Preview: Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014

New films from Martin Scorsese and Alex Gibney and the world premiere of a celebration of kissing on screen are among the roll call of documentary delights at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest.

The 50 Year Argument (2014)

Sheffield will play host to a Martin Scorsese world premiere in the coming days, when Sheffield Doc/Fest unveils A 50 Year Argument, the director’s latest foray into non-fiction. Co-directed by Scorsese and David Tedeschi, it’s a documentary chronicle of the New York Review of Books and its half-century legacy of cultural and political journalism.

Doc/Fest itself turns 21 this year, now long established as the UK’s biggest documentary festival and among the few biggest in the world. From 7-12 June, this year’s edition includes 20 world premieres and plays out at venues across the city, as well as two sites in the Peak District: the gardens of Chatsworth House and the vast natural theatre of the Peak Cavern, known as the Devil’s Arse.

Everything gets going on Saturday 7 June with a trio of special events. Jarvis Cocker and his former bandmates will be in attendance at City Hall for the European premiere of Florian Habicht’s Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets, a behind-the-scenes account of Pulp’s emotional farewell concert. Audiences huddled into the Devil’s Arse will be treated to Happiness, an award-winning documentary by Thomas Balmes about a remote Bhutanese village receiving electricity for the first time. Showing at the Showroom Cinema, meanwhile, Miners Shot Down is an account of the events that led to the murder of 34 South African miners by the police in an attempt to break a strike.

Happiness (2014)

South Africa provides a theme this year, with fracking exposé Unearthed; political portrait Nelson Mandela, Myth & Me; and Shield and Spear – a look at the lot of the artist in the country’s new democracy – also featuring.

Another theme – a perennial Doc/Fest concern – is music. Beyond the Pulp curtain-raiser, there’s Kieran Evans and Paul Kelly’s Nowhere Is Home, a concert film recording last year’s London shows by a regrouped Dexy’s Midnight Runners; shoegaze documentary Beautiful Noise; and Finding Fela, a tribute to Fela Kuti by the prolific Alex Gibney.

There’s no shortage of live music either, with Goldfrapp accompanying the 1924 Lon Chaney vehicle He Who Gets Slapped; British Sea Power returning to the festival with on-stage backing to both Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran (1934) and Penny Woolcock’s From the Sea to the Land Beyond (2012); and indie-poppers Summer Camp providing the soundtrack to the UK premiere of Beyond Clueless, Charlie Lyne’s tribute to the 90s teen movie.

Closing out the festival on 12 June, Saint Etienne will perform live with their score to Paul Kelly’s How We Used to Live, an archive compilation about the changing face of London since the Second World War, made in association with the BFI National Archive.

How We Used to Live (2013)

Archive footage is also at the heart of Love Is All, which uses film from the BFI and Yorkshire Film Archive to tell the story of kissing on screen across more than a century of filmmaking. Jointly commissioned by the BFI and the BBC, Kim Longinotto’s film receives its world premiere at an open-air event in the grounds of Chatsworth on 14 June – a delectable digestif after the festival proper has ended.

As usual, there’s a packed programme of industry events alongside the 150-odd screenings, including a return of the BFI Film Fund’s pitching sessions following their inauguration last year. The sessions allow shortlisted filmmakers to pitch their documentary projects to a panel of industry experts, with a conditional offer of funding available to the most persuasive.

For full details of the festival programme, see the Sheffield Doc/Fest website.

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