1971. In The Ballymurphy Precedent, documentarist Callum Macrae recalls the events that rocked the Catholic community in Northern Ireland and, yet, which went largely unreported across the rest of the United Kingdom. He argues that the decision to accept the British Army account of the incident set a precedent that dictated the coverage and reception of the Bloody Sunday killings in January 1972. However, Macrae also reflects on the human cost of the Ballymurphy shootings, as he meets with friends, family and eyewitnesses to uncover the truth about what happened to Francis Quinn (19), Fr Hugh Mullan (38), Joan Connolly (50), Daniel Teggart (44), Noel Phillips (20), Joseph Murphy (41), Edward Doherty (28), John Laverty (20), Joseph Corr (43) John McKerr (49) and Paddy McCarthy (44).

As Protestant historian Geoff Bell reveals, Northern Ireland was formed by the British government in 1921 following the partition that created the independent and largely Catholic Irish Free State. However, the social and civic structure of the province heavily favoured the Loyalist majority, with the result that even predominantly Catholic places like Derry were unable to achieve a like-minded majority. As Ballymurphy residents Liam Shannon, Rita Bonner, Liam Stone and Fr Des Wilson recall, the Catholic community was also subjected to economic exclusion, as they were denied jobs with the region's leading industrial employers. 

Even Royal Green Jackets James Kinchin White and Richard Rudkin recognised the deprivation in Catholic parts of Ulster when they arrived as part of a peacekeeping force after civil rights demonstrations had been met with a brutal backlash. Macrae splits the screen to compare footage of the incidents at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama in 1965 and Burntollet Bridge. when a People's Democracy march from Belfast to Derry was attacked by a Loyalist mob on 4 January 1969. He also shows newsreel of the aftermath of the Apprentice Boys parade along Derry's city wall on 12 August, which resulted in the Catholic Bogside district being declared a No Go Area after a two-day battle with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Special Constabulary (who were known as `the B-Specials'), who did little to stop the burning of Catholic houses in the Bombay Street area of Belfast. 

On 14 August, British troops were dispatched to Northern Ireland and White insists (over supportive footage) that they were welcomed as protectors by the Catholic community. As a young girl, Briege Voyle helped mother Joan Connolly give soup and sandwiches to the soldiers. Indeed, her older sister married one. But, as Fr Wilson reveals, it soon became clear that the forces had not been sent to defend the minority while Stormont enacted reforms. They had been recruited to restore order and reinforce a sectarian status quo and many Nationalists were disappointed by the toothless response of the Irish Republican Army. 

As a result of the IRA's failings, a provisional wing was instituted and their acquisition of weapons prompted a military search of the Falls Road area of Belfast on 3 July 1970. As the residents resisted with IRA and Provisional IRA support, a 36-hour curfew was imposed, during which four civilians were killed and 60 more were injured alongside 16 soldiers. But, while Bell deplores the fact that a British city was placed under martial law, Macrae explains in voiceover that the searches were discriminatory and violent and that the army later confessed that homes had been looted by men in uniform. Yet, they were powerless to prevent a deputation of women from breaching the barricades to deliver groceries to their neighbours and Bonner and Voyle recall marching beside their mothers, as they smuggled bread, sugar and milk past the bemused troops. 

At the end of his tour of duty in December 1972, Lieutenant Colonel JRGN Evelegh urged his successor to beat the women into submission and we see monochrome footage of a water cannon being used by soldiers exasperated by an exchange of insults on a residential street. Bonner and Voyle remember banging dustbin lids to warn people when an army patrol entered their area and Wilson came to expect a reprisal, as macho paratroopers were not going to tolerate for long being mocked by women and children. However, it was the IRA who went on the offensive first, with a bombing campaign against commercial targets in the middle of 1970, while 20 year-old Gunner Robert Curtis became the first of 503 British soldiers to be killed during the Troubles on 6 February 1971. 

