Previewing Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013

Jarvis Cocker soundtracks a century of steelmaking on film as the curtain-raiser to this year’s vast tasting menu of the best new international documentaries.

Samuel Wigley
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The Big Melt

The Big Melt

A treacherous Himalayan expedition, the agit-punk of art collective Pussy Riot, and 100 years of steelmaking on film – this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest gets underway with a diverse three-film opening night that begins in the city’s Crucible Theatre and ends in the darkness of a cave in the Peak District.

First up, The Big Melt is a tribute to the steel industry and its century of representation on film, featuring a live soundtrack by Jarvis Cocker and collaborator Martin Wallace. Receiving its world premiere, the film returns us to the fiery furnaces of our industrial past, fusing archive film from the BFI with what the programme calls “a new kind of heavy metal music”.

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer is the story of the controversial performance by feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot in a Moscow cathedral in 2012 that culminated in three of its members being arrested on charges of religious hatred. The focus of international media attention and a cause célèbre for human rights organisations, only one of the three, Katia, has subsequently been released from prison. She will be taking part in a Skype interview after the screening.

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer

Meanwhile, the Devil’s Arse, a cavern deep in the Peak District boasting Europe’s largest cave opening, plays host to a screening of The Summit, Nick Ryan’s investigative documentary about a disastrous attempt to scale the summit of K2 in 2008, which resulted in the loss of the lives of 11 climbers.

Among other world premieres are A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times, a documentary about an NYT reporter in the early 2000s who was found to be plagiarising and fabricating stories; Here Was Cuba tells the story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; and there’s more postwar paranoia afoot in Mirage Men, about a man whose life was destroyed following his call to the US Air Force to report UFO sightings. In Project Wild Thing, filmmaker David Bond, as marketing director for nature, makes it his business to sell a new wonder product called ‘nature’ to children who spend too much time on the sofa.

Here Was Cuba

Here Was Cuba

Over five days, from 12-16 June 2013, the festival takes in 120 features and shorts, organised across competition and thematic strands. This year the strands include Behind the Beats, showcasing the best new music documentaries from around the world; Best of British, highlighting homegrown non-fiction fare; Global Encounters, which spreads its net around the world; Resistance, the home for documentary activism and protest; and the pick of new sports docs are screening in This Sporting Life. Iconoclastic Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura is the subject of this year’s Doc/Fest retrospective.

Doc/Fest also boasts an extensive programme of public and industry events. For the first time ever, this year the BFI Film Fund is holding documentary pitching sessions. A shortlist of filmmakers seeking funding from the BFI will pitch their projects to a panel of industry experts from the BFI Film Fund, Doc/Fest, Picturehouse and SXSW festival. The new process recognises the increase in theatrically-released documentaries and renewed industry interest in the form, and addresses an increase in documentary proposals to the BFI. The pitches will take place in front of an audience of delegates, with the aim to provide insight into the funding application process and help increase understanding of what makes a great theatrical documentary.

Project Wild Thing

Project Wild Thing

Sheffield-born Michael Palin will be in conversation with Miranda Sawyer about his popular, globe-roaming TV documentaries; Melvyn Bragg will discuss the role of arts programming on TV; Alan Yentob will be recounting experiences from his career as a BBC TV executive and presenter; and Sir Trevor McDonald will chair a panel discussion on ‘The Art of Access – From Palaces to Prisons’. Meanwhile, following a world premiere screening of his new documentary Particle Fever, about the discovery of the ‘God Particle’, there will be a masterclass with famed editor Walter Murch, known for his work with Francis Ford Coppola.

Looking to the future, the festival has a particular focus on interactivity this year, beginning with the Crossover Interactive Summit. Curated by Mark Atkin, the summit looks at filmmakers who have embraced new technologies, switching from one technological platform – films, video games, apps, social media – to another. “Since I arrived seven years ago,” says Doc/Fest director Heather Croall, “the festival has grown exponentially and we’ve done that by making sure we stay ahead of the curve. At Doc/Fest we always strive to broaden the term ‘documentary’ to deliver a programme that celebrates the form across all platforms.”

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