Friday, 29 June 2012

Joyful Noise (2012)

Image: Warner Bros.

Joyful Noise tells the tale of a small community in Georgia struggling to make ends meet. The only hope the townsfolk have of restoring the faith comes in the form of the local church choir that, despite losing out every year to stronger, more modern competition, is determined to go all the way this year and finally give the town something to smile about.

This musical outing gets off to a rocky start and has a hard time finding its feet: the cuts and transitions are not as smooth as they could be and the lip sync doesn’t always match up. But for every bum production note there’s a good musical number which keeps you engaged until the end. Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah are convincing as the choir heads at loggerheads, and it’s nice to see that the ladies don’t take themselves too seriously as they trade insults – notably about the extent of Parton’s surgery.

Star crossed lovers Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) and stage actor Jeremy Jordan round out the cast, as does newcomer Angela Grovey, who deserves a mention for bringing the funny on more than one occasion.

There's not really much of a plot and it's incredibly cheesy, but if you like musical films, Sister Act and gospel music you’ll be entertained.



Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wanderlust (2012)

Image: Universal

Role Models was a surprise cross-over hit for the team behind the cult comedies Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten, so our expectations were pretty high for their latest outing. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play uptight New Yorkers George and Linda who are forced to move to Atlanta when he’s fired. On the way they stop at Elysium bed and breakfast, a commune (or “intentional community”). Can they put their city ways behind them and embrace a madcap hippy lifestyle, and do they really want to?

While Wanderlust isn’t as funny as Role Models, there is plenty to enjoy here. Rudd is terrific as George, eager to open up and try new things before realising that these new things may not be for him. It’s a role that gives him plenty of opportunity to showcase his ability to combine bizarre improvisation as well as cynical joy-killing. Faring less well is Aniston, who sadly doesn’t stray too far from her usual persona. It’s not a bad performance by any means, but it’s not strong enough to make her stand out in a cast full of on-form character actors. Special notice must be given to Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive) as hairy guru Seth who’s still making snide references to a corporate world from several decades ago, and Kerri Kenney-Silver (Role Models) as a well-intentioned but intrusive Elysium member, while Joe LoTruglio, Kathryn Hahn, Jordan Peele, Lauren Ambrose, Ken Marino, Michaela Watkins, and Alan Alda each get a chance to shine.

But it’s all a bit slight. Although it doesn’t drag during its brief running time, there’s not really a lot to it beyond the fish-out of water setting and giving the ensemble free rein. It’s enjoyable, if not particularly memorable.

Another great comic performance from Rudd and an excellent supporting cast make Wanderlust a fun journey. It may not be their best but it’s certainly entertaining.



Monday, 25 June 2012

Lovely Molly (2012)

Image: Metrodome

Since they made The Blair Witch Project in 1999, writer-directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick have had some difficulty shaking off the one-hit-wonder tag, perhaps because of the hand-held, amateur documentary style of the film. Having gone his separate way, Sánchez gave us the enjoyable, low-budget alien horror Altered in 2006, and now presents low-budget spook story Lovely Molly.

After their wedding, Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) move into her late father’s house. With Tim on the road a lot, Molly has a lot of time to herself. But is it loneliness or things going bump in the night that sets her back on the path to bad habits? And is it the memory of her father haunting the place or is the man himself returning to make her life hell?

There are some things that we really liked about Lovely Molly. Sánchez makes the most of a clearly very tight budget with few locations. Home video footage is used but it doesn’t make up the whole film (a great relief). And there’s not a single star to be found, the most recognisable face is Johnny Lewis from TV’s Sons of Anarchy. There’s also an admirable determination to let character drive the story without any big, forced revelations. Character is sketched rather than intimately detailed, in a good way.

