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Doc/Fest and Listings

It’s unsurprising that SEED: The Untold Story (Siegel & Betz, 2016) received the Environmental Award at this year’s Doc/Fest. A beautiful and innovative film, SEED is highly informative and persuasive in its invitation for viewers to take to heart that 94% of seed varieties have disappeared from our world over the last century. Messages such as this are conveyed with potent imagery, and also in their wider socio-historical and political contexts.

The film’s treatment of one of its participants shows this in microcosm. We hear of her interest and enjoyment in learning about and working with seeds as a child, then of how things changed in India with the introduction of GM crops, including the suicide of her uncle, a farmer. Only then does SEED reveal the immensity of the suicide epidemic. But the film is not one of despair. The same participant is later shown to join with others to make positive change, following Vandana Shiva’s lead in standing up to corporate power and increase seed sovereignty and natural resilience once more.

SEED was one of many films about ‘the environment’ and our human (mis)treatment of it and our fellow living beings. Freightened (Delestrac, 2016), for instance, revealed that 20 freight ships release as much sulphur into the atmosphere as all the world’s cars annually, and that there are 60,000 such freight ships using the world’s shipping lanes. Unlocking The Cage (Hegedus & Pennebaker, 2015) and Born To Be Free (Petrosyan, 2016) expose the despicable consequences of treating non-human animals as things, with no legal rights as persons.

Many of Doc/Fest’s films accentuated the alarming crisis point that’s resulted from our utterly anthropomorphic worldview, indicating that the ‘sea blindness’ referred to in Freightened is matched by endemic plant blindness and non-human animal blindness, in ways that are neither practicably nor morally tenable. And this without room to consider intersections with the myriad atrocious ways in which we humans so often treat each other.

To my surprise, the first film of the festival, Kedi (Torun, 2015), a film ostensibly about cats, spoke particularly eloquently to this crisis, recognising the essential interconnectedness of human and non-human lives, of the space we share that gives us all life. After others express concern about the erosion of old Istanbul to make way for the new – a city increasingly devoid of green spaces – one contributor remarks towards the end of the film, “If we can learn to live together again maybe we’ll solve our own problems as we try to solve theirs […] and rekindle our slowly dying joy for life.”

Samantha Holland


As the name suggests, Sheffield Doc/Fest’s annual Youth Jury Award recognises the film that best depicts the elusive concept of youth. After a lengthy deliberation process, we made a unanimous decision to award the prize to a film that we believe will continue to strike a chord with young people the world over for some time to come.

We were witness to documentaries that dealt with the trials, tribulations, struggles and triumphs of young people from all walks of life, in a variety of different scenarios and from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, but it was the story of a young woman named Sonita Alizadeh that caught the eyes, minds and hearts of the panel.

Sonita, directed by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, follows an Afghani teenage refugee living in Iran and her fight against tradition, discrimination and injustice. A rap prodigy turned political activist, Sonita is to be sold as a bride to a man she has never met or loved, but uses her remarkable musical talent to speak out against the culture that seeks to deny her of her dreams. Navigating the pitfalls of a religion wishing to silence her, a family wishing to sell her and a government that deems her talent obscene, Sonita is an inspiring figure for viewers of all ages.

Ghaemmaghami handles a tricky subject with consideration and care, and though her direct involvement in Sonita’s life could be deemed unethical from a filmmaking perspective, the results are stunning. An honest, sensitive and at points harrowing portrayal of a young girl’s fight against a predetermined destiny, Sonita delves into the idea of youth and returns triumphantly with a message that is empowering and incendiary.
With Sonita’s profile swiftly rising, and her music and politically-charged lyrics spreading across the planet as you read this, her name and her art will soon be a vital contribution to an important discussion.

Kristofer Thomas



Notes on Blindness
Peter Middleton & James Spinney, 2016
1–7 July | Showroom | £7.50
Winner of the Storytelling & Innovation Award and a huge audience favourite at Doc/Fest, this remarkable film is based on audio diaries that theologian John Hull made after he went blind. Funny, beautiful and revealing of the brightness of imagination and life beyond the darkness of a lost visual field, this is a truly innovative documentary.

The Sacrifice
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986
17- 19 July | Showroom
Haunting and resonant, Tarkovsky’s last film is ostensibly about the power of prayer in a world facing nuclear annihilation. Contemplating human existence and morality, this film is not easy viewing, but if you open up your imagination, you can enjoy this rare opportunity to see Tarkovsky on a big screen.

Secret Women’s Business
Frontier Media, 2016
Thu 28 July | 7pm | Café #9 | Free
Café #9 is delighted to be screening a new, locally made film about a Sheffield-based weaving project run by Somali women. The documentary showcases beautiful crafts and looks at relationships across generations and cultures. We’ll be joined by filmmaker João Paulo Simões and participants in the documentary for a lively discussion after the screening.

Enthusiasm: Symphony of The Donbass
Dziga Vertov, 1930
Wed 27 July | 6.30pm | Showroom | £8.50
Part of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, this avant-garde metaphor for Soviet collectivist supremacy was originally shown with a ‘score’ utilising concrete sound – an innovation in itself – so it’s an interesting choice to screen it with a new score, played live by That Fucking Tank, and as part of a silent film programme.

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