Compared to the glitz of Cannes or Sundance, the documentary film festival tends to be a more earnest beast. There are rarely superstars posing for paparazzi, or headline-taunting auteurs defending their misogynistic directorial choices. The “stars” are directors who have chosen the less travelled route to moderate fame, and the post-film Q&As often feature characters whose lives the audience has just seen put through the mill for 90 minutes. This makes for an odd but energising mix of polite respect and leftfield critiques of real people’s lifestyle choices.
Next month sees the launch of the 25th Sheffield Doc/Fest (7-12 June), the UK’s most high-profile showcase of documentaries new and old. The city is the perfect place for such an event, the festival reflecting Sheffield’s singular mix of leftwing politics, radical art and an outward-looking bloodymindedness.
Blend - State - Documentary - Film - World
This blend sums up the current state of documentary film well. At the world’s largest documentary festival, IDFA in Amsterdam (in November), there tends to be a creative tension between the advocacy-led journalistic social issue film and the more lyrical, slow-moving authored pieces. Post-film discussions can be explosive, with earnest daytime cinema visitors lecturing film-makers on their political or aesthetic woes.
Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s CPH:Dox, which takes place in March, is all about the border country between fact and fiction, especially where the film-makers are artists too, frequently leading to viewing experiences that are bewildering and uncomfortable. This is usually a good thing, with large, hip young audiences coming to be provoked.
Cinemas - Things - Festivals - Discussions - State
Often it’s outside the cinemas that the really intriguing things happen. Most festivals feature discussions on the state of documentary commissioning, and round-table pitching forums. These offer a chance to take funders to task for their love of safe or exploitative commissioning decisions. Sheffield does this particularly well. Even in its highest echelons, the documentary industry is a...
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