As regular SBS viewers will attest, one of the joys of watching SBS is the diverse range of shows and films broadcast on the channel every day. Leading the team responsible for choosing and scheduling the shows screened on the channel is its channel manager Ben Nguyen who has assembled this list of his own personal favourite programs that screened in 2016.
10. DNA Nation
We’re all one human species but somehow we continue to place so much emphasis on our differences in appearance. DNA Nation broke down some of the myths behind race with Ernie Dingo, Julia Zemiro and Ian Thorpe travelling across the world to trace their genetic history. And it helped that this jet setting tour that took the trio to Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and more was so stunning to look at.
The 1977 TV miniseries about slavery over generations smashed ratings records around the world. Would a 2016 remake be necessary? The ongoing Black deaths tragedy in the US makes the case for yes. Seasoned Australian directors Philip Noyce and Bruce Beresford working with a cast of both new and established actors created a more brutal and less forgiving story than the original – unsettling but important viewing.
8. Pauline Hanson: Please Explain!
When Anna Broinowski started a documentary on the One Nation party co-founder for the 20th anniversary year of her incendiary maiden speech she never could have guessed that by the time the program aired Hanson would be back in federal parliament again holding the balance of power. Her film combined the formal – interviews from her backers and critics – and the candid – Hanson chatting with the Vietnamese owner of her old fish & chip shop and questioning the refugee status of a film crew member - and forced us to revisit the legacy of this divisive figure.
7. Untold Australia
Indian weddings, Norfolk Islanders, Melbourne Adass Israel Jews – to be honest, no one at SBS was really sure how interested Australians would be in a show that peered inside the lives of these communities. But the documentaries were fantastic and audiences responded – eager to learn whether Dalvinder finds a husband, how Leilani responds to the loss of independence and how Shlomo keeps his community together.
6. How to Die: Simon’s Choice
Whatever your position on euthanasia, documentaries on assisted dying are always difficult to watch. Yet, as Simon’s Choice reminds us, those who choose to end their own life are often incredibly aware of its value. Simon Binner comes across as a remarkable man, facing his motor neurone disease with grace and humour. Losing his ability to speak, we even see him joke about his Northern accent as he selects the actor who will read his words, providing intimacy to a technique that could have been distancing. Simon’s decision is very clear – he wants to die. But Simon’s wife Debbie doesn’t share that clarity – and it is her voice of dissent that enriches and adds to the complexity of this film.
5. First Contact
Those who criticised this series for treating Aboriginal people as a sidebar to the six white celebrities missed the point – First Contact always had as its target non-Indigenous attitudes of racism, ignorance and privilege. From the filmmakers of Blackfella Films, it’s not the first time stories have been told of Indigenous disadvantage and the Stolen Generations, but what makes the series ground-breaking is that it swings the cameras around to challenge the preconceptions of White Australia. And whose heart could withstand breaking hearing the stories of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls’ Home survivors?
4. Deep Water & Deep Water: The Real Story
After the mid-Noughties one-two punch of RAN and East West 101, local drama on SBS has become a rare occurrence. But after last year’s Logie-winning The Principal, Deep Water maintained SBS’s momentum in telling compelling fiction stories steeped in confronting social issues. Inspired by Sydney’s gay hate murders of the 1970s and ‘80s, a procedural crime story was elevated by a top-notch cast led by Yael Stone and Noah Taylor. But what really carried an emotional punch was the documentary that told the true stories of the cases unsolved to this day.
Sure Guy broke new ground in competing for Australia in Vienna. He had the upbeat number, the moves, and a sweet fifth place. But who would have guessed that our second ever competitor, Dami Im, would win the jury vote and take things down to the wire before just slipping behind winners Ukraine (SBS executives were having panic attacks at the thought of staging the multi-million dollar spectacle). That sparkle, those high notes, that giant disappearing box. More please!
2. OJ Simpson: Made in America
The court case that everyone watched managed to inspire two critically-acclaimed hits in 2016 – the Cuba Gooding Jr starring The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story and this 7.5 hour documentary film gunning its way towards a Best Documentary Oscar nomination. The documentary managed to artfully and meticulously chronicle a history of celebrity, class, gender and race in the US while never taking its eye off the charismatic figure at its centre.
1. The Family Law
Remember that other all-Asian Australian comedy? No? But it wasn’t identity politics that made Benjamin Law’s memoir turned half-hour comedy series The Family Law a breath of fresh air, it was the acutely observed painful, funny and deeply honest insights into family life – of any colour.
Honourable mention: Great Continental Railway Journeys
The little show that could. The railway history travel series fronted by former Tory-politician turned colourfully dressed, Bradshaw’s Guide brandishing, galavanter Michael Portillo, keeps finding new audiences. So if you’re a fan, all aboard, because there’s a lot more chugging into your platform in 2017!