This Saturday, June 7, sees the launch of the 21st edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest, one of the nonfiction community’s favorites on the festival circuit. I’ll be on Nantucket for the month of June, gearing up for my own festival, but other doc folk will be headed over the Pond between now and the fest’s wrap next Thursday, June 12. The following represent some of the doc features that have most piqued my interest in this year’s lineup:
Beginning locally, Sheffield has always championed UK docs, and this year’s national cinema includes titles such as: Penny Woolcock’s GOING TO THE DOGS, an exposé on underground dog fighting; Christopher Riley’s THE GIRL WHO TALKED TO DOLPHINS (pictured), about an infamous study on interspecies communication; Kim Longinotto’s LOVE IS ALL: 100 YEARS OF LOVE & COURTSHIP, a cinematic history of love; John Pilger’s UTOPIA, a profile of an impoverished Aboriginal Australian community; Michelle Heighway’s MR SOMEBODY?, a portrait of an eccentric hoarder; Nick Watson, Sam Smaïl, and Fernando Guttierez De Jesus’s CHOOSE YOUR OWN DOCUMENTARY, an interactive search for the owner of a lost diary; and Kyoko Miyake’s BRAKELESS, an exploration of a commuter railway accident and its connection to Japanese efficiency. Also screening are examples of British television programming, Marc Williamson’s THE LAST CHANCE SCHOOL, following troubled boys at a boarding school; and Tom Pullen’s THE MISSING, about families coping with the unexplained disappearance of a loved one.
International nonfiction featured at the fest includes: Sunny Bergman’s SLUT PHOBIA?, which surveys societal sentiments about female sexuality around the world; Nicolás Molina and Antonio Luco’s BEAVERLAND (pictured), following biologists attempting to deal with the catastrophic presence of beavers on Tierra del Fuego; Eddie Martin’s ALL THIS MAYHEM, the cautionary tale of two Aussie skateboarding brothers; Enrico Cerasuolo’s LAST CALL, on an unheeded forty-year old warning of unsustainable economic and population growth; and Ahmed Jlassi’s EMIRS IN WONDERLAND, about the plight of undocumented Tunisians in Paris.
Thematic groupings this year include focuses on art, resistance, and technology, including: Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT, the newly-titled history of THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS which debuted at Berlin; Petter Ringbom’s SHIELD AND SPEAR, an artist-focused portrait of today’s South Africa; Owen Gower’s STILL THE ENEMY WITHIN (pictured), a look back at the Thatcher government’s response to the year-long 1984 miners strike; Amir Amirani’s WE ARE MANY, about the international community’s mobilization to try to stop the invasion of Iraq; Shirin Barghnavard, Firouzeh Khosrovani, Farahnaz Sharifi, Mina Keshavarz, Sepideh Abtahi, Sahar Salahshoor, and Nahid Rezaei’s PROFESSION: DOCUMENTARIST, portraits of seven female Iranian filmmakers; and Mark Craig’s THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON, a biography of astronaut Eugene Cernan.
Other perennial programming includes LGBT docs in Queer Screen, such as Ethan Reid’s ode to a seminal erotic filmmaker, PETER DE ROME GRANDFATHER OF GAY PORN (pictured), and Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’ nature-loving look at the perils of mountain top removal, GOODBYE GAULEY MOUNTAIN: AN ECOSEXUAL LOVE STORY; music docs in Behind the Beats, including Shane McNeil’s GIRT BY THE SEA, an archival and musical meditation on Australia’s connection to the sea which is also part of the fest’s special Outdoor Programme, together with films like Ken Burns’ THE ADDRESS, about the use of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to help modern-day student learning; Films on Film, which pairs retrospective programming with new documentaries about the same subject, including Andre Singer’s NIGHT WILL FALL, on the shelved, incomplete Hitchock documentary on Nazi concentration camps, screened here together with several Hitchcock short works; and Andrew Leavold’s THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG, the filmmaker’s quest to track down the unlikely diminutive Filipino action star of films such as FOR Y’UR HEIGHT ONLY, also screening at the fest.
Finally, Sheffield offers industry attendees a sneak peak at the next crop of UK and Irish nonfiction, with a screening of works in progress, including Will Fairman and Max Gogarty’s CHEMSEX, about a rise of HIV infections among gay Londoners linked to unsafe sex parties; Daisy Asquith’s AFTER THE DANCE, the filmmaker’s personal quest to discover the identity of her grandfather, kept secret by decades of Catholic guilt; and Steve Sullivan’s BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY (pictured), the story behind the fake-head wearing comic figure, the inspiration for the forthcoming Michael Fassbender film FRANK.