Tuesday 26 June 2012

Sheffield DocFest 2012 - Sunday

Onto the final day of 2012's edition of the Sheffield DocFest, which included an early morning rise to hear all the award winners. Also, just as I was struggling to put together a list of my favourite films of the fest, it ended up saving two of the best films until right at the end.

With it being such an early morning start (11am on a Sunday? Sadists), once I'd got arrived at the Showroom based awards ceremony, I thought I'd treat myself to a cup of tea from the concessions stand which I was enjoying very much until...

I turned the corner to discover that they were giving complimentary hot drinks away at the screen. Those utter bastards. Walking past the table I decided to help myself to one of the also complimentary pain au chocolat's, as despite not being very hungry I wanted to recoup at least some of the money I'd unnecessarily spent on a tea bag and hot water.

Awards ceremonies run the risk of being very dull affairs to anyone not up for an award, but thanks to the emceeing Jeremy Hardy's witty commentary (describing the organisers as "being drunk to the point of incompetence" was met with a knowing cheer) it was a really fun event. What followed was a procession of people taking to the stage to collect their awards and the audience having a good look around when Louis Theroux's name was mentioned as one of the jurors, only to discover he wasn't there. There was also the announcement of the Dogwoof sponsored Tim Hetherington award, to run from 2013 in memory of the Restrepo co-director who lost his life filming in a Libyan war zone last year.

It'd be stupid of me to extensively debate the choices of the jury's as I wasn't on one of them, but a couple of the choices baffled me. I felt quite indifferent to Ross McElwee's Photographic Memory, but could understand why some would like it. What I don't understand is how it could be chosen as the winner of the Youth Jury Award over the likes of Indie Game: The Movie. Not only was Indie Game one of my favourites of the festival, the subject matter, music, direction and style seemed to be tailor made for the younger audience. Having said that, Ross McElwee took to the stage wearing sunglasses like he was the documentarian equivalent of Bono, so maybe he's more down with the kids than I thought.

After the Awards ceremony I checked in with my fellow blogger types to see what their plans were (getting to witness Ross McElwee stood at the cinema entrance filming us all for his next project), and after having seen the queue for the film I was planning on seeing, decided to join them in watching the new recipient of the Green Jury Award, Law of the Jungle. It's safe to say that I wasn't a massive fan of this film, bored into a deep slumber after about 15 minutes. This may have been partially down to festival fatigue, but I'm confident in saying that it wasn't the most exciting film I'd seen all weekend. Feeling the need to lighten things up a bit, I decided that The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus might be fluffy enough to give my brain a bit of a rest from all the pain and suffering of most of the docs I'd been seeing.

When the guy introducing the film stated that it was "the best film I've seen this year; no, this decade" my expectations were suddenly high for a film I wasn't expecting much from. That man was a liar, as although Paul the Psychic Octopus was a pleasant enough diversion from all the misery, it's a film about a fucking Octopus who could predict football scores. By talking to so called 'animal communicators' who are trying to reach Paul from beyond the grave, the film is a hard one to take seriously, and even though they took a trip over to Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania to meet Punxsutawney Phil the weather predicting Groundhog, I was impressed they managed to stretch the film to its hour long running time.

Onto the home straight of the festival and the biography of the northern punk poet, John Cooper Clarke. Perhaps knowing that he was in attendance the screening was pretty much packed, as we were promised that if he did show up we would be treated to a poetry recital. Taking to the stage looking like Russell Brand's wayward uncle, Mr Clarke then absolutely floored everyone in the room with his comic tales of falling in love with his wife. It's not just the poems that are entertaining, but the off the cuff things he says in the build up to it are hilarious. Summing up his approach to poetry as "I like it when the last word on a line sounds like the last word on the line before", he is the perfect subject for a documentary and a man long overdue a reappraisal.

On to the film, which thoroughly enlightened me about the life of a man I knew very little about from his early days as the "punk rock Bob Dylan" to his years lost to heroin addiction. One of the best surprises of the festival, it was informative, funny and told the life of this very northern character who frankly isn't appreciated by enough people. Featuring interviews with the north-west's finest (Paul Morley, Mark Radcliffe, Steve Coogan, Craig Charles), it serves as a great introduction to Clarke as some sort of working class prophet and I'll definitely be seeking out more of his work after this.

And so, to the final film of the festival, Stacy Peralta's Bones Brigade: An Autobiography. I've never been much of a skateboarder due to the fact I have terrible balance and a predilection to not want to break my face, but I did enjoy Peralta's Dogtown and Z-Boys and once went through a phase of playing Tony Hawk's Pro-Skateboarder on the PS2, therefore I'm qualified to pass judgement on this film.

There's a fair bit of back slapping and director Stacy Peralta skating dangerously close to making himself look like an uncelebrated genius of the scene which, to be fair, may well be the case; but it's probably better if someone other than himself said it. Apart from that, Bones Brigade is a funny, entertaining doc that shows off the many characters involved whilst not straying too far from what Peralta did with Dogtown and Z-Boys. With interviews with all of the guys who were core members of the skating group, it charts their rise from obscurity to becoming skateboarding legends and poster boys for the sport, including amusing segues in acting with cameos in Police Academy 4 and lead roles in the Stacy Peralta directed terri-brill looking/borderline racist The Search for Animal Chin.

All in all a successful festival with some highs and one or two lows, and if you'd like to hear my thoughts on DocFest in audio form I went to the effort of recording a small segment for The Wooden Kimono's Shot/Reverse Shot podcast, which is available here or via iTunes, here. Apologies for my slight ramblings but hey, I'm new to podcasting.

If I was to round up my favourites of the festival into some easily debatable top 5, they would be in no particular order;

1. How to Survive a Plague
2. Evidently... John Cooper Clarke
3. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
4. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
5. Indie Game: The Movie

A fairly eclectic selection that I thought had some stand-outs from each of the strands, once again with the music docs putting in a particularly good show. There'll be full reviews for some of the festival highlights up soon, but I hope this diary has provided some entertainment until then.

Many thanks to Sheffield for welcoming me back to the city, and to all the fellow bloggers/writers/journalists etc who made the whole experience one to remember. I'll see you all again in 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Good Summary of the final day, the skating movie looks like one i would really enjoy watching as well.