A year on from Kathryn Bigelow winning the Academy Award for Best Director, the status quo has been restored and women film-makers are again consigned to the margins of world cinema. A century ago, a handful of women like Alice Guy-Blaché and Elvira Notari challenged male hegemony in the fledgling film industries of Europe and America. But, while many more women now direct films, the majority has to be content with showing work in festivals rather than reaching wider audiences through the weekly release schedule.

The London Turkish Film Festival has gone some way to redressing this imbalance by sponsoring the release of Asli Özge's Men on the Bridge, which won its 2009 jury prize. Frustratingly few people will get to see this perceptive study of a nation in transition, as arthouse cinemas across the UK are increasingly reluctant to take programming risks. Yet this is very much a picture rooted in the traditions of Free Cinema, a 1950s British movement that saw young film-makers like Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Lorenza Mazzetti introduce a new docudramatic realism to studies of everyday life.

Umut Ilker, Fikret Portakal and Murat Tokgöz spend much of their lives on the Bosphorous Bridge that unites Europe and Asia. Umut is a 28 year-old cabby who seems permanently stuck in the slow-moving traffic through which the 17 year-old Fikret weaves trying to sell flowers to disinterested motorists - that is when he's not being moved on by Murat, a 23 year-old cop who has recently transferred to Turkey's biggest city from a backwater in the east.

Their home lives are scarcely easier. Fikret lives in a crowded street in an impoverished neighbourhood with one bathroom for all the residents, while Murat shares digs with fellow cop Serkan Özcan, who constantly teases him about a Muslim faith that forbids him from drinking beer, but which allows him to flirt with girls in internet chatrooms. Umut is married and lives in a small, but comfortable flat. However, wife Cemile Ilker is dissatisfied with the fact that he lets pal Bülent Demirkiran pay him a meagre wage for driving their shared cab and keeps pressurising them into moving into a smaller flat so he can charge the new tenants a higher rent.

Cemile is a babysitter, but has ambitions to work in an office. However, she soon learns during an interview at a recruitment agency that she's seriously under-qualified and Fikret discovers much the same thing as he applies for vacancies in clothing and electrical stores. Deprived of citizenship as a Roma, let alone an education, Fikret only learned to read so he could bet on the horses and, following a disastrous stint in a kebab café, he quickly abandons all attempts at bettering himself and returns to his illegal pitch on the bridge.

Murat also dislikes his job and is torn between going to university and doing national service. But, as his desultory dates with online contacts Didem Delen and Nezihe Özcan prove, he lacks drive and only a terrorist attack by Kurdish separatists jolts him out of his lethargy. Indeed, Umut and Fikret also have nationalist inclinations, with the former marching in a demonstration in protest at PKK activity and EU demands for internal reform and the latter attending the Republic Day parade and expressing bellicose sentiments on seeing the army hardware trundle through the streets.

Despite their pipe dreams, the trio remain stuck in their respective ruts. Fikret and buddy Tayfun Kiskaç smoke a joint and console themselves with the fact that flower selling allows them to sleep late, while Murat puts off any life-changing decisions beyond promising his mother he'll visit when he can. But Umut is entrenched without solace, as even though a climactic argument concludes with mention of divorce, Cemile had already confided in gal pal Mine Yildrim that even though she doesn't love Umut she can't leave as she is so financially dependent upon him.

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, while also exposing the fissures between Turkey's Western and Eastern mentalities, this is a superbly controlled and deeply compassionate picture. Working with a largely non-professional cast, the debuting Özge and cinematographer Emre Erkmen make evocative use of locations that reinforce the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. But the discussion of such contentious topics as tradition, globalisation, poverty, patriotism, religion and the status of women is never forced, as Özge suggests that Turkey is a country condemned to wait for a future that is as likely to break as make it.

The performances are excellent, with Murat exuding awkwardness whether on duty or on dates, and Fikret conveying much through impassivity, as he sleepwalks through his jobs, raps with his mates and gets ejected from a city centre store for looking like a potential troublemaker. But it's the Ilkers who fascinate most, as Umut hides the hurt of suspecting that Cemile married him solely to escape her parents and she barely suppresses the disappointment of being stuck with a man who cares but can never provide her with the little luxuries she feels she deserves.