In a bid to clamp down on Nationalist activities, Prime Minister Brian Faulkner sought permission from British PM Edward Heath to introduce internment without trial. A list of over 400 names was supplied by the RUC. But, while there wasn't a single Loyalist among them, a number of peaceful activists were included and, as a supposed hotbed of Catholic resistance, Ballymurphy was targeted from 9 August 1971. 

Shannon, Voyle and Stone describe being woken in the small hours of the morning by raiding parties seeking those on the RUC list. Fr Hugh Mullan had phoned his brother Patsy to tell him to postpone a visit to his house in the horseshoe-shaped Springfield Park, which abutted the Protestant Springmartin estate. Pat and Liam Quinn recall how a Loyalist mob forced residents to evacuate with a sustained attack, while Bobby Clarke remembers seeing two soldiers tracking him with their guns after he had escorted a child across a patch of wasteland known as Findlay's Field. In narration, Macrae confirms that snipers from the Parachute and Queen's Own regiments had been positioned in the Springmartin flats and a drone reconstruction of the shootings of Fr Mullan and Frank Quinn is corroborated by Clarke, who had been lying wounded on the grass when they came out under cover of a white flag to offer him assistance.

Nearby on the Springfield Road, members of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment had arrived at the Henry Taggart Hall, where many of the internees had been taken. The Quinn brothers and Janet Donnelly recall the tension escalating after Springmartin Loyalists began bombarding the Catholic residents and Voyle remembers getting separated from mother Joan Connolly, who found herself on a stretch of open ground known as the Manse. As she chatted with Daniel Teggart, Noel Phillips and Joseph Murphy, paratroopers appeared and opened fire on them, even though they were unarmed and posing no threat. Siblings Alice Harper and John Teggart and Kevin Phillips describe how their loved ones were gunned down, while Voyle remembers her mother telling her that the army would never shoot an innocent person, even if the Protestants would. Yet she was shot repeatedly (including one bullet to the face), while Teggart was hit 14 times. 

Edward Doherty was shot when he went to Joan Connolly's aid and witnesses recall an army vehicle rolling on to the Manse and the male casualties being loaded in to be taken to Henry Taggart Hall. As Connolly was already dead, she was left behind. Janet Donnelly remembers father Joseph Murphy saying that he and the other men had been beaten once they had been taken to the barracks, while someone had fired into his open wound. As we see news footage of the simple crosses where the Findlay's Field victims had perished, Patsy Mullan and the Quinn brothers reflect on how they heard the news on what was the worst day of their lives. 

On 10 August, hundreds of people were bussed out of Ballymurphy and taken to Waterford in the Irish Republic. It was there, Voyle learned that her mother had been buried and she had to live with the fact that she had come looking for her when she had wandered off along Springfield Road with her friend. In all, around 7000 refugees fled across the border that year. 

Back in Ballymurphy, the residents decided to protect themselves against Loyalist and army incursion by raising barricades. However, these acted as a red rag to commanding officer Brigadier Frank Kitson, who had learned his trade suppressing colonial insurgencies in the 1950s. James White knew him from Cyprus and says the book he wrote about his experiences in Kenya and Malaysia, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping, served as the blueprint for army tactics in Northern Ireland. There's more than a glint of self-assurance when he proclaims during an interview: `It is sometimes necessary to do unpleasant things which lose a certain amount of allegiance for a moment in order to achieve your overall result.'

As sister Kathleen McCarry recalls, Edward Doherty had come to check she and their father were okay when he crossed the road near one of the barricades to talk to his friend, Billy Whelan. According to a deputation read out by human rights lawyer Pádraig Ó Muirigh, Doherty was shot by a British soldier, who changed his story in accounts to the military police. It was claimed Doherty was a petrol bomber, but no evidence was found during his autopsy. 

Determined to impose his authority on Ballymurphy, Kitson dispatched his shock troops, the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, to make a statement. Richard Rudkin remembers the unit being Kitson's boys and being disliked by other outfits because of the ruthless methods they employed to get a job done. On 11 August, 1 Para came down the hill overlooking the estate and began opening fire on anyone they found in the street. Bonner describes how brother John Laverty was hit, while Eileen McKeown relives how father Joseph Corr was shot and crawled across the road to reach the home of 16 year-old Robert Doyle. Corr urged Doyle and his brother to ignore him, but the door of their house was kicked in and they were arrested, as a medical orderly was dragging Corr's body back into the street. He would die 16 days later. 

