Film and Television Features

Doc/Fest 2013 Day 1: Wednesday 12th June

Day one of the festival has been a HOT, close affair. It’s been a sticky and boozy day in Sheffield alreet but still, we got some documentary stuff done. Just for you.

Le Joli Mai

Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s Le Joli Mai opened the festival, which was, I’ll be honest, something of a marathon slog at the 150 minute mark, just after waking up. However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t worth it, as the film was the true masterpiece of the day.

The film follows a month in life of the city of Paris, specifically, May 1962. The war in Algeria had just ended and influenced by the 1961 film Chronicle of a Summer, Marker and Lhomme set off to take a slice of life from the French capital. 

It’s worth noting here that the version shown was from a new restoration, supervised by Lhomme following Marker’s death and looked fantastic. The transfer was absolutely brilliant and showcased the beautiful composition and grain. The film itself was split into two acts, though shown here without interval and profiled a vast slice of Parisian slice of life from suit salesman to minor Stockbrokers. The film is so varied that it held numerous highlights including beautiful time-lapse photography, as well as odd human interest moments, such as a lady tailoring costumes for her cat. Philosophical, yet accessible, Le Joli Mai is startling in its revelations about the people of Paris, yet more so in the fact that seemingly nothing has changed. 

The Moo Man

Next up, Andy Heathcoate’s The Moo Man profiles Stephen Hook and his organic dairy farm, producing raw milk, butter and cream. Hook’s operation is small and retails directly through markets and delivery systems, choosing to avoid supermarkets and the undervalued prices that they pay.

The farm chooses to have a small number of cattle and a closer relationship with the animals. Part of the reason The Moo Man is so watchable is that Hook is a charming character; talking to his cows and treating them with familial respect, calling them mate and genuinely caring for their wellbeing, he’s even able to recall the smallest details about cows that have passed on. The Moo Man produces first hand evidence for the benefits of ethical farming and the value of compassion. For example, Hook’s cattle have an average lifespan much longer than those of an average dairy farm, unwanted bull calves are not shot at birth and the passion for the produce, its quality and benefits are evident.

The film raises awareness of the struggles of family farmers and is also a beautiful and touching document of the relationship between man and animal. I'd wager that there isn't one person that would see and wouldn't find it educational, moving or inspiring. The Moo Man moves with a very relaxed, observational pace and it’s clear that the filmmakers have spent much time with their subjects to capture such great footage. Highly recommended.

The Big Melt

The first of three opening night events, The Big Melt was held at Sheffield’s premier theatre (not just because I work there), The Crucible. A completely unique and, I predict, one-off event, the film brought together a full century of film from the BFI archives centred on the Steel industry including not only footage of hot molten steel but also animation, footage of the workers and their home lives as well as providing a vision of life with and without steel, for good and for bad. 

The film was live scored with a plethora of Sheffield talent, headed by Musical director and all-round hero, Jarvis Cocker. Supported by Members of Pulp including Richard Hawley, the sublime Serafina Steer, a string section and a Sheffield Youth Choir, the music was truly a joy to behold. One of the highlights was a marching brass band entering the theatre from Blue and Green door concurrently, marching down in front of the screen in perfect unison. Absolutely marvellous

The set itself was filled with unique versions and molten mixtures of classics from Pulp (Sheffield: Sex City and This is Hardcore), The Human League and even the opening titles for Ken Loach’s Kes. Cocker was on absolutely manic form, parading around the stage like a children’s entertainer-turned-composer and toyed with a dizzying number of gadgets and instruments throughout. 

An absolutely brilliant and unique event that clearly took a lot of planning and effort, first rate, although it’s worth noting that the film itself outside of the live atmosphere might not be such a success.

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer with Q+A.

The second event that I chose to go to was the UK Premiere of the Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer, a profile of the now infamous Russian feminist punk/art performance collective. It’s a familiar story, a protest performance inside a cathedral speaking out against the union of Church and State in Russia and actively deriding the leadership of Vladimir Putin, led to the arrest of the Pussy Riot trio, Nadia, Katia and Masha

As with last year’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the film constructs a narrative of important current events and highlights the struggle and demonisation of artists and free individuals within a repressive regime. Unlike Never Sorry, the direct access to Pussy Riot is not there, except from a large amount of courtroom footage, surprising given that the still incarcerated members have been known to give interviews, including Masha’s recent interview with Dazed and Confused. Aside from a great collection of archive footage, I didn’t feel as though the film offered much of an insight into the members of Pussy Riot. Their lives were recollected by their loved ones, who seemed to be the real heart of the documentary and provided the only real unseen side of the story. 

A Punk Prayer is an important and rousing document for the future and for anyone unfamiliar with the plight of Pussy Riot and the political situation in Russia. However, there’s little to glean from the film other than a collection of new footage for anyone following the story. 

The film was followed by a Q+A with released Pussy Riot member Katia and all credit to Doc/Fest for arranging such an interesting finale to the screening.


So, that’s it for Day One! The night was ended with the Storyville after party at the East End Bar, with burritos and booze all round. Hoorah and on to day 2!