Just desserts prove just as elusive for the citizens interviewed by Josh Fox in GasLand, a graphic exposé of the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing - or `fracking' - that is being promoted by companies like Halliburton as crucial to meeting America's natural gas needs. This is clearly a courageous, accomplished and effective actuality. But it might have been even more persuasive had Fox not been prone to bouts of self-promotion that threaten to tip his trenchant indictment into Michael Moore stunt-doc territory.

The odyssey opens in Dimock, Pennsylvania with Fox receiving an invitation to lease his land for gas exploration. Curious to discover the potential consequences of such a process, he contacts neighbours who tell tales of polluted water supplies and afflicted animals. But the most striking testimony comes from Mike Markhan and Marsha Mendenhall in Weld County, Colorado, who show him how they can set light to their tap water.

Nearby, Fox meets Jesse and Amee Ellsworth who had independent tests performed on their water to prove it was contaminated with natural gas as a result of fracking in the locality. However, Weston Wilson, a whistleblower from the Environmental Protection Agency, reveals that small claimants have little chance of defeating the multinationals in the courts, as not only do they lack the financial clout to fight protracted cases, but the so-called Halliburton Loophole in the 2005 Energy Act pushed through by Vice-President Dick Cheney also circumvents key clauses in the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.

Crossing into Eastern Wyoming, Fox learns how Jeff and Rhonda Locker purchased an expensive reverse osmosis filtration system to clean up their water, but only produced supplies fit for washing. Close by, Lewis Meek discovers that heating his water with a blow torch produces a coarse kind of plastic, as there are so many chemicals in his well. But while he is shruggingly amused by the situation, beef farmers John and Kathy Fenton are close to despair, as not only is their livelihood in jeopardy, but areas of natural beauty that had been in the family for generations are slowly being destroyed.

Thus far, Fox has amassed such a wealth of damning evidence that it's been possible to overlook the occasional self-aggrandising statement in the narration. But there is something hugely resistible about him donning a gas mask to play the banjo in the middle of a field in Sublette County, Wyoming to express his disgust at the Bureau of Land Management being coerced into leasing public land for exploration.

Fortunately, Fox regains his focus on entering Garfield County, Colorado, where Dee Hoffmeister recalls a fire breaking out in her home in describing the deterioration of air quality after a gas rig exploded nearby. Native American Lisa Bracken makes an equally emotional contribution, as she relates how her father Robert Blackcloud succumbed to pancreatic cancer after his local creek was polluted. Yet, as renowned scientist Theo Colborn points out, it's difficult to prosecute the conglomerates, as their refusal to divulge the exact composition of fracking solutions makes it impossible to monitor their impact.

Further disconcerting scientific data is provided by Al Almendariz, who reveals that oil and gas emissions from fracking sites now outweigh traffic pollution in Fort Worth, Texas, while chemist Wilma Subra explains how poisoned sludge was washed into the water systems of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Yet when Fox returns to Dimock and provides John Hanger with incontrovertible proof of terrifying levels of water contamination, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection replies that no extraction process is perfect and that the state would be foolish to pass up the economic benefits that come with hydraulic fracturing.

Fortunately, not all those in public office take such a relaxed view and Republican Maurice Hinchey teams with Democrat Diana DeGette in a bid to use the Safe Drinking Water Act to exclude fracking from the Energy Act and few will be left unmoved by the congressional hearing at which corporate representatives are humiliated by questioning that exposes both their ignorance of their own industry and their indifference to the damage it can potentially cause.

Fox ends by warning that fracking operations have been sanctioned in both Europe and Asia and that active opposition is the only way to stop further despoliation. His exhortation is both potent and cogent and so is his film, which has now been nominated for an Oscar. The research is thorough, the advocacy unequivocal and the commitment total. The footage of decimated landscapes would be shocking enough, but Fox finds numerous eloquent witnesses to denounce the wilful environmental vandalism of organisations that routinely put profit before anything else.

