Monday, November 12, 2007

Sheffield Documentary Film Festival 2007

Well, that was good.

By 'that', I mean to say, the 2007 Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, at which Jude and I have virtually lived for the past 5 days.

In and out of the Showroom, between bar and cinema, Guinness, pints of Stella, Leffe, Hoegaarden, meeting and chatting to strangers, being tired, being thrilled, being excited by superb documentaries of all shapes, colours and sizes.

Jude will be blogging in detail about it, but highlights for me were:

The BUZZ of the whole thing - mainly industry movers, shakers, up-and-comers and wannabees, BBC, C4, SKY and Five, mingling with directors, producers, presenters and a smattering (a mere smidgeon) of the general public;

Jude's infectious enthusiasm for her volunteer work on the festival team, which led to her winning a prize for being one of the best of the 80-strong team;

The FILMS - so many to choose from, so many quickly sold out, forcing unexpectedly astonishing second or third choices to the front;

The people, from pinstriped 'Lee' who lost all interest in talking to me once he discovered I wasn't in the industry, to Phil, the young producer of The Cuban Skateboard Crisis, who ended up talking to me about his film and about the mend-and-make-do skateboard scene in Cuba;

Chatting briefly to Ross Kemp at the bar, and realising he's not as tall as me. Friendly bloke though;

Film highlights I managed to catch included:

To the Limit, a film by Pepe Danquart and Kirsten Hager, about Austrian climbing prodigies, the Huber brothers, Alex and Thomas, set against their audacious attempt to set a new speed climbing record for the 3,600 foot high Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite. Awesome is for once an apt word. The film tells us more about the characters than about the climb, and is all the richer for it. Best climbing film I've seen by far, though whether the linearly-thinking climbing community at large will agree, remains to be seen.

Other great fims were:

The English Surgeon, a documentary by producer/director Geoffrey Smith, about top neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, and his selfless efforts to help save lives in Ukraine, where people die needlessly on a daily basis from entirely operable brain tumours. A moving film which has me on the verge of tears. Coming to a TV near you soon, I expect.

Below: The remarkable Henry Marsh

Echoes of Home, by Stefan Schweitert, about three remarkable and taklented musicians who have taken the age-old Swiss folk tradition of yodelling, which began as a cattle-calling series of whoops (as we are shown), into the 21st century, developing it into a beautiful and unique avant-garde musical genre. For any lover of new and often strange-sounding musics, this film is a must. Seeing Swiss yodeller Christian Zehnder, 'jamming' in a yurt in Mongolia, with Tuvan throat-singers, was truly wonderful, and the embarrassment of Erika Stucky's teenage daughter, who thinks her exuberant and likeable mum (pictured below) "sometimes goes too far", would provide knowing amusement to parents of teenage girls everywhere.

Gerald hauzenberger's Beyond the Forest, a heartwarming, funny and, ultimately, vaguely unsettling portrait of two old people, one of Saxon stock, one descended from the Landlers, who linger on, against their own expectations, in the astonishingly mediaeval environs of rural Transylvania.

All White in Barking, by Marc Isaacs, a study of the benign xenophobia of a handful of white inhabitants of Barking, faced with what they see as an unstoppable wave of immigration. Unintentionally hilarious in places, it also paints an unsettling picture of ignorance and fear which bodes ill for society.

For anyone who loves quality, well thought-out documentaries, the festival is a must. It's easy to dismiss doccos as being second fiddle to drama feature films but a 1 or 2 hour docco can be every bit as rivetting, moving and thought-provoking, if not more, because it depicts a reality rather than a construct.

Whatever, we'll be there again next year.