Film and Television Features

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Epilogue

Well, it was one hell of a festival. This year I saw some sterling stuff, but before I get into that, here's what the official Jury verdicts were:

Special Jury Award: Marina Abromović: The Artist is Present
Youth Jury Award: Photographic Memory
Audience Award: 5 Broken Cameras
Innovation Award: Bear 71
Green Award: Law of the Jungle
Inspiration Award: Penny Woolcock

Some interesting picks from the jury there. What caused most consternation amongst festival goers was Photographic Memory, a film that I personally liked very much, but seemed very divisive. It is certainly a less obvious choice than the nailed-on, pre-festival favourite Indie Game: The Movie. Also seemingly controversial was Law of the Jungle, a film I personally thought was at best solid, but not exactly what I'd call gongworthy.

In a festival where nothing I saw broke out in the way that Bombay Beach or The Interrupters or Project Nim did last year, the overall quality in 2012 was still ridiculously high. Here's my top 5 films of the festival:

1. Searching for Sugar Man
I was won over instantly by Malik Bendjelloul's masterful pop star mystery. The story of how a couple of South African fans attempt to track down obscure 70s troubadour Rodriguez - who last they heard had killed himself on stage - is spellbinding and unpredictable at each and every turn. Apparently missed out on the Audience Award by 1 point at the final tally - for shame.

2. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
I don't care much for speed metal, but Jesse Vile's quite brilliant doc hit all the right notes (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?). A beautiful, touching and funny portrait of breathtakingly talented guitar Jason Becker, who at age 20 and on the verge of superstardom was struck down with Lou Gehrig's Disease. An extraordinary film about an extraordinary man.

3. The House I Live In
Eugene Jarecki's documentary about the US government's 'war on drugs' was an epic, sprawling look inside a thoroughly fucked up system. Makes you feel as angry as it does helpless, Jarecki's film paints an ugly portrait of America, in which the poorest are royally screwed at every turn. Depressing, yet great.

4. The Other Dream Team
It might not be the most originally put together or formally interesting film you'll ever see, but you'd be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable flick at the festival this year. The entertaining and uplifting tale of Lithuanian basketball players forced to compete for the USSR, before playing for their own team after independence is won, is as feel good as it gets. Also, if you don't really know the story, you won't see the Grateful Dead's involvement coming...

5. The Punk Syndrome
A film following a Finnish punk band whose members all have severe learning disabilities works so well because it approaches the subjects as if they were any other regular band. The results are hilarious and the humanity wins through to the end. The manicure and sports day scenes rank up there with the best of the festival. Plus the band are pretty fucking tight.

I must give honourable mentions too to How to Survive a Plague, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, China Heavyweight, Photographic Memory and One Mile Away, all of which I enjoyed immensely and would have probably made the top five in any other year.

Other highlights must include the socializing aspect of the festival. After pretty much doing just films last year, I was jazzed to find the Queens Social Club on the DocFest map in 2012, with the opening night party and the Guilty Pleasure Disco particular highlights for me. My one and only criticism of the festival this year was the 'Secret Screenings'. Last year, Life in a Day was the big one and being pre-release it was packed out the screen was buzzing. I hated it, but that is not the point. This year, we got 2 episodes of Lee Kearn's E4 prank show (which saw a crazy amount of walk outs - and since when has a hidden camera show punking gullible Z list celebs been documentary?) and a grueling film about Albino murders in Africa, which whilst a very good and important piece of work, is not a smart scheduling choice to make on a Saturday night against a free bar and knees up at Queen's.

I must thank some awesome film writer types (I'm pushing for acceptance of the term journologgers) for keeping me company throughout the fest. These include Alex Rowland, Tom Grater, Matthew Thrift, Martin Parsons, Colin Oakley, Adam Batty and Jonathan Hatfull. If you look at the bottom of this page you'll find a special bonus Shot/Reverse Shot Podcast where I interview Alex, Colin and Martin. I'm truly saddened to say that my very entertaining chat with Adam Batty had to be cut because due to a bizarre digital hiccup, we sounded like two robots drowning in a tin bath full of marbles.

Until next year!

You can read Joe's full Doc/Fest coverage on his blog The Wooden Kimono

(Photo (c) Nynke Weirda)