But the biggest problem with Lovely Molly is that there’s not a lot to it. A lot of low-budget tricks are used but there’s more a feeling that they’re covering for a lack of substance rather than a lack of finance. Sánchez’s determination to show as little as possible does make a nice change from the norm but as the film progresses you can’t help but wonder if it was because there was nothing to show. There are bits and pieces of horror film tropes dotted around, and while some of them work well (surprisingly, the home video footage works very well indeed), a lot of them really don’t. A good performance from Lodge can’t hide the fact that the character of Molly is wildly inconsistent. The first half hour or so is often incredibly tense but there’s not enough to it to maintain that sense of dread.

If Lovely Molly had been a first feature we could be a lot more forgiving, but after a promising, understated start the film’s weaknesses become glaring. There are strong pieces but it’s a disappointing whole.



Friday, 22 June 2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

Image: Warner Bros.

It seems that a lot of people are growing increasingly tired of Tim Burton, accusing him of repeating the same old schtick for his own amusement. Well, his and Johnny Depp’s. But it’s a schtick that does seem to strike a chord with a lot of us and there’s no denying that an on-form Burton is a force to be reckoned with. He seemed like the perfect choice to bring hokey 1950s supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows to the big screen, and with an excellent cast, expectations were high.

In the late 1700s, wealthy Maine landowner Barnabas Collins (Depp) spurns the affections of his servant Angelique (Eva Green), who promptly reveals herself to be a witch, kills his beloved and turns him into a vampire. Barnabas is buried alive, only to be dug up 200 years later in 1972. The Collins family still lives in the mansion but is a shadow of its former self. With only matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) privy to his secret, Barnabas sets about restoring his family to their previous position, but must contend with their main rival: Angelique.

Let’s start with the bad. Audiences who have grown tired of Burton will not find much to enjoy here. Much of the film finds the director pretty much on cruise control, unwilling to take the film to any really dark or strange places. The 70s setting does much of the work for him (Hippies! Lava lamps! Alice Cooper!), the script by Seth Grahame-Smith is sloppy and haphazard, with plotlines dropped at random and characters disappearing from the film for long stretches. The first half often seems to exist only to give Depp a steady stream of fish out of water jokes, some of which are better than others. There’s an abundance of opportunities here with such an array of odd characters and excellent character actors that it’s frustrating to see them wasted.

That being said, we can also report that the film is a great deal of fun. The sets are beautiful, the costumes are magnificent, there are some fantastic performances, and things improve greatly in the second half when things actually get going.

Depp goes for a lower-key performance than expected which is mostly effective, and he works wonderfully with Green and Pfeiffer, who does excellent work as the calm, aloof but resourceful head of the family. However, Chloë Grace Moretz is surprisingly on-and-off as her perpetually unimpressed daughter Carolyn, Jonny Lee Miller doesn’t have much to do apart from wear a succession of turtlenecks as Elizabeth’s ne’er-do-well brother Roger, and Jackie Earle Haley’s drunken handyman Willie Loomis deserves much more screen-time. Helena Bonham Carter has some fun with her aging psychiatrist but she suffers from a similar lack of character development.

The real triumph of Dark Shadows is the casting of Eva Green as the crazed, preening, vengeful, lustful witch. It’s a performance so wickedly enjoyable that when she’s on screen the many faults of the script and the film seem negligible. She completely nails the tone of arch, vampy comedy that the film goes for but only occasionally hits.

The problems with Dark Shadows are many and they are impossible to ignore but it’s never boring. The cast are on good form and clearly enjoying their work, and for the many plotlines that fizzle and are ignored there are some wonderful details that pop up. After a disappointing first half the second builds to a highly enjoyable, over-the-top crescendo.

In desperate need of a better script and more focus, Dark Shadows is not as good as we hoped, but much more fun than we feared.



Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Think Like a Man (2012)

Image: Sony Pictures

A few years ago comedian/actor/producer/love guru Steve Harvey thought it was about time someone schooled the ladies on how guys really think. The result: a New York Times bestseller, an ego trip and now, a movie.

Based on his book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, this Sony production brings together an almost all African American cast to reenact a few of the book's scenarios: The Mama's Boy, The 90-Day Rule Girl, The Dreamer vs. The Independent Woman to name a few. The first half of the film focuses on what these woman do having devoured all his words, while the second half turns the tables as their male counterparts realise they've been played. And as the saying goes, you can't play a player. Apparently.

