Monday, 30 May 2011

Top Ten Unmissable Docs

Hello doc fiends and other passers-by,

With a just little over a week before the kick-off of this year’s  Sheff Doc/Festival with Spurlock’s  new documentary feature POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’, we, the panel of youth are here to share with you our wealth, that is to say, our top ten hot picks from this year’s rock & roll, drug infused programme!

As a panel of 5, we have each chosen two of our personal favourite films from the line-up that we expect to blow your minds.

Alex Keegan

The Camera that Changed the World
The humble camera - always changing yet constantly fuelling our imaginations by capturing visual delights from around the world. The flourishing of cinema in the 20s and 30s and its subsequent drought of success in the 50s relied upon heavy, clunky, cameras, which despite their uncanny ability at documenting moving objects, weren’t cut out to accommodate the demands of the documentary filmmaker. Mobility, lightness and ease of use were required for these artists who were attempting to capture fleeting moments of real life that could never be replicated with a second take. Mandy Chang brings us this film, which tells of the development of such cameras and the effect they have had on the documentary world. From a group of French filmmakers led by Jean Rouch, discovering the joyous freedom of Cinéma Vérité to an American photographer along with an engineering student friend teaming up to develop a camera that would allow them to record J.F.K’s presidential primary campaign – this is necessary viewing for all those even vaguely interested in the development of camera technology and its subsequent impact on the documentary world. 

Hell and Back Again
Following on from a similar theme, the DSLR camera today is quickly asserting itself as the revolutionary tool for contemporary filmmakers. Its unbelievable lightness, cheapness and fantastic image quality means filmmakers no longer have to compromise on quality if they want to make a film under extreme, challenging circumstances. No one could argue that this is what was demanded of Dangfung Dennis whose employment of a DSLR meant he could join foot soldiers in Afghanistan and amongst the crossfire record some of the most intense images you’ll find at this year’s festival. With two overlapping narratives – one in combat and the other following a Marine’s recovery at home – the sense of realism achieved looks set to be unprecedented and the immersion undertaken by the filmmaker is a stark reminder to all those who feel indifferent about the conflicts in the Middle East that people are still engaged with the horrors of warfare. Filmmaking at it’s most raw and powerful - this is necessary viewing and an insight into what we can expect from the technologically liberated filmmakers of today.

Stefan Panic

If you're looking for a calm and relaxing watch, Minka is certainly looking out to be just that. 
It's a powerful story about the memory of home. As we all know, it is said; "Home is where the heart is" which is the exact message we will all be feeling while watching this beautiful documentary. Minka is about an old farmhouse which was rescued from the Japanese Alps and transported to the suburbs of Tokyo by a man named John Roderick and a young university student Yoshihiro Takishita in 1967. Takishita later becomes Roderick's adopted son, and together they spend their peaceful lives in this renovated farmhouse known as 'Minka'.
44 years on, following Roderick's death at 93, we hear the story of Takishita's life and how the Minka has affected it. It's about a man who is literally pouring out his heart onto the screen showing us how important the home actually is, and hey, perhaps we can even learn a thing or two. I'm prepared to give my heart and ears to experience a story about what architectural bliss really means, and I hope you are too, because this is certainly something we should all enjoy watching.

Life In Movement
I'm sure we all know of talented individuals who have unfortunately passed away far too early in their life during their journey to success. It's always incredibly saddening to hear, especially if you've deeply admired their work. Meet Tanja Liedtke, a very young and talented female dance artist who sadly died at the age of 29 in a traffic accident, shortly after she was appointed the position of Artistic Director at the Sydney Dance Company in Australia. If you're a fan of contemporary dance then there is no reason that you shouldn't be watching this, if you're not a fan, then watch it purely for a new experience of a world you're not familiar with.  This documentary is an ode to Tanja's life and work, directed by her very own fiancée Bryan Mason, so be ready to witness something special as we discover a story about creativity, loss and our very own mortality.

Jack Ranson

This year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest will be an absolute corker! There’s everything from Reagan to Roller Disco, Spurlock to stirring tales of Roma Gypsies discovering the power of music. Who knows, there might even be a spot of summer sunshine? But in between all the roller blading and the frolicking in the Sun, these are the films that I think are worth a spot in your schedule. 

A Letter to Elia
Any fan of Martin Scorsese, or indeed film in general, must be highly anticipating this documentary; a ‘deeply personal film’ which looks at the inspiration Scorsese found from the legendary director Elia Kazan. Undoubtedly, both Kazan and Scorsese have touched almost every modern-day director in some way, with their unique visual styles and their profound ability to bring the best out of their actors (Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull spring to mind). This documentary is not only homage to Kazan, but an in-depth look at what it was exactly that stuck with a 12 year old Scorsese, after watching On the Waterfront, throughout his illustrious career. Co-written and directed by Scorsese himself, along with Kent Jones, A Letter to Elia is sure to be a big draw for the simple reason that this is a documentary about two iconic directors and inspirational work; I for one am excited.

