Documentaries

Documentaries

United Kingdom

The best of BBC World Service documentaries and other factual programmes.

Episodes

Dying to Talk  

There's only one thing in life that's certain: death. Many people believe that talking about death helps us make more of life. Thousands of Death Cafés have popped up in countries across the globe, challenging people to open up about the deceased and their own thoughts and fears about dying. Cafes are often over subscribed with organisers having to turn away individuals from sell out events. Julian Keane visits some of these Death Cafés to explore if a key part of life should be preparing for death. He explores how people across the world deal with death whilst they're living, and if there's really a need for the conversation. Julian also meets sociologist Bernard Crettaz. He began the concept of Café Mortel (Death Café) at an exhibition called La mort à vivre (Death for life) in his Geneva museum. Bernard shares more about his work, the theories behind his Death Café concept and how he feels knowing the world is embracing his concept.

#GrannyWisdom  

Young stars of social media share lessons in life from their grandmothers. What happens when the youth-dominated, image-obsessed world of social media gets a dose of hard-learnt life-advice from older women? The BBC's #GrannyWisdom week will see stars of Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook posting conversations with their grandmothers, getting their wisdom on topics from love to mental health to overcoming adversity. Featuring highlights from those social media posts as well as discussions between the social media stars about what they learned from the older generation, this programme explores the lessons, tensions and reaction to this big, global social media experiment. Presented by YouTuber Hannah Witton, with contributions from social media stars Ross Smith, Taty Ferreira, Anushree Fadnavis, Megan Gilbride, Steven Chikosi and Kubra Sait. Also listen out for Hannah's, Ross's and Anushree's grannies.

Cuba’s Cancer Revolution  

Cuba’s biotech industry is booming. And in a revolutionary first, its lung cancer treatment is being trialled in the US. So with limited resources, how has Cuba done it?

Living with the Dead  

Since the beginning of time, man has lived in awe and fear of death, and every culture has faced its mystery through intricate and often ancient rituals. Few, however, are as extreme as those of the Torajan people on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Here, the dead are a constant presence, with corpses often kept in family homes for many years. When funerals are eventually held, they don’t mean goodbye. Once every couple of years, the dead are dug back out for a big family reunion.

Mirrored  

From childhood to old age, a journey through life reflected in the mirror - via a series of interviews recorded with people as they confront their reflection. What do they see? How has their face changed? What stories lie behind the wrinkles and scars? We hear the initial wonder of the small child give way to the embarrassment of the teenager and the acceptance of later-life. Created by multi-award-winning documentary-maker, Cathy FitzGerald, this moving programme hops from home to home in contemporary Britain, catching its subjects in bedrooms and bathrooms and lounges, to hold up a mirror to the ageing process itself. Image: A face in a mirror, Credit: Getty Images

A Soldier's Eye View of Afghanistan  

Afghanistan, strategically located between South, Central and West Asia has been invaded and fought over by the world’s superpowers for centuries. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British Empire, the Soviet Union have all tried and failed to control Afghanistan. And war rages in the country today: the US-led military coalition has been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, and conflict has become the longest war in US history. Dawood Azami talks to the British, Russian, American and Afghan fighters and soldiers who fought in what some historians have called the Graveyard of Empires. He finds out what drew them to this formidable battlefield, what they found there, how they view their enemy and how their experience changed them as soldiers and as individuals. Azami looks for patterns in history: the British fought three wars in Afghanistan in the 19th and 20th Century before they sent in troops after 2001. Some of the British servicemen were aware of their predecessor’s defeats as they came up against stiff Afghan resistance; as were the Taliban fighters. From a US General whose ancestor also governed in Afghanistan in the 19th Century, and an infantryman caught up in a close quarter’s firefight with the Taliban, to a Mujahedeen fighter ambushing a Soviet military convoy in the mountains, Azami follows the twists and turns of conflict in Afghanistan. Image: Afghan security personnel on a military vehicle, Credit: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

Walls and Peace  

From internal barriers to border fences, do walls built for political purposes create bigger problems than they solve? And what is it like to live next to them, asks Cathy Gormley-Heenan, of Ulster University. She meets residents and experts in Belfast, Israel-West Bank, and on the US-Mexican border, to find out why we are still building walls and what impact they have.

Extreme Selfies Russian Style  

Lucy Ash meets the young Russians taking death-defying photos on top of skyscrapers to gain internet fame and explores why this is a particularly Russian phenomenon.

Celebrating Life at 117  

This is an affectionate portrait of Elizabeth Gathoni Koinange - a woman who lives a short drive outside Nairobi - and who celebrated her 117th birthday this year. Her story, and that of her family, is told by Elizabeth's own great granddaughter Priscilla Ng'ethe. The joy of family life is captured when many generations come together. But it is also a short mental journey to the past and more turbulent times, when the British were rounding up suspected Mau Mau independence rebels.