Think Like a Man is surprisingly not as bad as the trailer makes out. While it still has a lot of your typical African American rom-com ingredients it's actually watcheable and provides one or two laughs. The main problem with it though is Steve Harvey's need to show up every second. Whether it's on the TV, via his book (and book cover), or the camera cutting to him for him to 'break it down' for us, he just won't go away, in spite of the fact that his commentary is not needed. We all know he wrote the book and so giving him and his oeuvre so much camera time has turned what should have ultimately been a series of light-hearted lessons in love into an irritating sermon, with some actors and some acting thrown in for good measure - even though the only person taking his advice so seriously is him. Also, on top of Harvey, someone thought it was a good idea to let Kevin Hart narrate.

A half-decent film which could have had more universal appeal if not for the never-ending Steve Harvey commercial. Shame.


The Making of Harry Potter: Warner Bros. Studio Tour

A little taster for those of you who haven't been...


Monday, 18 June 2012

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Final Day

The first film of the day was Aluna, an eye-opening documentary that was interestingly instigated by its subjects and not the filmmaker. The Kogi tribe in the Sierra Nevada mountains were so alarmed by the rate of ecological destruction in the region that they contacted filmmaker Alan Eira to join them on their journey through their sacred places on the coastline. Together they contact experts and academics to share their knowledge of their environment and spread the word that action must be taken now. It’s fascinating watching the Kogi Mamas (as the leaders are called) compare their beliefs with a variety of experts who agree that, while they may phrase it differently, they are on the same page regarding the connected nature of the ecosystem and the core habitats of regional species. Eira was on hand with two of the Kogi featured in the film to stress the urgency of the situation. It’s a compelling and eye-opening film.


Director Alan Eira

Today saw a world first as the entirety of Mark Cousin’s series The Story of Film: An Odyssey was shown in a marathon screening. We haven’t yet managed to watch this, and so were excited to be able to catch a glimpse. Cousins is a lively and impassioned filmmaker and commentator, and the bit we saw, dealing with film noir, made us eager to see the rest – yet another for the DVD wish list! Cousins was there in person to answer questions in the interval, and used his incredibly long edit sheet to show the audience how far along they were. He was promising pints for people who stayed the course, but sadly we were needed elsewhere!

Mark Cousins and his edit sheet

A definite contrast to the stark ecological message of Aluna was the next film, The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus. It tells the well-known tale of the cephalopod who correctly predicted 8 out of 8 football World Cup results. It’s a highly entertaining, very funny documentary that shows just how far Paul’s influence and popularity spread in such a short space of time. Whether it was blind luck (as advocated by an admirably game mathematician) or genuine premonition (as affirmed by two animal psychics and a selection of international fans), it’s a hilariously watchable piece of work. Groundhog Day fans will also be happy to know that Punxsutawney Phil himself makes an appearance.

Cinematographer Robert Muratore and director Alexandre Philippe

To finish up we decided to go for a film on a subject we really knew nothing about, following our great experience last year in finishing with the A Tribe Called Quest doc. This year we went for Bones Brigade, Stacy Peralta’s autobiographical film recounting how he gathered together a rag-tag band of skateboarding youths and helped coach them to become a world famous team who redefined skateboarding culture. The audience was composed of a few remaining festival delegates and a lot of ageing boarders, and the film was enjoyed by all. Its strength is in its characters, with each interviewee a distinctive and interesting presence. What most impresses in the interviews is the candour – they are not afraid to talk about the bad with the good, and their self-criticism keeps them grounded despite their enormous successes (Tony Hawk is one of the people interviewed). Favourites for us were soft-spoken poetic soul and freestyle skating prodigy Rodney Mullen, and his polar opposite, the loud, silly and unrefined (but immensely likeable) Lance Mountain. The film made excellent use of archive footage, and made us want to hunt down all their old videos to appreciate their raw brilliance (as well as their film The Search for Animal Chin, because it looks hilariously awful – Peralta’s cringing when it is discussed it almost palpable).

