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?!

JH & MP

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