Project Le Pen  

What accounts for Marine Le Pen's popularity? As a populist wave sweeps across the Western world, France is emerging as a key battleground and she is scoring record ratings for a leader of an 'outsider' party and looks set to get through to the second round of the presidential elections. How much is it to do with an increasingly familiar politics which blames global elites and immigrants for economic and social woes? And how much is it a distinctively French form, mixing policies of the left and the right in a brew which harks back to previous generations of Gallic leaders? What turns a party previously seen as fascist into one seriously vying for the highest office in the land? Anand Menon examines how Marine Le Pen has detoxified her father's party and asks what its success says about France's future as one of two anchoring states of the EU.

When the Shooting Stops  

Nearly half of all peace agreements fail. What can be done to stop countries from sliding back into civil war? Sri Lanka and Uganda are two countries that have suffered long and brutal civil wars, but have managed, to keep the peace - at least so far. BBC foreign affairs correspondent, Mike Thomson, who has reported from many conflict zones around the world, investigates how well both countries have managed to heal the wounds of war and what their experiences can teach us about winning the peace.

Hong Kong’s Secret Dwellings  

Last summer the emergency services rescued two children from an out-of-control fire in an old industrial building in the commercial area of Hong Kong. The children were living with their mother inside a storage unit in the building. For Assignment, Charlotte McDonald explores the reasons which would drive a family in one of the wealthiest cities in the world to live illegally in a place not fit for human habitation. It's estimated that around 10,000 people live in industrial buildings - although the true number is not known due to the very fact it is not legal. Hong Kong consistently ranks as one of the most expensive places to rent or buy in the world. Already around 200,000 have been forced to rent in what are known as subdivided flats. But now attention has turned to those in even more dire conditions in industrial blocks. From poor government planning, the loss of industry to mainland China and exploitative landlords, we uncover why people are choosing to live in secrecy in neglected buildings. Charlotte McDonald reporting Alex Burton producing (Photo: Construction workers on site in front of a building, in Hong Kong)

Myanmar's Sex Vote  

When political activists like Daw Sander Min were imprisoned for their campaigns on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy they were locked up alongside sex workers like Thuzar Win, criminalised by Myanmar's harsh laws against prostitution. Now Sandar Min is an MP and Thuzar Win addresses parliament on behalf of the Sex Workers in Myanmar network. With Myanmar poised to become the new global centre of sex tourism, Sandar Min and Thuzar Win are adamant that the future of the thousands of young people forced into sex work every year, depends upon the decriminalisation of prostitution.

Reflections on Terror: 50 Years Behind the Headlines  

When Peter Taylor stepped nervously onto a plane in 1967, bound for the Middle East, he had no idea it was to be the start of a journalistic mission he would still be pursuing fifty years later. At the time “terrorism” was barely in our vocabulary. In the hundred or so documentaries he has made on the subject since then, Peter has tried to get behind the headlines to understand and explain a phenomenon which has grown to affect us all. Peter has reported the escalation of terrorism from the IRA and its Loyalist counterparts to Al Qaeda and the so called Islamic State. He has met the victims of terror, those involved in perpetrating terrorist acts and members of the intelligence services tasked with stopping them. Revisiting his own extraordinary archive has given Peter the chance to reflect on the evolution of terrorism and to recall some of his most memorable interviews. “There are moments when the interviews are chilling, moments when they're shocking and at other points they provoked a sharp intake of breath – surprising me by how prophetic they were.”

Brazil’s modern-day Captains of the Sands  

Captains of the Sands, a Brazilian novel about street children written 80 years ago, still resonates in the 21st century.

The Web Sheikh and the Muslim Mums  

How much do mums know about the messages being preached to their children? BBC World Service journalist Shaimaa Khalil meets a group of Muslim mums in London to talk about the everyday fears of parents who worry that extreme interpretations of Islam, often via online preachers, may be infecting the minds of their sons and daughters.

A Failed Revolution  

Middle East Correspondent Lina Sinjab – who grew up in Damascus – explores how the initially peaceful protests in Syria six years ago have left a country without hope and a society that is deeply fragmented. Many of the people who ignited the uprising are either dead, in prison or outside of Syria. Lina hears from some of the activists who remain free and asks them what went wrong, whether they have regrets and how their country can rebuild itself.

Horses for Courses  

Horse racing has an ever-growing global following and financial value. For a few days each year the horse racing world descends on a small English town, as it has for over 250 years. Buyers from over 40 countries bid against each other for the best young thoroughbred race horses on earth. Presenter Susie Emmett joins stable hands, breeders sellers, buyers and horses at the Tatersall's Sales.

Freedom and Fear in Myanmar  

Jonah Fisher travels across Myanmar and into neighbouring Bangladesh to investigate claims that Burmese Muslims have suffered rape and murder at the hands of the military.

It's a Dog's Life  

There is unique and ancient bond between humans and dogs, from its early beginnings to the modern day. Ayo Akinwolere explores this bond by visiting 'The Land of the Mutts' - an extraordinary refuge for dogs in Costa Rica, where dogs outnumber people by 100 to one. He investigates the science behind the the bonding and hears individual stories of canine-human relationships.

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