Yet one is left wondering how much more powerful the case might have been had Fox not insisted on placing himself at the centre of the crisis. A New York theatre director with little previous film-making experience, he narrates in a manner that's more about ego than eco, while his presence on camera often proves decidedly distracting. Yet some exasperating showboating and an excess of expository animation shouldn't be allowed to detract from what is a pugnacious piece of agit-prop that derives much immediacy from Fox and Matthew Sanchez's atmospheric and often accusatory visuals and Brian Scibinico's unflinching sound mix.

The visuals are considerably more polished in Norberto López Amado and Carlos Carcas's hagiographic documentary, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster? Indeed, Valentín Álvarez's sweeping, swooping, swooning images are textbook examples of the kind of architectural porn that has become customary in profiles of those behind the world's most iconic structures. But they seem positively modest compared to biographer Deyan Sudjic's effusive narration and Norman Foster's quiet confidence in his own ability and the value of his artistic, social and technological legacy.

Foster clearly enjoys returning to his roots in Manchester and reminiscing about his time in the City Treasurer's office and the RAF. But the directors are keen to concentrate on his professional career and he recalls studying at Yale with Richard Rogers and forming the Team 4 partnership with sisters Georgie and Wendy Cheesman. However, it was his and wife Wendy's collaboration with Richard Buckminster Fuller that shaped Foster's destiny, as the American's 1978 inquiry about the weight of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich that caused him to rethink both his use of materials and the architect's duty to the community and the environment.

At this stage, Foster's crowning achievement was the Willis Faber & Dumas building in Ipswich, which established his penchant for glass façades and open-plan spaces, while also including a roof garden and leisure facilities for the employees. But his reputation as the `Mozart of Modernism' began to grow with projects like the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Stansted Airport, the new Reichstage in Berlin, the Hearst Tower in New York, the majestic Millau Viaduct in France, the Great Court at the British Museum and the `Gherkin' in London and Terminal 3 at Beijing Airport, which is now the largest edifice on the planet.

Sudjic very vaguely intimates that some critics accused Foster of repeating himself with these designs. But such misgivings are drowned out by talking heads including Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Anthony Caro, Alain de Botton and (for some reason) Bono, who extol Foster's virtues with an unquestioning enthusiasm that can robs the picture of any semblance of objectivity. Moreover, any insights into the life peer's private life are excluded in favour of discussions of his passion for sketching, cycling, flying and cross-country skiing.

Yet this isn't an entirely an airbrush job, as Foster proves most engaging in his musings to camera and there is a genuine zeal about his proposals for the first carbon neutral, zero-waste city at Masdar in Abu Dhabi. But, as with Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005), the reverence shown towards the subject and the fetishising of line, light and material in presenting their achievement - in this case all done to Joan Valent's almost parodically earnest classical score - this always feels more like a corporate video than a serious critical study.

The same also has to be said of Michle Hozer and Peter Raymont's Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, as while this reverential documentary is highly watchable, it leaves many questions about the man and the musician unanswered. Opening with a solid introduction to the Canadian's eruption on to the classical scene in the mid-1950s, the study loses its focus in covering the period after he ceased to tour and segments on his subsequent radio career and complex private life shed precious little light on what made him such an unorthodox and influential artist.

Seemingly anyone with a memory of or opinion on Gould has been tracked down by the directors. School friend John PL Roberts and first girlfriend Fran Barrault recall their youth with evident affection and shrewdly assess the importance of parents Bert and Flora to his development as a child prodigy. But Ruth Watson Henderson provides more salient information in reflecting on her time at the Toronto Conservatory, where Alberto Guerrero taught the detached technique known as finger tapping that shaped a distinctive playing style that some likened to Gould duetting with himself.

Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy also offers valuable insights into the impact that Gould's 1957 visit to the Soviet Union had on musicians whose freedom of expression had been stifled during three decades of Stalinist dictatorship. Coming just two years after the celebrated recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, this triumphal tour placed Gould in a limelight that he affected to shun, yet which he actually courted with such eccentricities as singing along to himself as he performed on a famously low chair and wrapping himself in coat, cap and mittens in all weathers.

