I have just attended my first Sheffield Doc/Fest; with many of our agency clients working within documentary it was a great opportunity to dip into their world, and what an amazing, devastating, inspiring and beautiful inspiring world it is.
But how do you choose from 150 films! Very carefully is the answer because you can never ‘unsee’ a film, and they do stay with you….but the right ones deserve time to be chosen. After a much needed cold beer, I went with my instinct as well as taking advice from my Doc/Fest buddy Nicola Lees who is a total pro when it comes to ‘working’ the festival.
We were there with a number of colleagues including my WFTV Mentee DoP Nicola Daley, who took part in an inspiring panel – Vision and Intent: Exploring the Art of the DoP – and also found time to help shoot the gorgeous ARRI Short Film Challenge-winning film Knit Me Some Happiness (dir. Sofia Olins). One of our Sara Putt Associates Foundation Trainees, Ronel Thomas , was also attending the festival for the first time and pitching his documentary in the Mini Meet Market. He did a brilliant job on the day and we are excited to see how the project progresses.
But we were also there to see lots of films. First up on opening night was The Greatest Show On Earth a breathtaking love letter to the circus with material spanning a century. The acrobats & trapeze artists were breathtaking but the sight of the broken animals with their sad eyes was a stark reminder of how things used to be.
Saturday morning began with The R&B Feeling a strange sad film about an eccentric artist/performer called Bob Parks which did leave me feeling rather dazed and confused with an ending that really should’ve come sooner.
Then came the joy of Addicted to Sheep. Set in the North Pennines about a family looking after their prized sheep hoping to breed a winner. It was a funny touching film about family and very nice looking sheep! The director lived with the family for a year and allowed them to just go about their day as normal, it was simple, hilarious at times and very inspiring.
Then it was time for Match Me – How to Find Love in Modern Times, a quirky charming film about people trying to find love through various different means. One involved a dating agency that arranged unusual themed dates. It sure brought home how we take finding love for granted and how amazing it really is that two people can find each other in this crazy world.
The Hunting Ground was a shocking expose of rape that goes unpunished on campus at some of the most well known universities in the US. The courage and defiance of the ‘survivors’ and their activist led campaign for justice was incredible.
Little People, Big Dreams was a heartbreaking story of four dwarves who are desperately trying to make their way in a brutal society that doesn’t accept any kind of disability. Deep in the rural Southwest of China is a theme park where the wealthy owner believes he is giving them the chance of a good life. Sadly it couldn’t be further from the truth as as it soon became clear they were being exploited. One of the group ends up running away but it almost impossible to leave and without any form of social security or human rights in their country leaving is sometimes worse than staying. It made me really appreciate the basic laws and systems that are in place to protect the vulnerable, that we so easily take for granted.
I started my second day with Scrum a moving portrait of a gay Australian Rugby team. It was less about the sport itself and more about love and community. It focused on three players in particular, all who gave moving accounts of how the club saved them and gave them a sense of purpose. I cried a lot during this lovely film, one of my favorites.
Jordanne was a short film about a 24 yr old tennis playing wheelchair bound girl with brittle bone disease. It’s a short but powerful film about an incredible girl who sets out to win the US Open; well she not only wins that, she goes onto win all four grand slams in the same year. Wimbledon, French Open and the Australian Open! Zak Razvi’s directorial debut is fantastic, I loved it, just wish there was a longer version too!
Then came the joyous Mavis! The story of Mavis Staples and her family group The Staples Singers. If you don’t know the name already you will recognize her immediately once she starts singing! She and her family helped pioneer the gospel sound of the 50’s and the ‘message songs’ of the civil rights era marching beside Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to songs like Respect Yourself and I’ll Take You There which take on a whole new meaning when you hear them again in this film. She is still touring to this day and determined to continue till she drops, a true inspiration with a voice like no one else.
The Russian Woodpecker was another incredible story. Artist Fedor Alexandrovich’s quest & obsession was to understand what happened at Chernobyl in his native land during 1986, whilst proving the appalling abuse of power in the former USSR. We see the beginning of the Ukranian revolution and watch with horror as the army comes in. I was so distraught after watching this film but also profoundly moved.
After over 10 films in 3.5 days it was soon time to bid farewell to Sheffield and return to the office where I tried, very badly and in a sleep deprived/zombie-like fashion, to explain the whole experience. “It was great” seemed to be the favourite line of the day…but it truly was, and I can’t wait to do it again.