Sheffield Documentary Film Festival

Last week I attended the Thursday of Sheffield DocFest. I haven’t had the time since to write up my day so sorry this is a little late.

The festival, which has been running for nearly twenty years, is the UK’s premier factual film event and attracts some of the very best film makers from around the world. The festival also has guest speakers from the highest reaches of film making and cultural criticism and boasts a huge array of workshops, Q&A’s and seminars. Recent speakers have included Nick Broomfield, Alan Yentob, Michael Palin and Anand Patwardhan.

This was the first time I have been to the festival and it was a fantastic experience. I saw five or six films all of which I enjoyed. The first piece I saw was Andrei Ujica’s three and a half hour biography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, a piece totally devoid of narration and subtitle, I only managed to catch half an hours worth, not speaking any Romanian I began to find it very difficult to follow! However the piece contained spectacular footage of state visits and some extraordinary speeches.

The following screening I went to was one of the single most inspiring moments of my life, the film was Nic Dunlop’s Burma Soldier which tells the story of Myo Myint, a soldier who rebelled against his army, broke away and became an activist fighting for the freedom of Burmese people from their brutally strict military regime. This astonishingly moving film uses archive footage gathered by the directors, some original footage of the country and a sit down interview with Myo Myint himself. The effect is an absolutely compelling film that shows the true and absolute horror faced by Burmese people every day.

Of course this is a very topical subject at the moment with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, such good news for a country that has been plagued with the very worst of times for decades. Aung San Suu Kyi features in the film, even meeting with Myo Myint at one stage in an emotional exchange. The film finishes with Myo Myint travelling to the USA to meet his brother decades after last seeing him and the exchange is so powerful it brought the entire cinema to tears. I couldn’t rate the film higher than I do and feel it is so important that more and more people get to see it, now is the opportunity whilst Burma is in the global gaze to get the film seen. It will change opinions, encourage activism and help to make people understand the magnitude of the situation.

Two other films stood out for me. One was Werner Herzog’s ‘La Boheme’ which took ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ from Puccini’s famous Opera and set it to images of African tribespeople gazing at the camera. So still are the characters the shots almost appear to be photos before the sway of a branch or the blink of an eye shows movement. Beautifully lit and wonderfully paced I love this film. I can actually show you the piece via YouTube, of course it loses quality and shouldn’t really be seen on anything other than a cinema screen but this gives you a flavour. Try and watch it in full screen and in the highest definition your bandwidth will allow.

The second film was another short film on which I can find very little information about, but it was so sweet. Called ‘Waiting for Godot’ it was the simplest of films observing Bangladeshi men and women going about their business. It shows the importance of title in film, using Beckett’s play as the starting point the viewer understands the reason the film depicts nothing other than patience and contentedness of the subjects. Unfortunately I can’t show you this but I fully recommend it.

Next year I am applying to work at the festival for the entire long weekend, I can’t wait!

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One Response to “Sheffield Documentary Film Festival”

  1. Alison Le Mare Says:

    Sounds fantastic and you’ve written about it all with such passion it obviously made a big impact, especially Burma Soldier. I hope it does become more widely available, I would love to see it and it should, as you say,reach a wider audience, now is the moment.

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