During the course of the day, 600 paratroopers descended on the estate and witnesses testify to their thuggery and indiscriminate use of live and rubber bullets. News footage shows the anger of those caught up in the carnage, but youth worker Paddy McCarthy was determined to do his bit to help and loaded up a cart with provisions. However, he was confronted by paratroopers and died of a heart attack when one fired a bullet over his head in what some witnesses claimed was a mock execution. 

A short distance away, joiner John McKerr was working when at Corpus Christi church when he was shot through the head. His son Michael reveals that he had lost a hand fighting with the British army during the Second World War, but died nine days he was attacked by men in the same uniform. Accounts differ as to whether McKerr was hit by troops on patrol or snipers positioned in a nearby timber yard. As many as 40 people had been shot during the three-day massacre and Doyle is visibly shaken on camera, as he recalls the beatings he endured at the barracks and the fact that the British had taken the trouble to wash Joseph Corr's blood off the street to cover their tracks.

But the army wasn't finished there, as it embarked upon a propaganda campaign to justify their action. In the Belfast Telegraph that evening, a report claimed that troops had been involved in a two-hour gun battle with up to 20 men armed with pistols, rifles and Thompson sub-machine-guns. As a result of this fake report claiming that the victims were IRA members, the families received hate mail. But there were no police investigations into the killings, as the RUC accepted the army version of events, even though both White and Rudkin state that the rubric given on the so-called `Yellow Card' was so vague that it could be used to justify a multitude of sins. 

Two years after Alice Harper and John Teggart lost their father, their 15 year-old brother, Bernard (who had learning difficulties) was abducted by the IRA and executed for being a traitor. In 2009, the Teggarts received an apology for the crime and exonerated the youth of any wrongdoing. But they had spent the intervening period grieving and the same was true of the other families. Kathleen McCarry relates how her mother and sister-in-law had died within a decade of Eddie Docherty and left his children as orphans, while Janet Donnelly remembers some British soldiers pulling up outside the house on the day of Joseph Murphy's funeral and singing the line `Where's your father gone?' from the hit Middle of the Road song, `Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep'. As a result of this taunting, her mother had prevented the children from going to the graveside in case there was any trouble. 

Years later, at a Forgotten Victims event, Voyle and Donnelly met with other Ballymurphy survivors after a chance discussion. They have since collected witness statements from over 130 people, including one from a man who was 11 years old when he saw Noel Phillips finished off with a sidearm at close range by a soldier who had drawn up in a vehicle and found him wounded. The groups also consulted autopsy reports, with one revealing that Joan Connolly would have survived if she had been given first aid. However, her body was left on the Manse until after 3am, by which time, she had bled to death. 

In revisiting the testimony of the soldiers on the estate on 9 August, the families deduce that British units appear to have been shooting at each other in the mistaken belief that they were returning enemy fire. Rudkin explains that echoing noises in confined spaces are highly disorientating and that it's eminently possible for even experienced soldiers to become confused. But it's hard to accept that nobody questioned the differing accounts of the three soldiers who shot Joan Connolly, one of which claimed she was brandishing a pistol, another stated she was crawling through the grass with a rifle and a third averred that she was sat in the middle of the field firing a machine-gun. Janet Donnelly dismisses the claim there were nests of IRA gunmen in the vicinity, as they had all fled for fear of being interned. 

Macrae dismisses a Ulster Volunteer Force claim to have had a man on the ground shooting at IRA activists on 9 August. Instead, Rudkin suggests that the operation had been designed to teach the locals a lesson and White even produces documents showing that the training block used by British troops bound for Northern Ireland was called Killymurphy. Yet, rather than intimidating the residents, the atrocity reinforced community ties and drove more people into the ranks of the IRA. 

