Being from Sheffield and loving documentaries makes me immensely proud that my city annually holds Doc/Fest – a festival that has been voted one of the top five coolest documentary festivals in the world! Not only does it put Sheffield on the map, it also attracts talent and highlights local talent, which in turn funds great projects and entices creativity and culture to the city.
The Doc/Fest short for Sheffield International Documentary Festival (SIDF) was first founded in 1994. Sheffield was chosen as the location for the Doc/Fest as it was an English industrial town which was just beginning to develop a media and cultural sector. The first festival included a film programme, one or two masterclasses, and a party. Last year the festival expanded from five days to six and 130 films were shown, of which 21 were world premieres and is now the third largest documentary festival in the world.
I have had the chance to work at a few documentaries festivals over the world and Sheffield’s Doc/Fest remains top of my list. Perhaps because I have family in Sheffield and know accommodation will be free plus I know all the bus routes home but aside from connivence, the atmosphere of the festival is second to none. Especially if you are part of the festival from start to finish, you really become engrossed in the schedule and the fear of missing something great.
MY FAVOURITE FILMS
I was only able to attend one day of the festival this year. I originally planned to watch one film but I got caught up in it all and luckily got to see five! Here’s a quick run down of my favourites.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
“I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”
This is an absolute must see, especially with the racial tensions in America at the moment and police brutality against the black community. It unfortunately shows that history does repeat itself. It was a real inspirational documentary that opened my eyes to the humble beginnings of the Black Panthers, their struggle, how they were construed, ostracised and ultimately irradiated by the juggernaught that is US government.
The Black Panthers were and still remain a touchy subject in America. The documentary follows the Panthers from 1966 – 1973 when Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”, and he supervised an extensive program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalise the Party, and drain the organisation of resources and manpower.
The oppression of the group led to wider support in the black community and also gained admiration from many of the political left but the group expanded too quickly for it’s own good. Growth in unmanageable proportions, rivalry among the leaders and the execution of potential ‘Black Messiahs’ by the government, ultimately led to the groups demise.
To find out more:
Dark Horse was certainly that. My sister and I only went to see this documentary as we wanted to kill time. Far from being a filler, it turned out to be an warm and hilarious incite into some genuine charters and their journey as they decided to breed a racehorse. I don’t think I will be able to make this documentary sound as good as it actually is or give it the praise it deserves but here’s the low down.
When Welsh barmaid Jan Vokes told her husband she intended to breed a race horse, his reply was ‘don’t talk bloody stupid’. They convinced a group of their friends from the village to join a syndicate, to train Dream Alliance for a tenner a week, with astonishing results.
Jan’s determination and guts were beautiful to see. I have been horse riding since I was five years old and it is VERY rare to come across anyone from a working class background or any variety of ethnicities (I never have). This only increased my admiration for the Dream Alliance syndicate when they faced the snobbery and condescending folks that spent millions breeding horses (some billions). One of the charters/owners explains how he made his own sandwiches and brought them in an Asda bag to the races as he didn’t want to get ripped off.
Jan was a strong character because she really had her own mind. She stated that she had always been known for either being her father’s daughter, her brother’s sisters, her husband’s wife and with breeding a racehorse she was finally doing something for herself.
The Jungle Sisters
In 2008 the Indian Government launched an initiative to train 500 million of the rural poor to work in its growing industrial sector. This thought-provoking film tells the story of two village girls whose induction into the working world is overseen by Orlanda, the director’s sister.
Chloe Ruthven’s has a complex relationship with her sister, as most sisters do. The film is really telling two stories. Firstly the story of two brave yet naive rural girls moving to the city and the social injustice and poor standards of living they find to be their home. They are locked up most of the day and work long ours for very little money. You are faced with the reality that is the textile and fashion industry combined with the issues of family loyalty that the girls face. Their options are either to stay and work or go home and get married. The girls face the stigma of their villages as girls that leave to work are viewed as loose, wild and shameful.
The second story is about the sisters. The extremely left wing director who struggles to come to terms with her sisters involvement with the exploration of these young girls. It soon becomes apparent that unfortunately everything is not black and white. The film opens to Orlanda declaring that her sister holds typical white middle class leftist views that she is only privileged enough to have, as she comes from a country that was built under hundreds of years of exploration.
WHY I LOVE DOCUMENTARIES
Documentaries allow you to critically think about a specific issue from different perspectives. Sometimes they are clearly biased and sometimes not but often the need to make them credible means that they usually try and explore both sides of a story. This aspect of seeing the wider picture is something we often loose in films when we are sometimes spoon fed what to think as true.
I love the nitty gritty documentaries that open my eyes to something I have either never thought about or that allow me to explore and idea or concept deeper. I value great cinematography where images have such impact or beauty that they transform into installation art and you only wish that everyone you love, like, respect, dislike and hate could be in the same room experiencing what you are experiencing just because you want to share the greatness of what you are witnessing; kind of like when you have a great meal, though I doubt I share food with someone I hate.
GREAT DOCUMENTARIES TO CHECK OUT
His Big White Self