It’s been a hectic, often flu-ridden, few days here at Doc/Fest but there has been a fantastic range of documentaries of the highest calibre. Our hearts have been warmed and broken! It’s also worth mentioning the obvious passion and commitment of everyone involved, from the organisers to the volunteers. We can’t wait for next year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest!

Full reviews of selected films will be appearing on the site over the coming days so keep an eye out for write-ups of the big hits and our personal favourites.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Day 4

After finishing last night with Chinese political activism, this morning the Wandercats woke up to the crisp chill of Iceland with Grandma Lo-Fi: The Basement Tapes of Sigríður Níelsdóttir. This hour-long film is a wonderfully left-field account of the late-in-life achievements of the titular Icelandic grandma, who is renowned in her home country for making her own music using sounds she creates and records herself. Michel Gondry is a clear influence on the stop-motion animation peppered throughout, but it’s also driven by Níelsdóttir’s own eye-catching collages. With the filmmakers happy to document rather than interrogate their subject, it’s perhaps a little slighter than some of the other docs we’ve seen, but Sigríður Níelsdóttir is an utterly charming and warm subject. The film was preceded by a three-minute short devoted to the Roland TR808, an overlooked drum machine. Short, loud and fun, it got a lot across in a short space of time.

Producer Louise Højgaard

From Basement Tapes to nostalgia for days gone by, next up was Photographic Memory from renowned filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March). Driven to examine his own youth by the difficult adolescence of his son, McElwee ponders whether the age of mass communication has made the transition from teen to adult more difficult, or whether he was any less lost as a young American in Brittany, working for a photographer and enjoying a love affair with a local girl. He returns to France to track down his former employer and the mysterious girl of his past, despite not knowing their surnames or whether they’re alive or dead. It’s at its best during McElwee’s contemplation of his role as parent, but, despite his reputation as one of the pioneers of director-as-subject documentary filmmaking, the segments in France feel a little self-indulgent and meandering with no real purpose.

Better was We Went to War, director Michael Grigsby’s follow-up to I Was a Soldier, the film he made forty years ago about three Texan Vietnam vets. He returns to Texas to talk to the two surviving subjects, and the family of the third, in a beautifully crafted film which, unbelievably, was shot in just 11 days. At first the languid pace and focus on visual poetry threw us, as we had expected something more straightforward. In the following Q&A session, however, Grigsby justified his decision to film in this way, seeking to highlight the emotional isolation felt by the survivors. The downbeat truth of the film is best summed up by one of the vets: “war is hell, life’s a bitch, here we are – nobody said it was going to be easy”.

Producer Rebekah Tolley and director Michael Grigsby

Over at the Sheffield Crucible, Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw was in conversation with filmmaker Carol Morley. Morley and Bradshaw spoke at length on a variety of subjects, mostly based around her film Dreams of a Life. Morley spoke about what drew her to the project and how the story of Joyce Vincent’s disappearance is still fascinating and ultimately unsolvable. She talked about how the idea of a purely factual documentary didn’t appeal and how she felt answers can be rewarding but ultimately constricting. When asked about feeling responsible not only to her subject but to the interviewees, she answered that her previous documentary, The Alcohol Years, had helped her to understand the issue because it was about her, and the subjects were her friends who were all still angry with her. The director’s passion and nerve really came across in this honest and often hilarious conversation.

Back in the cinema, Jean-Philippe Tremblay’s Shadows of Liberty was a well made, if overly familiar, indictment of media monopoly of the news services. The presentation of the film was appealing, with fun animations and a score which lend a sense of impending doom to the proceedings. More interesting, though, were the events in the cinema after the lights went up: first we were asked to don red V For Vendetta masks for a photo in support of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, interviewed in the documentary and currently facing extradition.

Then there was the extended Q&A, which led to some truly insightful discourse. Our favourite moment was an audience member challenging the film’s editor on his assertion that media agenda is purely profit based. It was refreshing to see filmmakers put on the spot in this way - what is a documentary festival for if not inspiring people to question, debate and understand?