Some 70 miles away, the troops in Derry had been more conciliatory and had allowed the No Go barriers to remain in place. However, the brass in Belfast felt such tactics were craven and sent 1st Para to police a civil rights march on 30 January 1972. The local law enforcement teams knew of the unit's reputation and were reluctant to accept them, but the order was enacted and 14 people perished in around 20 minutes at the end of the event on what became known as Bloody Sunday. As in Ballymurphy, the press statements referred to armed resistance and Macrae discovers that the person behind these releases was the future Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson.

A few months later, as 1972 became the single most violent year of the Troubles, five more unarmed people were shot dead in Springhill, including 13 year-old Margaret Gargan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick, who had been a friend of Fr Mullan. Fr Wilson draws comparisons with the murder of priests in Latin America, as we see the Ballymurphy families marching in Belfast City Centre to call for an inquiry into the killings. However, as Macrae reminds us, while the Saville Inquiry found the victims of Bloody Sunday to have been innocent, it refused to accept that 1st Para had been sent to Derry with the express purpose of suppressing opposition. Ó Muirigh begs to differ and Rudkin agrees that Bloody Sunday could have been avoided if lessons had been learned from Ballymurphy. Now, the families hope that the truth will out during their day in court. 

Sensibly placing the events of the early 1970s in their wider socio-economic, political and religious contexts, Macrae presents a laudably balanced account of the Ballymurphy Massacre and its ramifications. He is particularly wise to add Geoff Bell and the two Green Jackets to the talking heads to counter accusations of Catholic bias. But he and editor Charlie Hawryliw also make potent use of archive material and sworn statements to back up the claims made by family members whose quest for justice Macrae clearly supports. 

There are moments when Wayne Roberts's score is overly emphatic, while some of the dramatic reconstructions are a touch stylised and/or on the nose. That said, the use of drone images for the shootings is inspired, as it gives them an ethereal detachment that precludes sentimentality or sensationalism. Moreover, it places them in a celestial No Man's Land presided over by a God is neither overtly Catholic or Protestant. There are questions left to be answered and one suspects that the Ministry of Defence will do its level best to keep as tight a control over the truth as it can. But Macrae has ensured that the Ballymurphy shootings can never again be described as a forgotten crime.

The last five years has witnessed a boom in photojournalist profiles, as Sebastian Junger's Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (2013) was followed by Brian Oakes's Jim: The James Foley Story (2016). Greg Campbell's Hondros and Orban Wallace's Another News Story (both 2017). Joining the list is Christopher Martin's Under the Wire, which draws on photographer Paul Conroy's book about his partnership with Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin. Later this year, audiences will get to see Rosamund Pike play the intrepid, eye-patched New Yorker in Matthew Heineman's biopic, A Private War. But it will have its work cut out to surpass this potent and important tribute.

As former Sunday Times foreign news editor Sean Ryan and Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum testify, Marie Colvin's mission was to bear witness. Having lost the sight in her left eye while reporting in Sri Lanka, she wore her eye patch as a badge of honour. She could be difficult to work with and several photographers had fallen by the wayside before she was teamed with Scouser and ex-Army officer, Paul Conroy. They bonded during a mission to Misrata in Libya and quickly realised that they needed to go to the besieged Syrian city of Homs in order to cover President Bashar al-Assad's brutal assault on the leaders of the uprising against his dictatorial regime. 

The pair met up in Beirut on 9 February 2012 and discovered that they would need to cross the border illegally. Conroy describes the journey over evocative night-vision footage, as they placed their trust in complete strangers, despite the risk of kidnapping or arrest by the Syrian forces. Crossing the frontier in the dead of night, Colvin and Conroy made slow progress across country in order to avoid patrols and checkpoints. After five days, they reached the town of Al-Bueda, where they met translator, Wa'el al-Omar, who agreed to work with them, but refused payment, as he was wary of journalists coming to Syria to present their side of the story and make their name and fortune. 

