Doc/Fest 2017: Celebrating Spirit

Doc/Fest continues to grow. Based at The Showroom, the festival's long-established home, 2017 screenings also take place at other venues, including Curzon, with special events at Abbeydale Picture House and The Leadmill. Additionally, films will run every day throughout the festival on the Tudor Square free screen.

With a stunning 182 documentaries across its six days, alongside various virtual reality and augmented reality projects, and talks featuring participants such as Sir Lenny Henry, June Sarpong MBE, Peter Greenaway CBE, and Ian Hislop, Doc/Fest 2017 has a huge wealth of films and events.

With screenings across no fewer than nine cinema screens most days, and an initially bewildering nine film ‘strands’, in addition to events and VR projects, Doc/Fest can be tough to navigate. Get yourself to the Showroom for a festival programme if you’ve not already and check out everything that’s on offer for yourself. Remember the veritable cornucopia of shorts and other docs showing on free public screens, which are always worth seeing.

Each strand – from Doc/Visions and Doc/Adventure to Focus/UK and Doc/Retro 1967 – offers a gripping, entertaining and wide array of filmic pleasures and insight. In addition, special event screenings are not to be missed. On opening night, Daisy Asquith’s Queerama – leading me to reminisce about Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s memorable 1995 doc, The Celluloid Closet – explores the desires, fears and expressions of gay men and women since 1919, with lyrics and music by John Grant, Goldfrapp and Hercules and Love Affair, while the closing night provides an opportunity to see Toby Paton’s Jo Cox: Death of an MP, followed by a discussion of Cox’s legacy.

From the Doc/Expose strand, Mama Colonel (dir. Dieudo Hamadi) looks like essential viewing. The third of Hamadi’s films about social realities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it focuses on a senior policewoman in a new posting, facing an uphill battle to prevent sexual violence against children and advocating fiercely for victims. Equally compelling, if closer to home, is Alex Gibney’s UK-USA production, No Stone Unturned, which looks into the murder of six men in a Northern Ireland pub in 1994, a crime that remains unsolved and a story that speaks to the secrets kept by governments.

Mr Gay Syria (dir. Ayse Toprak), part of the Doc/Love strand, approaches the topics of sexuality and persecution from the perspective of celebrating and telling the stories of living gay Syrian men, not stories of death. The film clearly deals with issues of violence and despair, however, as death threats and protracted visa applications feature alongside heels, hot pants and the men’s daily lives as refugees in Istanbul.

Another film about transfiguring pain is Still Tomorrow (dir. Jian Fan), which follows Yu Xiauhua’s journey towards becoming a literary sensation after her poetry is shared over a million times on social media, enabling her to contemplate a future very different from her life as a farmer in a loveless arranged marriage, living with cerebral palsy.

The Doc/Think strand has a particularly intriguing line-up, although one might argue that all good documentaries make viewers think.

The Last Animals (dir. Kate Brooks) presents the relationships between the market in elephant and rhino poaching, terrorism, and environmental disaster. Thank You for the Rain (dir. Julia Dahr) investigates the costs of climate change, with Dahr working alongside farmer Kisilu, who filmed the impacts of extreme weather on his family and village in Kenya. Oink (dir. Angus Macqueen & Rachel Rob-Levyt) explores humans’ peculiar and multifaceted relationship to pigs in all its confusing violence and sentimentality, considering pigs as pets, factory farm products and medical ‘donors’.

The Focus/India strand, marking 70 years since partition, includes A Suitable Girl (dir. Sarita Khurana & Smriti Mundhra), about three young women under pressure to get married, and Around India with a Movie Camera, which brings together various pre-independence shorts, including the beautiful 1899 film, Panorama of Varanasi

Lastly, two films to watch with a view to our current political situation in the UK are Laura Poitras’s Risk, a portrait of Julian Assange, and Fernando León de Aranoa’s Politics, An Instruction Manual, which tells the story of how populist movement Podemas (‘We Can’) threatened in 2015 to overturn Spain’s two-party political system.

Samantha Holland

FILM LISTINGS

Hosted by Samantha Holland

BREXITANNIA
Timothy George Kelly, UK/Russia, 2017
Fri 9 June (3:15pm) & 13 June (9:15pm, +Q&A) | Showroom
Using interviews with a wide range of individuals across the UK who voted in the EU referendum, Kelly’s film opens up space to think about broad and conflicting meanings of what being ‘British’ means in 2017.
sheffdocfest.com/films/6178

EVEN WHEN I FALL
Sky Neal & Kate McLarnon, UK, 2017
Sun 11 June (9:15pm, Showroom) & Tue 13 June (7pm, Curzon)
Even When I Fall tells the story of circus performers who, trafficked as children, return to confront this past and the families who betrayed them. Utilising the skills they acquired, they create Nepal’s very first circus and simultaneously confront the stigma of being trafficked women.
sheffdocfest.com/films/6291

BANYAMULENGE & I CALL YOU YEMEN
Frontier Media / Optical Jukebox
Tue 20 June | From 7pm | Café #9, Nether Edge | Free (donations)
The first documentary in Café #9’s ‘fringe’ documentary event tells of nomadic pastoralists, the Banyamulenge, who sought UN protection yet were massacred in August 2004. The second, I Call You Yemen, shows how Yemeni people in Liverpool are affected by faraway conflict on a daily basis, as they face constant anxiety about their friends, family and country.

LA LA LAND
Damien Chazelle, USA, 2016
Sun 18 June | 7.30pm | 215 Sharrowvale Rd | £3 inc. coffee & cake
I’ve not seen this film, but do know that it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar... It’s been widely received as a fabulous affair – visually fun, if not as narratively avant-garde as it might think. Its storytelling pizzazz promises a wonderful night out, alongside Sharrow Reels’ tea and cake.
facebook.com/SharrowReels

FORBIDDEN GAMES
Adam Darke & Jon Carey, UK, 2017
Sat 10 June | 12pm | Showroom 4 | Includes Q&A
With interviews and archive material, this strongly narrative documentary presents the life of British footballer Justin Fashanu, and circumstances surrounding his suicide. Fashanu remains the only pro footballer to come out as being gay while still playing, so this film’s look at 80s Britain should cause viewers to reflect on what has and has not changed.
sheffdocfest.com/films/6224

SPOOKERS
Florian Habicht, Australia, 2016
Sat 10 June (7pm, Abbeydale Picture House), Sun 11 June (9:15am, Showroom) & Wed 14 June (9:15pm, Showroom)
A documentary following a group of zanily decked-out performers at a live horror attraction south of Auckland, adjoining what was once a psychiatric hospital. This film is scary, but about family and community, too. Abbeydale Picture House will present an immersive cinema experience coinciding with the film’s European premiere.
sheffdocfest.com/films/6275