The best independent films released in 2017

In 2016, we were treated to aliens from another world, song-and-dance numbers, a quest in dealing with loss, the lives of the gay black community in the 305, Marvel continuing their winning streak and countless foreign language and documentary features, and 2017 definitely continued with that trend.

However, this post will exclusively focus on the documentaries, independent and foreign language films from 2017 that had our heads turning! Films released in 2016 but held over for a 2017 release don’t count (apologies to Elle, The Handmaiden, The Lost City of Z, I Am Not Your Negro and The Red Turtle). Anyway, here’s a comprehensive list of the best independent films released in 2017 (in our opinion).

In this blog:


Director: Kitty Green

Release date: 28th April 2017

Taking cues from Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, Casting JonBenet takes a look at the 1996 death of beauty pageant contestant JonBenet Ramsey, with numerous families and children offering their own interpretations of the events, in a range of styles and performances.

Again, this is another Netflix purchase so if you’re in the mood of seeing factual coverage of a sensational event with fresh eyes, you know how to add media to your queue.


Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Release date: 26th May 2017

With his long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s Le Havre, cinema’s grumpiest auteur returned, pint and fag in hand, to the screen with his immigration comedy The Other Side of Hope. Reception to this film was phenomenal and Kaurismäki took home the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival. Kaurismäki originally noted that the Other Side of Hope would be his last as a director, however, he went on to make new film Fallen Leaves a few years later.


Director: Joe Wright

Release date: 29th December 2017

Darkest Hour tells of one of Churchill’s crucial moments in the early days of World War II. After suffering a slump with his past features, Atonement director Joe Wright returned to his roots with a screenplay penned by The Theory of Everything scribe Anthony McCarten.

The cast includes Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill himself, along with Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) and, in one of his final performances, John Hurt (whom the film was dedicated to).


Director: Dee Rees

Release date: 21st January 2017

After presenting us with the unreleased-in-the-UK Pariah and TV miniseries Bessie, Dee Rees gave us her second feature film, an adaptation of Hilary Jordan’s 2008 novel Mudbound.

Among the names cast were Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund (Inside Llewyn Davis), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Mary J. Bilge and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul).

Praise for the film was extremely high and Netflix paid a huge sum for the distribution rights, so if you haven’t watched Mudbound by now, you should definitely give it a try!


Director: Luca Guadagnino

Release date: 27th November 2017

Adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) presented the story of a relationship between an academic and a seventeen year old boy in 1980s Italy.

With a cast made up of Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Boardwalk Empire) and Timothée Chalamet (Homeland), the film received mass acclaim with four nominations at the 90th Academy Awards. The screenplay also won at the 23rd Critics’ Choice Awards, 71st British Academy Film Awards, and the 70th Writers Guild of America Awards.


Director: Michael Haneke

Release date: 25th June 2017

Michael Haneke made his return with European migrant crisis family drama Happy End.

The cast reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of prominent French performers, including the likes of Isabelle Huppert (fresh off her Oscar nomination for Elle), actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz and veteran Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Anyone who knows Michael Haneke’s filmography will know just how misleading this title is to the Average Joe looking for escapism (although it perplexes me why someone like that would be reading this blog post, if they’re not one of my relatives). The film was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.


Director: Matthew Heineman

Release date: 14th July 2017

Another documentary feature, City of Ghosts is the second feature film by Cartel Land helmsman Matthew Heineman. Here he turns an eye to the Syrian opposition group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently and their attempts to bring human rights abuses by ISIS and other occupying forces to public attention.

It received mass acclaim from critics and Amazon provided the US distribution rights.

Official website:


Director: Sebastián Lelio

Release date: 25th August 2017

A breakout title from Berlin, Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio returned to cinemas with A Fantastic Woman (with the support of producers Pablo Larrain (director of Jackie) and Maren Ade (director of Toni Erdmann).

Featuring transgender actress Daniela Vega, the film tells the story of a waitress/nightclub singer Marina coming to terms with the death of her older boyfriend. A Fantastic Woman received critical acclaim upon release, a US distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics and also took the Silver Bear Award for Best Screenplay.


Director: David Lowery

Release date: 7th July 2017

After breaking into the mainstream with his remake of Pete’s Dragon, David Lowery returned to his indie roots with A Ghost Story, a drama film about a ghost haunting the house he used to inhabit.

With Lowery regulars Rooney Mara and Oscar winner Casey Affleck (wearing a bedsheet with two eyeholes cut out) headlining, the film received acclaim from critics and a home at A24 (the studio behind Ex-Machina, Room and Moonlight).


Director: Francis Lee

Release date: 1st September 2017


The directorial debut of bit-part actor Francis Lee (Topsy-Turvy and numerous British evening dramas), the film presents the life of a Yorkshire farmer whose life changes upon the arrival of a Romanian immigrant worker during lambing season.

The film itself is partially Lee ruminating on what would have happened had he taken up a farming job within his local community, and not departed for drama school. God’s Own Country was acclaimed by critics, described as the UK’s answer to Brokeback Mountain and took home numerous prizes from Sundance and Berlin.


Director: Hong Sang-Soo

Release date: 23rd March 2017

On the Beach at Night Alone marked yet another feature from Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-Soo.

Taking its title from a poem by Walt Whitman, the plot involves an actress wandering the beach, questioning her relationship with a married man. With the recent events unfolding in South Korea at the time, the film itself could be seen as autobiographical to Hong, who left his wife for his muse and star of the film Kim Min-hee.

However, the controversy of this event did not prevent the film from being greeted with a positive reception and the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Kim (although some of us awards predictors had Daniela Vega as the favourite).


Director: Todd Haynes

Release date: 18th May 2017

Following on from his acclaimed lesbian drama Carol, director Todd Haynes returned to cinemas with his follow-up feature Wonderstruck.

Adapted from the 2011 juvenile fiction novel by Brian Selznick (who also wrote the screenplay), the film presents two separate stories set in 1920s and 1970s of two children escaping to New York City for different purposes. Wonderstruck also sees Haynes reunite with recurring cast member Julianne Moore (playing two roles), while bringing aboard Michelle Williams, Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon) and deaf actress Millicent Simmonds in her feature debut.

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