One of the summer’s most anticipated documentary events, Sheffield Doc/Fest, opens in less than a week, running June 13-17. I was hoping to be able to make it there for the first time this year, but it sadly hasn’t worked out.
Last year saw the fest’s first edition in its new June berth, just seven months after its last edition was held the previous Fall. With a whole year to plan 2012’s edition, Festival Director Heather Croall, Programmer Hussain Currimbhoy, and the rest of their team have assembled a wide-ranging lineup of more than eighty documentary features, including nearly a dozen world premieres. Taking a look at a number of the fest’s different programming strands, here are some highlights (omitting titles I’ve previously written about out of other festivals):
There’s crossover between numerous strands, such as The Habit of Art and Behind the Beats, which look at art and music portraits, respectively. Notable entries include Julien Temple’s utopian Glastonbury-focused GLASTOPIA (pictured); Lindsey Dryden’s exploration of music in the lives of deaf performers, LOST & SOUND; James Kent’s ode to the unexpectedly influential Ballade Number One, CHOPIN SAVED MY LIFE; Matt O’Casey’s making of the Who’s rock opera, QUADROPHENIA: CAN YOU SEE THE REAL ME?; and Penny Woolcock’s portrait of the British coastline, FROM THE SEA TO THE LAND BEYOND, which will be presented with a live score as part of the opening night festivities.
Doc/Fest shines the spotlight on local work in its Best of British strand, which includes another Penny Woolcock film, ONE MILE AWAY, about British gang violence; Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope’s JAYWICK ESCAPES, exploring a once-thriving but now crime-riddled seaside town; Leo Maguire’s GYPSY BLOOD (pictured), a look at the cycle of generational violence in the Irish traveler community (as in last year’s KNUCKLE); Morgan Matthews’ BRITAIN IN A DAY, a take off on LIFE IN A DAY focused on Brits on November 12 of last year; and Ben Anthony’s 7/7: ONE DAY IN LONDON, centered on the lasting impact of the 2005 bomb attacks.
Expanding the view to the international, the Global Encounters, Euro Doc, and China Now strands open up the Doc/Fest audience to stories from around the world. Hung-I Yao’s HOMETOWN BOY follows a celebrated Chinese artist as he repaints the original subjects of his art school portfolio; Dylan Mohan Gray’s FIRE IN THE BLOOD explores the fight to make AIDS medication available and affordable to the developing world; Nadim Mishlawi’s SECTOR ZERO examines Lebanon’s troubled history through the story of an infamous neighborhood; Pietra Brettkelly’s MAORI BOY GENIUS (pictured) offers a portrait of a young man determined to serve as a leader for his people through education; William Karel’s LOOKING FOR NICOLAS SARKOZY looks back at the former French president’s reign; and Michael Grigsby’s WE WENT TO WAR is a poignant follow-up to the 1970 documentary I WAS A SOLDIER, revisiting Vietnam vets on the aftermath of their wartime experiences.
Environmental concerns are at the core of a number of this year’s offerings, including Alan Ereira’s ALUNA, the director’s return to the Kogi tribe of Sierra Nevada he first filmed more than twenty years ago, who warn of mankind’s destruction of the natural world; and Phil Agland’s BAKA: A CRY FROM THE RAINFOREST, another revisitation of previous documentary subjects, the Baka of the Cameroon, who have seen their way of life radically upended in the past generation; and Michael Christoffersen and Hans la Cour’s LAW OF THE JUNGLE (pictured), a David vs Goliath tale of an indigenous group defending their land from an oil company.
Finally, This Sporting Life presents a number of sports docs, which I’m typically not particularly interested in. That bias aside, there’s an element to the films in this strand which should extend their appeal beyond hardcore fans of the featured sport. Among those catching my eye: Alexandre Philippe’s THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PAUL THE PSYCHIC OCTOPUS (pictured), on the famed 2010 World Cup predicting cephalopod; Mat Hodgson’s THE FOUR YEAR PLAN, following the efforts of a group of financiers to turn a struggling English football team around; and Hugh Hartford’s PING PONG, which accompanies senior citizen ping pong champions to Inner Mongolia’s Table Tennis Championships.