24,000 fans of soccer clubs from Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest made their way to Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England on Saturday, April 15, 1989 to watch their beloved teams go at it on the pitch in the semi-finals of the F.A. Cup. A problematically designed stadium with all entrances leading to a single bottleneck and a previous reputation for overcrowding, Hillsborough also had to contend with a recent change in police leadership that would prove woefully ill equipped to deal with crowd control and patron safety on such a large level. The match would only last for six minutes before botched entry procedures and the implementation of pens to keep the fans in place would create a forward crush that one officer would describe as looking like “fish in a trawler net.” That day would see the staggering deaths of 96 fans and injuries to 766 more. The South Yorkshire Police Department, wanting to save face for never having declared a state of emergency for such a disaster, placed blame for the tragedy of Liverpool’s fans, levying claims of rampant drunkenness and hooliganism. The families of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy fought such claims, and in a bid for closure and accountability, the longest running inquest in English legal history was launched.

Incendiary, intricate, and detailed, documentarian Daniel Gordon’s viscerally moving Hillsborough is both a remarkable work of historical scholarship and one of the saddest, most prolonged cases of victim blaming in world history. Footage of the 1989 tragedy is glimpsed, and while it’s striking and gutting to behold, it’s nothing compared to the recollections of attendees, surviving families, and officers who had their lives changed forever by what happened. Considering what the interview subjects in Gordon’s film went through, the actual tragedy was just the beginning of their hellish ordeal, one that wouldn’t come to any sort of rightful closure for over a quarter century. There isn’t a moment where Gordon’s subjects don’t seem haunted and traumatized by their ordeal.

The details of what went wrong on the day of the event and the countless inquiries raised in the wake of the tragedy have a lot of moving parts made more complex by numerous cover-ups to obscure what really happened. Gordon looks at every detail of the tragedy with all artifice stripped away, and he details not only a gross abuse of power on behalf of local authorities, but also delivers a well rounded history worthy of the 96 victims.

Is Hillsborough essential festival viewing?

Hillsborough isn’t just one of the best films at this year’s festival, but also one of the most complex, well researched, and moving documentaries I have seen in quite some time. See it immediately.

Hillsborough screening times

Hillsborough Trailer