Director Jean-Philippe Tremblay, composer Tandis Jenhudson and editor Gregers Sall

Next, despite not being familiar with the film’s subject, we were quickly enamoured with the moving and emotional (but never mawkish) Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet. A labour of love for its director, Jesse Vile, it shows the life of rock guitar icon Jason Becker. Having signed a studio contract before graduating high school, Becker quickly gained a reputation for incredible talent and technique before landing the gig as the new guitarist for David Lee Roth. However before the first album was finished, Jason was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. An eternal optimist, he was determined to keep living and not let this debilitating illness stop him from making music. Vile shows us Jason’s incredible warmth and good humour and the amazing commitment by his family and friends to give him the best possible care. What really shines through in the first half of the film is how much Jason appreciated and enjoyed being able to play music so well on such a big stage, and his good-heartedness and that of his family makes it incredibly moving. It’s also a very well-made film, with excellent use of music and still photography.

Editor Gideon Gold and director Jesse Vile

The final film of the night was The Albino Witchcraft Murders, a surprise screening which had only been finished hours before. From first time director Harry Freeland, it shows how albinos in Tanzania are being brutally maimed and murdered because witch doctors have claimed their skin will bring great fortune. It’s touching and at the same time alarming, showing both the plight the strength of Tanzanian albinos. The film’s main protagonist, activist Josephat, tours the villages where these murders have taken place, working desperately to make the villagers see him as a human being. We also meet Vedastus, a young boy who, after being driven out of his school, is denied entry into a special school for albinos due to overcrowding. We were shown a reduced 60 minute version created for broadcast on BBC Storyville, which does leave some questions unanswered. Nevertheless, it’s an undeniably powerful and affecting piece of work.

Storyville Executive Producer Kate Townsend and director Harry Freeland

Day 4 of DocFest ran the gamut from uncomfortable social truths to irrepressibly creative Icelandic grandmas, from personal triumph to national shame. The breadth of films on offer is truly remarkable, and we are very sad that tomorrow is the last day. We can’t wait to see what happens…

JH & MP 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Day 3

Day 3 of DocFest started bright and early with Danish director Michael Christofferson’s Peruvian documentary The Law of the Jungle, which deals with a group of indigenous men charged with unlawfully occupying an airfield owned by Pluspetrol and the lawyer who takes on the task of defending them. We’re shown how the company’s pipelines have damaged the natural habitat, from levelling the forests in which the indigenous population hunt, to polluting the streams which feed into their water supply. While we see how the court system struggles to acknowledge the rights of the indigenous populace, it’s also a shocking look at how the local police operate. Christofferson includes the police’s own video footage, which clearly shows them planting weapons on the accused, but cuts out just before they beat them. It’s perhaps less stylistically or narratively successful than some of the other films we’ve been watching, but it’s honest and it’s heartfelt and it’s difficult to ignore.

Next up was Palestinian documentary 5 Broken Cameras, from Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. It’s the chronicle of Burnat’s life in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, just on the Israeli border. When the Israeli government builds a wall that encroaches on their land, the villagers spend the next five years protesting. We witness five years’ worth of unlawful crackdowns on unarmed demonstrations in which lives as well as livelihoods are lost. The filmmakers contrast the historic developments with the life of Burnat’s youngest son, born at the time of the wall’s construction. It’s tough to watch but it’s an emotional experience. Burnat and Davidi allow us to connect with the town’s inhabitants and show the relentless tear gas responses to their demonstrations, and how the conflict is a part of their lives from such an early age. It made a clear impact with the audience at DocFest, who gave the directors a standing ovation.

