▶︎ Sheffield DocFest 2021 runs 4 to 13 June online and with screenings in cinemas in Sheffield and beyond.
(Film Selection Committee and Programmer of the Rebellions and Ghosts & Apparitions strands)
(Ephraim Asili, USA – in Rebellions)
Asili’s first feature bases itself around Godard’s La Chinoise (1967) in that it focuses on improvised fiction of a communal household of political people trying to live radically. That’s fused with documentary about the MOVE organisation in Philadelphia, which similarly tried to live as a Black radical collective, until their block was bombed by the police. So there’s an interplay of things that seem disparate: humorous takes on collective living, arguments about wearing shoes in the house, offset by the testimonies of actual MOVE members talking about how the police respond to people trying to live in that way.
(Vincent Meessen – in Rebellions)
This is a nice link from The Inheritance, because it also has a link to La Chinoise in that it’s about that film’s actor Omar Blondin Diop, his short life and legacy and its political and personal surroundings. It’s more sombre and sober [than The Inheritance] but similarly references Black radical traditions and Black actors who made radical decisions and radical things, and were responded to in particular ways.
That’s a theme throughout Rebellions particularly this year. The pandemic has created all these inequalities, but also this push for protest, which has been responded to in a disproportionate way; so we’re looking at radicalism, responses to it and what people are doing in response to that response. It’s a really relevant conversation to be having, particularly here in the UK with things going on with the right to protest.
(Paula Gaitán, Brazil – in Rebellions)
This is a two-hour intimate conversation with one person, Negro Leo, a Brazilian musician and activist. It’s an example of the kinds of rebellions that aren’t about a mass movement but the everyday, the creative, the artistic. He talks about so many aspects of his life and his practice, and the film allows him that space. It makes a really good contrast to the films that focus on the mass but less on the individual.
[dafilms.com will be presenting an online retrospective of the films of Paula Gaitán, one of the most important contemporary filmmakers in Brazil, to complement the DocFest screening.]
(Theo Anthony, USA – in Ghosts & Apparitions)
We wanted to look beyond tokenistic responses to Black Lives Matter; Anthony’s film explores police abolition in a risky and darkly humorous way. He films companies who create body cameras and other surveillance technologies and speak openly – and terrifyingly – about what they do, and mixes that with community conversations and his own thoughts on the camera as his medium. He allows us to see how this technology affects our lives and to question and draw our own conclusions about police and prison surveillance, without any heavy guiding hand.
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(Sheffield DocFest director)
(Ricardo Calil and Renato Terra, Brazil)
This is a filmed conversation with Caetano Veloso, the Brazilian singer, about being a political prisoner in Brazil in 1969, confined to his cell, not knowing why or when he might be released – and how his imagination started finding ways to produce his freedom. It’s a beautiful film about mental resistance and emotional strength and oppression, and the aleatory ways in which oppressive systems can act over your body. Like Riverock, it’s another of the films in which individual experience speaks to the collective – all too relevant again now in Brazil, which is rapidly growing into a military dictatorship.
We tried to bring a sense of collectivity and collective thinking to this political moment we’re living in. Fear is one of the most natural reactions, and fear leads to individualism. Riverock and Narcissus Off Duty are films about single people, but through their discourse you see bonds and a collective strength of thought.
(Rita Carelli and Vincent Carelli, Brazil – in Ghosts & Apparitions)
This is a new short film by Vincent Carelli, co-directed with Rita Carelli, that explores the images of the ancestral history of a village and their impact in the present.
Carelli runs an extraordinary online archive of indigenous film productions, