Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Day One


Having experienced the sex, docs and rock ‘n’ roll that was last year’s festival, the newly re-christened Fohnhouse Cats are back again this year for some more doc-ing fun as the festival celebrates its twentieth year. Last year we found Sugar Man, learnt the value of coffee from Punksters Pertti Kurikan’s Name Day Party and chatted Up with Michael Apted. Let’s see what Blue John we can dig out this time around.

In true Fohnhouse fashion, we skipped the morning’s festivities in favour of pork sarnies, leaving us fully prepared for the official opening events in the evening. First, following last year’s live musical treat, Penny Woolcott’s From the Sea to the Land Beyond, this year saw Sheffield icon Jarvis Cocker leading a raucous musical accompaniment of Martin Wallace’s edited film The Big Melt, which gathers together footage from the history of the steel industry in Britain. Revelling both in the abstracts of molten steel and the hard lines of the final product’s industrial applications, as well as some animated interludes, the film was a fascinating exploration of the subject, and timely, given that stainless steel celebrates its centenary this year. The marriage of music and images was not always perfect, however, with Jarvis’s energetic conducting and the mad, contrasting music sometimes drawing attention away from the screen. The main things gleaned from this performance were the importance of both steel and music to Sheffield – while the city stands on its steel foundations, its soul is now carried in its eclectic music scene, represented today by, amongst many, Cocker, Richard Hawley, the City of Sheffield Brass Band and the City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra. To paraphrase Mr Cocker himself, ‘Sheffield is so rock!’.


The official opening night film was Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer, but we were attracted to the rather different concurrent screening of Nick Ryan’s The Summit, screened in Peak Cavern in Castleton, one of the gems of the Peak District. Programmer Hussain Currimbhoy explained the reasoning behind this – for twenty years, thousands of guests have descended upon Sheffield, only to be trapped in cinemas and hotel rooms, missing out on the stunning scenery surrounding the city. This was rectified in incredible style, and none of us lucky enough to attend will forget it in a hurry. The film itself was a well-structured commentary on the extremities, both rapturous and terrifying, of mountain climbing, exploring similar themes to Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void. Though there are questions to be raised about the bias of the testimonies within the film, the context of viewing and the power of the images added up to a fittingly memorable conclusion to this opening night.


We were enamoured with both documentaries, but the night belonged to Jarvis, with his physical performance and genuine love for his city earning thunderous applause. The festival is now fully opened, and these cats are looking forward to a week of thrills, chills, spills… and pork sandwiches (with apple sauce and crackling).

FG & MP 

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