Christian Abbot makes his annual pilgrimage to the world’s finest film festival which just so happens to take place in our great City of Sheffield. Taking in as many documentaries as his mind can handle, Christian provides us with his diary from the weekend. Below are films he managed to see at this year’s festival and his thoughts on each. Look out for Part Two, next week and enjoy!
Queerama (Opening night film)
Each year the festival prides itself in tolerance, openness and diversity, this year is no different and the choice of opening night film reflects this deeply. While these are aspects of society we can now pride ourselves upon, it wasn’t always so. It has been 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, something which now appears unthinkable to have ever once been viewed as such. Queerama reminds us of this once different worldview. The film is a series of clips and found footage scenes from documentaries past, television and home video. The footage is often shocking, not only in the scenes of men and woman hiding their identity on screen for daring to speak out but also in the fact that many were so open about their sexuality in a time that such thoughts alone would have been punishable in the eyes of the law. It is a film of mixed emotions, some of pride that as a country we have moved on from such dark times, but there was also a feeling of embarrassment and shame that this was ever the case. These feelings did not persist however as the film was followed by the opening night Ballroom, the vibe of which was pride, joy and optimism. This summates the festival as a whole, that we should never forget our past; we should accept it and take peace in ourselves for making a change and continuing it further with each coming day.
The Road Movie
The festival this year set off to a light-hearted and easing tone, one which reflected the overall joy and optimism of the coming five days. Often we hear stories of the day to day goings on in Russian life, how polar opposite and regularly absurd it can be. The nonchalant attitude they have in the face of this absurdity is the driving force behind the first documentary this year. It is just that – a driving force. The picture is a series of dash-cam footages, presented in a way that is a stone’s throw from a compilation video from YouTube. Surprisingly however this works completely in the films favour. There is no reliance on narration or lynchpin dramatic moments; instead it is edited so effortlessly, guiding us through the hilarious to the shocking. Moments of carnage, violence, mishaps, dim-wittedness and a general lack of road safety are the substance here, and the pace is a perfect introductory feature into the festivals wider world of international intrigue.
When it comes to the field of scientific research, medical illnesses and suffering at large, often the personal experience is marginalised as little more than a statistic. Unrest flips that notion over completely. Sufferers of ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) are largely one of the most misunderstood and underrepresented groups – often being seen as little more than lazy individuals. It is also an illness with effects woman on a much wider scale. It is one such woman that is the subject of her own making in this documentary, Jennifer Brea – a young, intelligent and most importantly healthy woman that in the midst of studying for her PhD at Harvard was taken into hospital for said illness. She was unable to leave her bed, confused and frustrated with the lack of answers from her doctors and careers, it was at this point she decided to turn a camera onto herself to show the world the effects of this debilitating suffering.
Unrest works mostly as a daily life style blog, revealing the day to day of an illness that is difficult to even imagine. Through her work she discovers a network of individuals online whom also suffer ME; it becomes not only her story but theirs – everyone that suffers this. A statistic many didn’t even know existed is laid bare by Brea’s intimate camerawork. The struggles of life, family and finding happiness are there for all to see – and the importance of being able to see it cannot be understated.
Do Donkeys Act?
Easily the most bizarre film of the festival and a contender for the year, we follow a donkey made protagonist of an existential and meandering thought-piece. It cannot be denied the film knows exactly what it is however; Willem Defoe narrates the film after all, revealing the inner thoughts and feelings of our awkwardly stubborn hero. The hook of the piece is this, to re-evaluate the Donkey as a dumb animal and see it as something more – something poetic. How does the film achieve this? By setting up a series of increasingly dramatic events for the donkey to inhabit – largely to varying results. The less said the better as this is truly a film to be seen as to be believed.