Friday 10 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest Day Two

Read on to find out what I thought of what day two of the Sheffield Documentary Festival had to offer, including a number of European premieres such as Shut Up Little Man! and Bombay Beach.

After the successful experience of the first day I was very keen to hit the ground running and see as many films as possible on day two. I'd made the decision to buy all my tickets the day before, therefore reducing the time I'd be standing in a queue waiting for the 'Delegates' to make their mind up. The problem was, I was so tired from the previous day that I didn't get up in time for my first film of the day, a screening of Reagan over at the Odeon cinema. If I'd have really pushed myself I could have made it, but the Odeon is a good ten minutes away from my house so I decided to treat myself to a lie in instead.
And so to my actual first screening of the day, the child actor documentary, The Hollywood Complex. Best described as Spellbound with added show-tunes, this doc looks at the temporary residents of the Oakwood apartments who descend on California during pilot season looking for fame. The kids range from adorable little moppets who just want to perform to those who are clearly being pushed in front of a camera by some bad parents. It's not often you see a 7 year old gloating to her 11 year old sister that she got to meet Rob Reiner, the poor older sister destined to be the Hayley to her Hilary Duff. There will be a full review up at some point, but I'll say now that it was a fun, well made but slightly throwaway documentary. The doc chooses to take the stance of not judging the parents, when maybe it needed to.
Interesting-ish side note. The Showroom is situated next door to a curry house, the smell of which invades the downstairs cinemas, in particular screen 3. This certainly gives you a wake up call in the morning, but you will feel the strange desire to go get a curry afterwards. It's a bit annoying as screen 3 definitely is my favourite screen, mainly because it has secret tables hidden between the seats that you can swing out and take notes on. The directors were on hand to take any questions we had, but perhaps the best thing I got out of the Q & A afterwards was spotting that the lad sat in front of me was using his tied-up dreadlocks as a pen holder. I've never seen this human desk tidy act before, so I had to resist the urge to ask him where he kept his paper clips.
The next port of call was the double screening of The Day We Danced on the Moon and Bombay Beach. Having not heard of either of them I was a bit surprised to see that the screening was well and truly packed, the first time I'd seen this at the festival. The Day We Danced on the Moon followed a group of mental health sufferers as they toured Irish pubs with their reggae band. At only 11 minutes long it didn't have enough time to make any real point, but it did leave me wanting to see more... although that's not always a good thing with a documentary. One of the highlights of the day was Bombay Beach, the long form directorial debut of music video director Alma Har'el who was present to talk about her approach to filmmaking.
It's hard to see from this crappy photograph, but I thought she looked a bit like Catherine Keener. Not only was she lovely, her film was pretty damn good too. A spiritual, meditational look at the lives of three inhabitants of the desolate Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea, it's impossible not to be moved by the story of young Benny Parrish. Heavily medicated to control his moods, the poor kid struggles to make friends and lives in his own little world. The doc follows this strand and allows Benny to do a little play acting for the camera, even featuring some fantasy sequences and dance numbers. It's an interesting approach that works, although it is pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a 'documentary'. Expect a full review at some point, as it's a film that's really stayed with me.
Next up was Shut Up Little Man!, based on hours of recordings made by nosey neighbours Mitch D and Eddie Lee Sausage in a 1987 San Francisco apartment building. Recording endless hours of their neighbour's vulgar, bitchy arguments, the tapes they distributed to friends soon became an underground pop culture phenomenon, being recreated as a CD, a comic book, a puppet show and a long running play. Essentially a document of what life was like before YouTube, Shut Up Little Man! shows how, what started as a necessary recording in case of any police action, became a business venture for its two young roommates who were in the right place at the right time. I'd expect this film to follow the path of its source material and become a viral, word of mouth hit.
After a quick jaunt to the local pub that was full of trendy media types wearing no socks (apparently being a dickhead is still cool), we headed back for the final showing of the night, Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times, being handed one of these audience award slips on the way in.
So basically, we have to cast our opinion of the film by tearing through the score we feel best suits the film. Whatever happened to good old 1 to 5, or maybe a feedback form? I've enjoyed everything I've seen so far to some extent, but don't feel I could describe any of them as masterpieces. Anywho, back to the film which turned out to be "very good". Charting one of the most tumultuous years in the history of the New York Times, including the paper's mutual appreciation with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, the filmmakers clearly hold the paper in high esteem, perhaps even to a fault. What the film offers in abundance is a respect for what the Times' journalists are able to achieve, in particular the brilliant David Carr who steals the entire film without even trying. A beacon of integrity and old school journalistic values, he's fearless at protecting the paper that he clearly loves and believes in. Thank god there was no Q & A session after this film, because if David Carr had turned up I'd still be there now listening to him rant.

So that's day two of Doc/Fest done, and it looks like day three's going to be just as busy. I'll see you then.

1 comment:

  1. Reagan (which is the only one of the films you've covered so far that I've actually seen) would not have gone down that well at that time in the morning. It's good but it's also quite long, very earnest, very political and absent of whimsy or humour. Suspect it is best watched when not in a festival environment.