Cigarettes and Songs
Now I must admit, I’m no expert when it comes Roma gypsy music but I would certainly expect it to be interesting if nothing else. Perhaps that’s why directors Jana Kovalcikova and Marek Sulik chose a group of Roma gypsies and Slovakians as the focus of their documentary Cigarettes and Songs. It’s certainly an original venture and that in itself will be a big draw for many I’m sure, particularly at a time when gypsy culture is being rediscovered and even embraced by many (look at the major success of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings). It tells the heart-warming story of these Roma Gypsies and Slovakians coming together in an evangelical church in Eastern Slovakia to prepare music for a new CD of ancient Roma songs, transformed into new compositions. I for one love music documentaries and there are certainly a fair few being shown at the festival this year, but Cigarettes and Songs is, in my eyes, the stand-out selection in this category. It is about more than just the music; it is about the unity and peace it brings to this eclectic group of people and the power music has. And who knows, you might even go away wanting to download the album! 

Lucy Pereira

With just over a week to go until docu-movie madness hits Sheffield, here are my two must-sees for the Doc/Fest. I’ve picked two laid-back, observational documentaries from different sides of the globe, both offering interesting perspectives about the communities they are filmed within. 

Bombay Beach
A small lake in California and the colourful characters that live nearby it are portrayed in this beautiful film by music video maker Alma Har’el. Bombay Beach, a somewhat desolate, rural pocket with a 300-something strong population centred around Salton Sea – and the film’s namesake - is the setting for the film. Har’el makes her directorial debut with this documentary, which follows three males at different stages of their lives and the people around them. A fusion of observational film and choreography sequences (the latter produced by Bombay Beach residents) and with a fantastic soundtrack to set, Bombay Beach will prove a stunning audio-visual delight. Exotic by name and nature, this film appears to be the perfect tonic for sugary sweet, ‘American Dream’ portrayals of the USA. And with coveted awards from the World Documentary Competition and Tribeca Film Festival– you can be sure that Bombay Beach will be a gem. 

War has long been a staple of the documentary world. However, in contrast, it could be argued that peace has been its long-suffering sibling; its subject matter perhaps considered too bland and fluffy in comparison. But as Kazuhiro Soda’s multi award-winning film shows, it doesn’t have to be that way. Peace is a charming, quirky story focussing on Toshio Kashiwagi, an elderly taxi service manager for the disabled, and his caring for the stray cats that roam around the Okayama City streets. Also featuring his charity worker wife, Hiroko and a man in her care, the movie sheds light on the treatment of the disabled and aging populations of Japan and considers the topic of co-existence - not just between peoples - but also between these cute cats – who somewhat surprisingly have their own tale of peace and co-existence unravel before the cameras.

Gina Willis

We’re all partial to a bit of juicy scandal and debauchery in our lives so, here are my chosen two auspicious looking doc films that are bound to tantalise and entertain this year’s audiences.

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times
Ever wanted to gain access all areas into the epicentre of the New York journalism world? Look no further as this documentary provides you just that, and then some! Filmed during a year working at the New York Times, Director Rossi reveals the realities of an increasingly hard-hitting, ruthless journalism industry which constantly pivots on successful, money making headlines so as to self-sustain against the rise of gratis online news. Based at the media desk of the NYT newsroom wherein columnist and reformed cocaine addict David Carr calls the shots, the documentary oozes with drama and provides an interesting stance on the recent issues that have threatened print reportage, such as release of the iPad and the infamous WikiLeaks affair. In receipt of rave reviews having already premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Page One is a documentary that you should all pencil in your agendas.

Oh la la, I must to confess that I have a chronic weakness for all French related film and there are certainly a good number of Gallic docs on this year’s line-up that give the festival programme a soupçon of je ne sais quoi. OK, enough of the lingo, here we have one of the 7 nominated documentary films for the Special Jury Prize, Calvet, The film recalls the gritty, vivacious and highly captivating life of artist, Jean Marc Calvet who, throughout the documentary, is on a quest for salvation. Vividly retold by the man himself, the audience are acquainted with Calvet’s drug tainted years in France, his success as an artist based in Granada, Nicaragua and a sequence of shocking events that followed a proposal to abandon his current life and to relocate to America.  This film is unquestionably a strong contender in its documentary prize category and I will be personally making sure that I queue up early enough to grab a seat!

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