Al-Omar liked Colvin and Conroy from the outset and arranged for them to go to Baba Amr in Homs through a storm drain that is the main supply line for food, arms and people. Again, over grainy night-vision footage, Conroy and Al-Omar describe the sensation of being hunched up in thick air, as they made their way towards the light, and recall the relief at being greeted in the most dangerous war zone on the planet. 

Billeted at the media centre from which activists had alerted the world to Assad's tactics, Conroy admits to being shocked by the intensity of the daily bombardment of Homs and the fact that four old ladies had died in the house opposite during a recent onslaught. Colvin always sought to report on those caught up in a conflict rather than those on the frontline and Al-Omar took her to `the widow's basement', in which dozens of women and small children were huddled together. Each had a story to tell about the traumas they had experienced since the fighting began. As Conroy reveals, the trick was to present the evidence without appearing to take sides, but it was difficult not to be moved by such suffering. 

They also went to the medical centre to witness the work being done by Dr Mohammad Mohammad, who was working miracles with limited resources. Colvin was appalled by the sight of so many injured children and the images shown here are extremely distressing. She was determined to get the story back to London, but her handlers received intelligence that ground forces were due to attack Homs and they forced them to leave. They regrouped at Al-Buwaydah and filed their report with Ryan. He shows the front page story and the centrefold on the widows' basement. But Colvin felt she had betrayed the people she had met by putting her own safety above theirs and insisted on going back. 

Suggesting that she might have hoped that her presence would help protect the widows, Conroy explains that Colvin had form when it came to risking her neck by taking us back to East Timor in 1999, when she had defied UN diplomats to remain inside a refugee compound and had continued to report in the face of bombardment. Ryan reveals that Colvin had been told that her heroism had saved lives and we see footage of her making a speech in which she hoped that journalism could make a tangible difference. 

Having arrived back in Baba Amr on 21 February, Conroy confided to his video diary that he had a bad feeling about their return. But, when Colvin gave him the option of staying behind, he laughed and followed her lead. On emerging from the tunnel, however, he sensed that the shelling had intensified and they were unable to leave the media hub for several days. One activist returned from the medical centre with footage of a baby dying while its volunteer grandmother watched on helplessly, as it was simply too dangerous to take the child 100 metres to the hospital because of shells and snipers. Conroy recorded his feelings of outrage on seeing such disregard for the lives of civilians and knew that Colvin felt the same way and that it was their duty to make the seemingly indifferent world take notice. 

Waiting for news in London, Ryan had not known that they had gone back to Homs and Conroy jokes in interview that it was easier to say sorry than ask for permission. He was keen for them to leave at the first opportunity. But, after Colvin had spoken by phone to CNN and the BBC, she had persuaded Conroy to make one last trip to the medical centre before evacuating. Hilsum recalls being worried that her friend didn't have an exit strategy. But she decided to dig in after Le Figaro reporter Edith Bouvier and photojournalists Rémi Ochlik and William Daniels arrived at the media base because this was her story and she refused to be gazumped by what she told Conroy were the `Euro Trash' brigade. 

On 22 February, Colvin and Conroy got up early to sneak out without waking their rivals. As they reached the doorway, however, shells landed nearby and Conroy had no doubt that the Syrians had identified the foreign media's location and were deliberately targeting it. The third explosion hit very close by and Colvin and Ochlik were killed outright. Conroy and Bouvier listen to Skype audio of the aftermath, as they recall being smuggled to the health centre, where Al-Omar was being treated for a wound around his shoulder. Conroy had a gaping gash in his thigh, while Bouvier was informed that she would die unless they could get her to a hospital for surgery. 

What is so chilling about this footage is how calm everyone is, as they come to terms with losing close companions and dealing with their injuries (which makes it frustrating that it isn't always possible to tell the difference between authentic footage and slick reconstruction). As Hilsum and Ryan share recollections of hearing the news that Colvin had been killed, Conroy and Bouvier remember being moved to a safe house and spending a night without sleep. Conroy was surprised by how little emotion he felt considering he had just lost his journalistic soulmate. However, he is moved by images he had never seen before of the citizens of Homs holding a nighttime vigil for Colvin and Ochlik and fights back tears as he declares that their courage only renews his determination to keep doing what he does. 

