Festival Focus: Sheffield Doc/Fest Programme Preview

Posted May 16th, 2017 by Matt Turner

With just under a month until the UK’s premiere documentary film festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest, rolls around, we’ve surveyed this year’s offering.

Introducing the film programme, new Director of Programming Luke Moody – a past Film of the Month judge – said that he hoped the programme would offer viewers “a forum for both expansion and determination of your mindsets.” Starting on the 9th of June, just one day after the UK general election will take place and with an eventful, complicated and frequently very troublesome twelve months between the start of this edition of the festival and the end of the last, Doc/Fest will be expected to be a festival fit for the “times of flux” it arrives during. If that seems a lot to ask of a film festival, Moody’s expectations are more measured. adding that he hopes the films selected will  “offer wonderfully different gestations of response to storytelling, from urgent to slow journalism, from absurd to mirthful trips.” Here we’ve selected five films that we think fit that description, five gems that might fall under the radar in a programme as expansive and varied as this one.

One highlight looks to be Kate Mclarnon and Sky Neal’s Even When I Fall, a film we featured through our Kickstarter partnership last year. The film follows Sheetal and Saraswoti, two teenage survivors of child trafficking in Nepal who formed the country’s first and only circus, Circus Kathmandu. Tracking their journey over 6 years, the girl’s successes with their circus coincides with their own development, and with the earthquakes that devastated the country, complicating their already tumultuous path out of past trauma. World premiering at the festival, the film should be visually arresting, both interesting and inspiring, offering a window into the complex world of human trafficking that focuses as much on building a life after trauma as the initial experience of it.

From a nearby region of the world, Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s hypnotic Railway Sleepers takes place entirely onboard Thailand’s rail network. Exploring the historical, sociographical and personal significance of a century plus of train travel in the country, Chidgasornpongse sits in on a number of journeys, bearing gentle witness to the activities that take place inside the various carriages today as well as the remnants of happenings of the past. Eight years in the making, Chidgasornporngse created his film whilst working as assistant to legendary Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, crafting small stories out of passing moments, and perfecting it’s entrancing rhythm. A paean to a country as seen from the window of a moving train, the film is one of a number of recent documentaries about train travel (Traveling Light, The Iron Ministry, In Transit), and Railway Sleepers may be the best.

“A few days after learning one word, geek, I had to learn another one, cyberbully.” Another of the festival’s world premieres, Gina Hara’s Geek Girls takes a look at female nerd culture, profiling women whose interest has become a profession. Penning an essay from one geek girl to another, Hara switches between personal and sociological modes to explore what it means to be a female nerd and how the role of this identification within popular culture is changing, specifically in terms of the levels of abuse, intolerance and vitriol received by this side of the community. Consisting mostly of interviews with some of the more visible members of the culture – competitive gamers, cosplayers, scientists and organisers – it is the throughline, both personal and political offered by Hara as essayist, that elevates this film beyond simple subcultural portraiture. Catch it playing with a short about an entirely different female subculture, Dirty Girls, as well as a Q+A with Hara and her producer.

Also examining intersections of the personal and political, You Have No Idea How Much I Love You takes a look at mental health care, specifically the process of psychotherapy. Sitting in on several sessions between famed Polish practitioner Professor Bogdan De Barbaro and a mother and daughter undergoing a crisis, Polish documentarian Pawel Lozinski expertly captures the craft of talking therapies. Five acts show five unique sessions where Bogdan guides the two women towards more productive dialogue with each other, before the introduction of something different complicates matters. Offering a rare chance to see inside the four walls of therapy, this is a minimalist, but bold and provocative documentary that produces riveting results from the simplest of means – and will provoke excellent, maybe divisive post film discussion..

Consider a step away from film, though not the cinema, and into the world of audio documentaries. Radio Atlas tackles a dilemma central to the world of radio. Unlike cinema, where subtitled fare is readily available, if not necessarily widely accepted, radio documentaries can only be experienced in the listener’s native language unless they understand more than one. Radio Atlas resolves this issue by subtitling international documentaries and exhibiting them in cinema spaces, offering collective listening (and reading) of some of the best works of radio from around the world. Their Doc/Fest feature length selection In a Relationship With… comes from Danish radio producers Third Ear, and will cover “true romance, reckless driving, family secrets, kidnapping and the Danish upper class.”

Sheffield Doc/Fest takes place from 9th to the 14th June. The full programme has now been released. as well as the one for the marketplace, which features many SP projects and works-in-progress. We host the first drinks of the festival, at 5pm on Friday 9th, in the lovely Curzon Rooftop & Bar. See you there.


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