Rachel Wotton and Catherine Scott

From Palestine to Australia, next up was Catherine Scott’s Scarlet Road, which presents Rachel Wotton, a sex worker in New South Wales who mostly works with disabled clients. Rachel raises awareness for the rights of sex workers as well as Touching Base, a group which helps people with disabilities find sex workers. It’s a very funny, very moving film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Wotton is an engaging, funny, intelligent subject but it also gives us an insight into the lives of her clients, who are totally honest about what it is that she provides them with and just how invaluable a service it is. It steers well-clear of the negative aspects of the sex industry but Scott spoke afterwards about how it had been her intention to make a film that would counter the vast majority of discussion on the subject, which typically portrays sex workers as victims. While it’s obviously a contentious issue, Scarlet Road approaches it with heart as well as a wicked sense of humour.

From New South Wales to New York, we next saw Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present. This film comes with the backing of HBO and distribution company Dogwoof, and details Abramović’s performance piece at MOMA, in which she sat in the museum for three months looking at whoever sat opposite her. Abramović is a fascinating, fiercely compelling subject about whom we knew nothing before watching the film. As such, we felt that perhaps slightly too much of the film was taken up with the piece itself rather than her history, but there’s no avoiding the fact of her magnetic presence and the confrontational nature of her work. As ever with documentaries about artists, there’s a certain amount of erudite fawning but you can’t say that she hasn’t earned it. Her willpower and determination translates wonderfully. We also loved the James Franco cameo!

Alison Klayman via Skype

The final doc of the night was Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.  In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei decided to shine a light on how the government suppressed the truth about the extent of the tragedy through his art and on Twitter, which set him on the path to becoming an internationally recognised advocate of political transparency. Klayman gives us a glimpse into his personal life, with his very young son and his many cats, and, more importantly, follows his constant effort to chip away at the unassailable, unquestionable veneer of the Communist Party. He’s a subject as entertaining as he is intriguing, and it’s a fascinating glimpse at how social media can be mobilised behind a charismatic individual. Klayman appeared afterwards for a Skype Q&A, and impressed us with her verve and clear passion for Ai Weiwei’s cause.

This was yet another highly educational day of docs. In introducing Never Sorry, festival programmer Hussain Currimbhoy said how happy he was to see so many people attending. We can only respond by saying how happy we are to have been given such a marvellously eclectic range of films to attend! Bring on day 4.

JH & MP 

Friday, 15 June 2012

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Day 2

The Fohnhouse Wandercats returned for DocFest day 2 with double strength, dragging Jonathan Hatfull from his sickbed and into the DocFest arena.

Michael Apted

The day started well with a Fohnhouse exclusive interview with director Michael Apted, known both for his work in documentary (the Up series, which reached 56 this year) and Hollywood (The World is Not Enough, Voyage of the Dawn Treader). We’ll publish the full interview soon, but Mr Apted happily answered our questions on everything from the origins of the Up series to having his work retro-fitted in 3D to suit the Hollywood 3D revolution, via his underrated 90s medical thriller Extreme Measures.

Director Christy Garland 

The first film of the day was Christy Garland’s The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song, which manages to be both affecting and bleakly hilarious, as we watch the pattern of addiction play out in a house in Guyana. It tells the story of Muscle, a hard working family, who lives with his large collection of fighting birds and his extensive family, which includes his mother Mary. Mary is an alcoholic who frequently wanders the main road in search of a drink, so Muscle takes the precaution of locking her in a room to keep her from falling as she has done before. It’s a film that fits a lot into a relatively short running time. The filmmaker’s initial brief was to make a documentary on cockfighting, but the film also presents a perspective on addiction, the role of women, and the struggle to graduate from lower to middle-class in a poverty-stricken society. The subjects are witty and verbose (Mary is a poet, while Muscle compares one man’s skeleton in his closet to the “cemetery” in his own) and the director keeps her distance, allowing the subjects to express themselves on their terms.

The Howard Street screen allowed people to enjoy the few moments of sunshine

Jonathan caught up with Searching for Sugar Man and was as taken with it as Martin was. He would describe the music as an odd hybrid of Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. It’s a heart-warming film that’s a definite crowd-pleaser. In the meantime, Martin attended a talk with Michael Apted in which he discussed highlights from his career, focussing on how documentary practices can be applied to fiction film.

