Saturday, 11 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011: Day 3

After two days of starting on fairly hard hitting docs, we decided to go for something a little lighter this morning, and settled on The Hollywood Complex. Directed by Dan Sturman and Dylan Nelson, the film follows the fortunes and failures of the young wannabes (and their parents) staying in the Oakwood, a block of apartments in Hollywood which gets filled by hopefuls during pilot season. We wanted a gentle start to our day, and in some ways this film delivered on that. There are certainly larger than life grotesques to be found within, pushy parents and pushier kids, of the genre familiar from films like Spellbound and any number of Miss Teen America-style pageant docs. However, what makes The Hollywood Complex (dig the title, by the way) such a refreshing film to watch was the remarkable lack of judgement on the part of the directors. It would be so easy to criticise so many of the participants and situations within the film, but they seem to strive for neutrality. We asked them about their decision to use only minimal interview footage with former child stars. “Actually... we didn’t originally have any of that, we were doing a more observational style,” answered Dylan, “But as it unfolded we showed it to a few people and they said ‘this film needs a little bit more point of view’ – that the audiences aren’t going to know what to make of it.”. We reckon they got the balance just right.

Dan Sturman & Dylan Nelson

Fancying a break from sitting in dark cinemas, we went and spoke to French artist Jean Marc Calvet, present at the festival due to a film which has been made about him. When we spoke to him he was busy painting a wall in the bar of Sheffield’s Showroom cinema. He answered our questions while effortlessly creating a masterpiece on the wall. We asked him to explain to us something of the route he took to becoming an artist. “Briefly? Well, I had absolutely nothing to do with the art world...I travelled through lots of countries, until one day I decided to die. I shut myself into a house and started taking loads of drugs and alcohol, until I reached a point where I weighed 47 kilos and really thought I would die. But I found paint tins in the house, and started painting with my fingers on the walls. I locked myself in for about nine months without seeing anyone or speaking to anyone, and painted the whole house. It was a sort of frenzy, I felt that I could vomit out everything that I had inside...I would paint it out but then it would come back. Painting was the only way I had to get out that which was inside me”. He went on to say that painting was his way of equalizing his emotions, which tended otherwise to peak and trough dramatically. We asked him about the faces which appear in his work, whether they mean anything in particular. “No...I let my brain run free. I do just the first lines, and then the rest comes bit by bit...I don’t try to create a story, just a sense of something”. He pointed out that normally he takes two or three weeks over a picture, but that he was doing the one for the Showroom in just a day and a half. The brevity of its creation, however, does not reduce the impact of the piece. As with his other works, there are inscrutable faces therein. Perhaps we can learn something of what these mean from his response when we asked him why he had originally left France: “I used to change countries in order to change faces...I thought that by changing countries I could escape my troubles, but I couldn’t. We carry our troubles with us”. Meeting M. Calvet and watching him work was a real honour.

Calvet and his latest work
The next film was Seven Dwarves, which is actually the first episode of a series due to air in August. Every year in the Christmas panto season, people of restricted height are brought together to play the dwarves opposite Snow White. This series follows a group of them sharing a house together, and examines both the bizarre situation they find themselves in and the wider ramifications of what it means to be a little person today. One of the dwarf actors, Max, came across as the ‘main character’, and was referred to as an ‘alpha male’ by another housemate. We asked him how he felt about having such a title bestowed upon him and whether, as the oldest man in the house, he saw himself as a father figure to the others. “No” he replied, with no thought, “No, I don’ feel like a father figure whatsoever really because I am who I am, and what I am. It’s just the way I am”. However, the producer stepped forward at this point: “He’s being slightly disingenuous – there are certain times where he absolutely does take on that role”. His description of Max sticking up for one of his fellow cast members promises exciting television to come...Fohnhouse says this is one to watch!

Our final film of the day was, appropriately, Calvet, Dominic Allan’s film examining the life of the artist. A brilliantly crafted film, the experience of watching it was made particularly memorable by the fact that our new friend M. Calvet was actually sat directly behind us in the cinema. Knowing that the subject of the documentary we were watching was right there with us made for both a rewarding and an uncomfortable experience: for the first time we felt on a personal level the intense dichotomy of documentary cinema; on the one hand it invades, but on the other it releases. In their post-film discussion both director and star showed the utmost respect for each other, which certainly comes across within the film also. The deliberately non-ethnic music made for an interestingly different soundscape, the perfect accompaniment to the images Calvet produces. 

Calvet and Dominic Allan (and moderator)

Yet again Doc/Fest has exceeded our expectations, bringing us films which challenged and delighted us – and we shouldn’t forget that it is also a digital media festival. The importance of this was certainly highlighted by Calvet: when asked about the contact he has with his long-time estranged son who he found again during the course of the film, his reply was that they are now Facebook friends.



  1. Very nice to meet you Martin !!!! Thank you very much .......All the best.....Jean-Marc

  2. excellent! How awesome to have Jean Marc painting while you chatted!