The shelling began again on the morning of 23 February. Dr Mohammad came to ask Conroy, Daniels and Bouvier to make video messages to let people know what was happening and these clips made news bulletins around the world. But their appeals to national governments to intervene had no impact and they realised that the cavalry was not going to ride in and save them, as the shells kept hitting their refuge. Conroy vowed not to die stuck to a mattress in a hellhole, but the food and water supplies were beginning to run out. Moreover, he could hear gunfights on the street below. Throughout the ordeal, however, they kept filming and making video diary entries, which are shown here (perhaps amidst more reconstructions?).

Much to their surprise, the bombardment stopped one afternoon and they were informed that a ceasefire had been arranged so that a Red Cross ambulance could collect them. In the event, however, the vehicle was from the Syrian Red Crescent. Having heard rumours of people disappearing after being taken away in them, Conroy demanded to see the head of the delegation. The doctor whispered to him not to get into the ambulances before making a big fuss about them coming to regret their decision not to accompany him. As the shelling resumed and they heard tanks rumbling through the neighbouring streets, Conroy, Bouvier and Daniels wondered if they had made the biggest mistake of their lives. 

Throughout their ordeal, Al-Omar remained with the journalists, as he felt it was his duty to get them to safety. He concedes, however, that the room was the dictionary definition of misery and that they all feared the worst. Then, there was a sudden bout of frantic activity and they were bundled into vehicles and sent in convoy across the town through fierce sniper fire until they reached the tunnel. Conroy was placed on the back of a cut-down motorbike and driven through the drain until it reached a place where there had been a cave-in and he was forced to scramble through a tiny hole in the mud. He felt metal pierce his leg, but the voices of Colvin and those who had endured so much gave him the strength to pull through and he was picked up on the other side of the obstruction and taken to the tunnel opening.

Once again, forced to crawl across exposed ground, Conroy was placed in the back of a van and recorded a message to explain what he had just been through. He admits that this was a deeply personal recording and declares his life started again as he spoke. Closing captions reveal that Bouvier and Daniels were evacuated two days later and that Al-Omar eventually got to Europe. Indeed, as the credits roll, we see an inset shot of him being reunited with Conroy. 

It's become the norm for documentarists to supplement their archive material and talking-head pieces with dramatic reconstructions. Here, the credited cast of Julian Lewis Jones (Conroy), Ziad Abaza (Al-Omar), Janine Birkett (Colvin) and Karine Myriam Lapouble (Bouvier) re-enact scenes to enable Martin to provide a visual approximation of the conditions the real quartet had to endure. But, when these interludes are so proficiently produced that it's impossible to see the joins, viewers can be left wondering where primary sources are being used and where skilled artifice has taken over. Some film-makers have bypassed this problem by commissioning animated sequences. But it suggests a certain lack of trust in the actuality audience if it's felt so consistently that they can't be relied upon to take a speaker's word at face value without having to be shown as well as told. 

Notwithstanding this generic quibble, this is a powerful and often humbling record of the lengths to which Colvin, Conroy and their companions were prepared to go to alert the world to the atrocities being committed in Homs. Martin is indebted for the film's immersive viscerality to editor Dudley Sergeant for the adroit interweaving of the different visual strands. But the score by Heaven 17 vocalist Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott occasionally tilts the action toward thriller territory. 

Genially self-effacing, Conroy makes an astute witness, as he seeks to downplay his own heroism in highlighting the sacrifices made by the likes of Al-Omar and Dr Mohammad. Bouvier and Al-Omar also speak with clarity and admirable abasement. But the absence of William Daniels raises some unanswered questions.

Not a day seems to go by without a social media storm being caused by an item of fake news or a spat between tweeting celebrities. Yet, while the Internet has acquired something of a Wild West reputation, there are people out there attempting to stem the flow of criminality, propaganda, pornography and hate. As Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck reveal in The Cleaners, however, these content moderators invariably approach their thankless task with personal preconceptions that aren't always conducive to the upholding of free speech. Moreover, they are often poorly paid and are sometimes psychologically scarred by the horrors they witness on a daily basis to protect the integrity of websites based thousands of miles away in air-conditioned offices in the United States.