The night was rounded off with The Punk Syndrome, a Finnish documentary about four men with various disabilities who have formed their own punk band. It’s a raucous, frank look at the lives of its subjects that doesn’t shy away from the facts of their situation while simultaneously acknowledging the humour and pathos. All four of them have a wicked sense of humour which comes out in their lyrics. We’re shown their frustration at being forced into a routine and a life which is not of their choosing, from pedicurist appointments to living arrangements. But the joy of punk music is clearly a liberating experience that allows for connection as well as expression. The four members of Pertti Kurikan’s Name Day Party were all on hand for a Q & A after the film, where they made clear to the audience that punk music was not only the best way to express themselves, but that it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Pertti Kurikan’s Name Day Party take the stage

Thus ends another day of documentary thrills and spills. Back again tomorrow – anyone for a coffee?!


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Day 1

Having grooved to DocFest’s unique vibe when we experienced it for the first time last year, the Wandercats were just scratching to get back to Sheffield to enjoy the magic all over again. It has only been on for a day, but already DocFest 2012 – tagline ‘The Truth is – In Here’ – seems set to be every bit as exciting, innovative and downright cool as its predecessor.

There were docs from the early morning, but we have never been morning cats, and so preferred to wait for the two big events of the day. The first, From the Sea to the Land Beyond, was something of a pre-official opening treat, and served to highlight the sort of media cross-pollination which DocFest seeks to foster. The film, directed by Penny Woolcock, brings together archive footage of the British coastline from the past 100 years, accompanied by a soundtrack from the group British Sea Power. The band was on hand to provide a live accompaniment for this special session, which took place in Sheffield Crucible theatre and was live-streamed.

The project involved the cooperation of The Space, “a new way to access and experience all of the arts – for free”, the BFI, the BBC and the DocFest team themselves (festival director Heather Croall was co-producer). It was remarkable to see the last 100 years of British history play out in such a fashion – the images were often startlingly beautiful, sometimes haunting, other times hilarious – I can’t imagine that Blackpool council will be too happy with the way their town is portrayed in the more recent footage! The music was similarly captivating. We had only heard one song by British Sea Power (their single ‘It Ended on an Oily Stage’ was featured on The Bands 05 II compilation) but their anthemic, touching score for this film showed that they have some serious talent.

Keeping on a musical theme, the proper official opening night film was Searching for Sugar Man. Before the film we had opening night speeches from festival chair, Alex Graham, and Heather Croall. The latter was thrilled to have Sugar Man as the opening film, and after seeing it we could understand why. Incredible in the truest sense of the word, the film tells the story of some South African journalists who decided to try and find out about one of their favourite singers, Rodriguez, who made two albums and then disappeared, apparently burning himself to death on stage after a failed concert. Or else shooting himself in the head. Or perhaps taking a drug overdose… Basically there were more rumours of his death than there are for Kel Mitchell from Kenan & Kel! Nowadays, with Wikipedia available to answer our every question, it is hard to imagine a time when musicians could be genuinely mythical beings, but Rodriguez (spoiler alert – he’s still alive!) has managed to maintain an air of mystery simply by retaining his normality. For years unaware that he had such popularity on the other side of the world – one of the Afrikaners describes him as “much bigger than the Rolling Stones” and it is noted that “Bob Dylan was mild compared to this guy”, but his records bombed in the States and he was dropped from his label – he remains seemingly unchanged by fame.

Rodriguez playing at after party

Rodriguez himself was present, along with the director Malik Bendjelloul, and thrilled the audience with his self-effacing manner and heartfelt appreciation for applause he received. The screening was followed by a party at which he sang a few songs and chatted to the slightly awestruck delegates. We predict that a lot of people will be doing a lot of music shopping in the coming weeks – us included! In the Q&A after the film, Bendjelloul was described as the luckiest documentary director in the world - tonight he must feel pretty close to it.

Malik Bendjelloul
Rodriguez sheltering from
Sheffield's finest weather

All in all this was a pretty marvellous start to what looks set to be another rollicking celebration of all that it brilliant about documentary. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for more of our adventures!

Images: MP/Fohnhouse