‘Whose Story? Authentic Voices in Storytelling’ was the title of a Doc/Fest delegate session that raised some interesting questions about how much filmmakers are in their own films, about race, class, gender, nationality and power in relation to the stories that get told, and about what ‘authentic’ means.

Leon Oldstrong, panellist and director of That’s Not Ours, was very clear that his film tells his brother’s story, even whilst speaking to wider issues of racial stereotyping. Having seen it, I’d agree. It reveals the upset and frustration of a teenager not seen for who he is, but rendered “invisible”, as he puts it, when people see stereotypes instead. Doctors and nurses treating him after he’s stabbed on the street tell him he should dress differently and stop carrying knives. This is deeply hurtful to a good kid who’s never carried a knife. The film, then, also tells the story of hard-worked medical personnel and how damaging their assumptions and prejudices can be. And so – something Oldstrong now hopes to pursue – those personnel should see this film, because who chooses to watch the stories filmmakers tell is also important.

While That’s Not Ours tells the story of one young black man in Britain, Gun Number 6 (dir. James Newton) tells the stories of several individuals linked by the most notorious illegal firearm in the UK. The film complicates ideas of who commits gun crime and why, and also challenges stereotypes. Perhaps more complex still, filmmaker Callum Macrae’s documentary, The Ballymurphy Precedent, concerns events in 1971 Belfast. While its use of music is uninspired, the film’s central message comes across loud and clear. It uses both talking head interviews and drone-style re-enactment to great effect in conveying the complex story of 11 Catholics massacred by British Army paratroopers. Revealing as it does the horrifying extent to which the media repeated lies about who was killed and why – the official line being, of course, that those slain were IRA gunmen who posed an immediate threat – this film could not make more clear the politically-charged importance of whose story is being told, and by whom.

Relatedly, The Silence of Others (dir. Almudena Carracedo & Robert Bahar) speaks to the enormous power of silence. Providing a sense of the terrible human cost of the ‘Pact of Forgetting’ in post-Franco Spain, the film documents how officials implicated in murders and stealing babies, having benefitted from the Amnesty Law, are now being challenged in international courts. In telling several families’ stories, and through powerful use of individual portraits, The Silence of Others provides a deeply compelling, deeply upsetting argument in favour of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. As one relative of a murdered family member says, those seeking to annul the Amnesty Law and so prosecute murderers and torturers are not looking for revenge, but justice. Forgiveness is one thing, but being forced to forget an atrocity with no hope of justice is quite another.

Shafiur Rahman’s visceral and distressing short film, Testimonies of a Massacre: Tula Toli, tells of contemporary brutality. Featuring eyewitness accounts of people fleeing the butchering of entire Rohingya villages, and images of the aftermath of atrocities, the film pulls together horrifying evidence that the Myanmar government pre-planned these crimes.

For me, Chris Martin’s Under The Wire manifests most clearly what telling ‘authentic’ stories can actually do for people, especially in terms of breaking the silences that enable those in power to commit and cover up crimes. While the film is about war correspondents Marie Colvin and Paul Conroy, and is a fitting tribute to Colvin, it ultimately shows that it’s no trite soundbite when Conroy says he and Colvin were soulmates because, for them both, “it’s about the people, the women and children”, those affected by the conflicts they document.

Colvin was instrumental in saving 1,500 lives in East Timor in 1999, by staying with refugees in a UN compound under siege and telling their story. For similar reasons, she faced numerous other perilous situations, including going back into Homs, Syria with Conroy in 2012 to tell the story of civilians trapped there, under constant fire from their own government and desperate for the world to know their plight.

After Colvin lost her life, a badly injured Conroy was intent on continuing to tell the story of the Syrian people, driven on by the words of those helping him escape: “Get out and tell the world.”

SAMANTHA HOLLAND

 

LISTINGS

HOSTED BY STEPHEN CHASE

IndieFlicks Monthly Short Film Festival
Wed 4 July | 7:30pm | Sentinel Brewery
Exclusive short films from around the globe. The first half is a selection of brand new shorts with an audience vote, while the second is a Feature Short chosen by the panel of judges. Minimum age 18. Link

Human Energy
Adam Dzienis, 2017
Thu 5 July | 7pm | Regather
Community Energy England and Sheffield Renewables present Adam Dzienis’s 2017 documentary about the grit and determination of renewable energy cooperatives across Europe and their growing rate of success. Link

Time Trial
Finlay Pretsell, 2017
Thu 12 July | 6:30pm | VUE Sheffield | £9.49
A feature documentary following pro cyclist David Millar’s last season in the saddle, promising “a sensory ride through the thrill and hardship of professional cycling”. This special screening will include a pre-recorded Q&A with Millar and director Finlay Pretsell from Edinburgh International Film Festival. Link

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library
Frederick Wiseman, 2017
Sun 15 July | 12:45pm | Showroom | £9
Frederick Wiseman guides the viewer around the Big Apple in a love song to the city’s many book repositories and their everyday and well-known visitors. Link