Opening captions provide an idea of the problem facing the cleaners, as three billion people are connected to social media sites around the world. In any given minute, 500 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube, 450,000 messages appear on Twitter and 2.5 million posts are made on Facebook. As we meet the first of the six anonymous cleaners based in Manila in The Philippines, Mark Zuckerberg is shown making his promise to provide a platform that will allow users to share anything with anyone. An off-screen voice reveals that Facebook has a bigger population than any state on earth and that its owners want and need to maintain complete control over what goes on across the site. But, as Donald Trump proclaims on the hustings that he wouldn't be standing there without social media, the question is raised why do companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter leave editorial decisions of potentially epochal importance to unaccountable drones with the power to `ignore' or `delete' material?

One of the moderators (Man A) sitting in his booth in a Manila high-rise claims that he has a daily target of 25,000 images to adjudicate on and, like his colleagues, he takes his responsibility very seriously. But they are often confronted with unpalatable footage and one woman (Woman A) explains how she wanted to quit after first viewing child pornography. However, she was informed she had signed a contract and needed to develop a thicker skin. Such attitudes on the part of the subcontractors representing the major social media players is disturbing in the extreme. 

Nicole Wong, a former policy maker at Google and Twitter, admits there will always be objectionable material posted online. But she feels democracy is best served by vetting items after they have appeared rather than censoring them in advance. Academic Sarah T. Roberts from the University of California notes how willing people are to share the minutiae of their lives and concedes that a lot of dross gets posted. A cross-cut takes us to a Manila rubbish dump, where Woman A reveals that he mother warned her that she would end up scavenging unless she got a good job. But the implication is that she is sifting through rubbish to weed out the most offensive stuff. 

Sometimes the moderators can be overzealous, as artist Illma Gore suggests in recalling how her painting. `Make America Great Again', went viral during the 2016 presidential election because it depicted a naked Donald Trump with a tiny appendage. However, Woman B explains that she decided to remove the image from Facebook because if demeaned him and, shortly after the picture was deleted, Gore's profile was closed down. As a devout Catholic, Woman B admits that she didn't have much experience of sex and had to learn the names of various toys and practices. But, in spending her days surveying genitals, she began dreaming of them at night and smiles in confessing that her work became something of a guilty pleasure. 

During the House investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Colin Stretch (Facebook), Sean Edgett (Twitter) and Richard Selgado (Google) did their best to be reassuring and evasive when answering questions about monitoring terrorist content online. Woman C says she has seen dozens of beheadings on jihadist sites and can now tell what kind of blade was used. Man B also watches footage of bombings and Abdulwahab Tahhan from the Airwars group in London explains that such images are archived before they can be deleted, as they often come from citizen journalists trying to alert the wider world to atrocities. 

Wong concedes that it's difficult trying to judge why a particular piece of footage has been posted and urges moderators to reach a decision based on context. But it's clear they don't always have time to go into detail and rarely have their verdicts assessed in depth by their controllers. The problem is, the guidelines by which they operate means that pictures like the iconic shot of nine year-old Vietnamese girl Phan Thi Kim Phúc would be deleted. In positing an album of seven images showing drowned children in Libya, Berlin-based Syrian artist and photographer Khaled Barakeh had a similar run-in with Facebook, when it removed the album entitled, `Multicultural Graveyard'. 

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, worries that the removal of such provocative material will diminish our critical thinking skills and he predicts a time when items online will become sanitised in order to reflect and shape the mindset of the audience. Woman and Man C  discuss stills and videos pertaining to President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs, with the latter stating that he is also trying to make the country safe by removing harmful material from websites and apps. 

