Saturday, 11 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest Day Three

Now at the halfway point of the festival, read on to see what I thought of James Marsh's newest documentary Project Nim, Michael Rapaport's tribute to A Tribe Called Quest, Vivienne Westwood's not so dirty laundry and Ozwald Boateng's impeccable suit.

Going into day three I wasn't quite sure how many films that I was planning on seeing I was actually going to get through. Fatigue was starting set in and I'd planned to see 7 films altogether. Perhaps luckily for my sanity, Albert Maysles Salesman, the first film of the day, was fully booked. I was told that I'd probably be able to get in on a stand-by ticket, but that was too much of a risk for me to take at 9.30 in the morning so I opted to give that one a miss.
There was no way I was going to miss the next film though. I, along with many others, was a big fan of James Marsh's excellent documentary Man On Wire, so Project Nim was high up on my list of must sees at the festival, even if it was being screened underneath a library. Using all the same techniques as Man On Wire (dramatic reconstruction, archive footage and photographs) Marsh has created a thoroughly affecting documentary about Nim, a Chimpanzee trained to learn sign language. It's a powerful family drama with a troubled, lonely orphan at its core. I'd highly recommend it. Producer Simon Chinn was present to introduce the film, and promised us a little surprise afterwards.
Apparently the people behind me took this to mean they were going to bring a Chimpanzee into a dark, enclosed room with a lot of strange people clapping loudly. Thankfully, it turned out to be Bob, one of the Chimp handlers that featured heavily in the film, on hand to offer some info on how he got involved in the making of this remarkable story. Project Nim was screened with the quite appropriate student short film Humanoids, showing the University of Edinburgh's attempt to create a robot capable of playing football. Rather enjoyable to watch when the robots invariably do or don't work properly, it was the perfect subject for a short doc. Next on my screening list was another short doc, the stop motion animated Abuelas. Telling the hard hitting tale of an Argentine grandmother who searches for her long lost grand-daughter, it was quite a harrowing story to say it was told with the use of Corgi miniature cars. It was stylishly animated, but given that it was voiced by Geraldine McEwan in typically English surroundings, I'm not so sure that all the elements worked together.
The next doc on the list was the 58 minute Vivienne Westwood documentary, Do It Yourself. Watching the "British Queen of Fashion" during the making of her latest collection, a truly unique character like Westwood should be the perfect subject for a documentary. She's certainly a bit of a maverick, even now in her more refined, respectable years - but if you're looking for a look back at Vivienne's history with the Punk movement or how she got to where she is now, this doc only scratches the surface. In fact it could even have been commissioned by Westwood herself, so in awe of her it is and eager to advertise all of her ongoing projects. There's some wryly comic parts (like noticing she sells a Baby-Grow that says "I Heart Crap" on it), but it feels like it could merely be a recruitment video for her new Manifesto, which she chooses to deliver to the people through the medium of a primary school play. She's either a genius or completely mad.
On my way to my next screening I couldn't help but notice that Louis Theroux was also in the ticket queue in front of me. I know he's just a normal person like you and me, but that's got to be Documentary Festival gold. He seemed keen not to acknowledge that everyone knew who he was, so I chose to play the distant observer and took a photo of him over someone else's shoulder.
Next on my screening list was A Man's Story, following 12 years in the life of the fashion designer Ozwald Boateng. This was a last minute choice as I couldn't face sitting through the two hour long Queen documentary I was supposed to be seeing, but thought this would sit nicely with the Vivienne Westwood doc I saw earlier. I'm glad I decided to switch over, as it was an interesting look at the life of a man that I previously knew nothing about. Tailor to the rich and famous, Boateng is definitely a bit of a show-off but with the goods to back it up. Ozwald Boateng was present to introduce the documentary along with director Varon Bonicos, and it's clearly been a long journey for both of them. The best thing about the screening was getting a look at Boateng's suit, which was a flawless creation of beauty. I tried to get as up close a photo of him as possible, but it could have been potentially devastating for my ego if I'd have stood too close to him.


The final film of the night was expected to be a sell out screen and we were told to not leave any seats vacant, so I ended up in the middle of a dense population of film nerds (we can smell our own), only to see half the theatre remain empty. It was a bit uncomfortable in there.
The debut documentary of actor Michael Rapaport, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest looks back on the career of the hip-hop group, with some astonishing access to the lives of its members. Even if you don't know who A Tribe Called Quest are, this documentary is still a fantastic watch. Ticking all the boxes you need to make a good music documentary but with a twist, we see the Lennon & McCartney-esque fallout between the group's two frontmen and Phife Dawg battling his addiction (to sugar), all set to a classic hip-hop soundtrack. For the sheer enjoyment factor this one was one of my favourites of the fest so far.


Unbelievably that's three days down, just two more to go. I'll be back tomorrow with the report on how the outdoor screenings went.



2 comments:

  1. Shame they didn't bring a chimp into the Project Nim screening - could have been the stuff that Planet of the Apes sequel trailers are made of.

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