However, he also began to develop an unreliability that saw him frequently cancel bookings and a reclusiveness that made it difficult for collaborators to establish a rapport. Indeed, in 1962, conductor Leonard Bernstein famously disassociated himself from Gould's interpretation of the Brahms D minor piano concerto before a concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Consequently, Gould abandoned live performance two years later and devoted himself to producing radio documentaries like The Idea of North (1967), which formed part of the Solitude Trilogy that was completed by The Latecomers (1969) and The Quiet in the Land (1977).

Perhaps more emphasis could have been placed on these broadcasts, as well as his love of Petula Clark, film enterprises like Jock Carroll's 1965 Bahamian short, Virtues of Hesitation, and the comic alter egos that Gould created for himself, including English conductor Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite, American critic Theodore Slutz and Brando-like actor Myron Chianti. However, Hozer and Raymont prefer to exploit their access to Cornelia Foss, the wife of composer Lukas Foss, who became Gould's mistress and gave him a few years of domestic bliss with her children Christopher and Eliza before his growing paranoia and dependence on antidepressants prompted their separation.

Such revelations distinguishes this from earlier documentaries and fictionalised reveries like François Girard's Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993). But, like the segment on his relationship with Roxolana Roslak, they bring us no closer to understanding Gould's genius or his complex personality. Thus, while this may be a lively and accessible introduction, it will frustrate those more familiar with the tricks and tics that made Gould such an engaging, if enigmatic and elusive character.

If Genius Within is refreshingly unpretentious, the reverse is true of David Hillman Curtis's Ride, Rise, Roar, a record of David Byrne's 2008-09 Everything That Happens Will Happen Today tour that combines arch monochrome backstage sequences with song slots that have been so clumsily photographed and edited that they utterly defeat the purpose of the entire concept to present music and dance in a harmonious and kinetic way.

The former Talking Heads frontman is expectedly reticent in describing the long-distance recording sessions with Brian Eno and the decision to add a terpsichorean element to the show. But choreographers Noémie Lafrance, Annie-B Parson, Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs are much more vocal in pontificating about their contributions, while dancers Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker and backing vocalists Redray Frazier, Kaissa and Jenni Muldaur are reduced to awkward interjections that offer no insight whatsoever into either their role in proceedings or the experience of working with a rock visionary.

The picture starts with a rousing rendition of `Once in a Lifetime' that is somewhat spoilt by being intercut with the opening credits. However, the promise of an intriguing account to match Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense (1984) is restored by Byrne's anecdote about how he auditioned the dancers by asking them to undertake an experiment in creation and co-operation. But the rationale behind the `tell and show' technique quickly breaks down, as while we learn why Byrne and the dancers performed `Life Is Long' sat in office chairs and why the vocalists' microphone stands were moved around the stage during `I Zimbra', no explanation is given why the dancers don't appear at all on `One Fine Day' and `Heaven' and why their roles are so reduced on `My Big Nurse' and `Road to Nowhere', which is surely a song that could bear the accompaniment of a little interpretative dance?

The routines are more challenging for `The Great Curve', which has a jazzy circularity redolent of Bob Fosse, and `Burning Down the House', in which everyone sports frilly tutus and executes some faux ballet steps. But the choreography for `Houses in Motion' and `Life During Wartime' appears to have been borrowed from The Shadows and Freddie and the Dreamers respectively and it's hard to see how such hammy hoofing enhances songs of supposedly serious socio-artistic purpose.

Byrne deserves credit for attempting something different, but he has been badly let down by a director, who predominantly shoots the stage footage in close-ups and medium shots that not only go against the trusted technique employed by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly of striving to show movement in full figure, but also prevent the dances from being seen in their entire stage context. It could be argued that some emphasis has to be placed on Byrne the star. But by presenting the white-clad ensemble in a similar manner, Hillman Curtis reduces the choreography to disjointed gyrations that simply prove a distraction from the lyrics and the musicianship.

Moreover, apart from some enthusiastic applause between tracks, this fails to capture the sense of occasion that is vital to successful concert films. Shots of the audience are few and far between and this absence of interaction reinforces the preciousness of the pieces to camera that Anthony Seck managed to avoid in his similar snapshot of Feist's tour preparations in Look At What the Light Did Now.