After we see footage of Duterte comparing himself to Hitler in his bid to eradicate the drug problem, Man C goes to see The Mocha Girls and notes that lead singer Mocha Uson is a huge supporter of the president and gets the crowd to shout out for him during the gig. However, journalist Ed Lingao reveals that Uson uses her blog to spread disinformation that it accepted as gospel truth by her fans. Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former product manager at Facebook, claims that the company is less interested in monitoring content than it is improving the user experience. As a consequence, it refuses to accept its role in bringing about Brexit or the election of Donald Trump, as it insists it is apolitical. 

However, as Marco Rubio quizzes Colin Stretch during the Senate hearings, it becomes clear that in return for operating in certain countries, Facebook employs `geoblocking' to prevent anti-government posts from appearing online. Stretch denies the material blocked is primarily political in nature. But Yaman Akdeniz, Professor of Law at Istanbul Bilgi University, avers that Facebook deletes anything criticising President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that this restricts debate in a supposedly democratic country. Wong admits that she approved a degree of IP blocking in 2007 to prevent Turkish users from accessing certain YouTube videos to avoid a blanket shutdown. Kaye claims such `outsourcing' of legality should be a major concern for users everywhere, as it means that companies are interpreting laws in foreign countries for their own benefit and gain. 

The cleaners are aware of the onerous nature of their duties. But, while one worries about causing a war or costing someone their life, another says he has eight seconds to make a decision and has to move on or he would get nothing done. Right-wing activist Sabo is shown making a video supporting Trump's policies on immigration, while Martinez muses on the fact that people no longer feel entitled to have an opinion, but demand their own set of truths and he worries that social media is shutting down the debate rather than encouraging it. Wong also worries that the loudest voices get heard rather than the reasoned ones and Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, concurs that social media sites know that outrage is more likely to attract attention than rationality. Consequently, they do little to remove such posts because they encourage people to like and share. 

Bangladeshi blogger Nay San Lwin echoes this by declaring that users are more likely to be boosted by saying negative things about the Rohingya population of Myanmar than anything defending it. He and Harris fear that the genocide has been legitimised through Facebook and that nothing was done to block it. Riesewieck and Hans Block show close-ups of Man C watching footage with screams in the ambient soundtrack and he appears to be doing nothing to delete them. Indeed, the shots of his eyes following the action on the screen suggest he is transfixed and printed testimony from cleaners interviewed reinforces the idea that they are emotionally damaged by what they witness. 

Another printout reveals that cleaners are only allowed to make three `errors' a month. But who decides what is a mistake? Man A recalls having to decide whether a live feed to somebody seemingly in the process of committing suicide was real or fake and facing censure if he blocks a link that turns out not to be genuine. Written testimony exposes the fact that one specialist in self-harm videos hanged himself, but Man A goes home to kiss his baby and avow that he doesn't let what he sees affect him. Over footage of a re-enactment of the Crucifixion, Woman A describes herself as a `preventer' whose job is a holy sacrifice to keep `sinful' images offline. However, there's a tear in her eye, as she says the work is having a deleterious effect on her brain and that she has to quit for her own sanity. 

Closing captions reveal that some of the cleaners who appear in the film or who contributed testimony have since found new forms of employment. It's easy to see why they would need to self-protect in this manner, as the accumulative effect of the sights they have witnessed must be beyond harrowing. Yet, while Block and Riesewieck deserve credit for bringing their stories to a wider audience, they are prove reluctant to delve too deeply into the murky waters whose surface they have ruffled. 

Couching their material in a pseudo-thriller format, the co-directors make use of ominous shadows, canted angles and flickering lights to convey the atmosphere of the viewing rooms. They counterpoint the images with sinister music to reinforce their sense of unease, but they don't really distinguish between the rationales under which the different cleaners operate. Moreover, while they establish connections, they avoid making overt accusations about the executives who appear to abnegate their responsibility and the cleaners who seem to assume the right to impose their views on a global conversation whose nuances they admit often pass them by. What's more, neither Block and Riesewieck not their experts are in a position to offer any solutions. Thus, while this might open a few eyes, it doesn't provide enough grist to take the debate much further.