Friday, 10 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011: Day 2

Even before the rumours started about Louis Theroux lurking around somewhere (no sightings as yet, but our eyes are peeled!) the atmosphere continued to be just as exciting as it was yesterday. The weather was better, although still a tad windy, and the pink army of delegates had succeeded in seemingly completely occupying Sheffield’s city centre.

First up on our agenda was a screening of My Brother The Islamist. As might be guessable from the title, this was a documentary made for BBC3. What might not be so easily guessable is that this is actually a superior piece of documentary filmmaking; a humorous yet harrowing look at how social disaffection can lead people to extremism. In it we follow the director, Robb Leech, as he follows around and interviews his stepbrother Rich (or Salahuddin as he now calls himself) in an attempt to understand why he has become an Islamic extremist. The juxtaposition of the comical and the genuinely disturbing calls to mind Chris Morris’s Four Lions, but the truth of the story gives it a greater emotional edge. People were affected by the film and by Robb himself, a genuine everyman type tree surgeon who is at a loss to explain what has happened to his stepbrother. Ever ready to ask challenging questions, we leaped in and asked him where he stands in terms of religion. “Good question” he replied, laughing. We suggested that perhaps we had crossed a line, but he was quick to ease our fears “No, that’s fine...I’m not sure. I’m not religious but I believe in God. I suppose I’m still exploring, in the same way Richard is, or has. He’s come to his conclusion and I’m still not sure at all.”. With his personable manner and insight, people were predicting big things for Mr Leech, and we at Fohnhouse certainly wish him all the best.

Next we decided to drop in on one of the sessions which are being run throughout the festival. We chose the final DFG (Documentary Filmmaker’s Group) session of the day, and it was well worth it. In The DFG Pitch we watched 6 people pitch their idea for a documentary in four minutes to a panel of four industry experts, in the hope of winning a £10,000 development grant and professional assistance with the project. Pitches ranged from a potential vanity project in which a young man explored a traumatic experience which has altered the lives of himself, his best friend and his mother, to an intriguing study of a remote Scottish community with the utmost respect for the Sabbath day. We would quite happily watch all of the six films, and we do hope that somehow all the filmmakers manage to launch their projects, but there could only be one winner. The panel’s acclaim, and ten grand, went to William Jessop, whose proposed film Blue Apple’s Hamlet will follow a theatre company composed entirely of disabled actors as they tour with a performance of Hamlet. The judges acknowledged that the idea seemed familiar, but given Jessop’s unparalleled level of access to the troupe (his brother is a member), they felt that he could create something truly special. 

Panel member Lina Prestwood of Current TV with successful
 ‘pitcher’ William Jessop

The last film of the day for us was Flying Monsters 3D with David Attenborough. Although he is now starting to sound his age, Sir David can still enthuse like nobody else, even if he is dealing with flapping CGI creatures. Like something out of Avatar these little critters are very sweet and loveable, and exceptionally well realised, but the 3D mostly seems redundant. After the screening we had a Q&A with line producer Sias Wilson and commissioning editor Celia Taylor. Both were understandably proud of the project, with Celia especially admitting to her sheer joy at working with David Attenborough, and the massive coup it was for Sky 3D to get him away from Aunty Beeb. Sadly they remained tight lipped when the subject of budget was broached – we’d love to have known how much they splashed out to create the gorgeous Quetzalcoatlus!

Overall another excellent, informative and exciting day at Doc/Fest! Wandercat MP out.

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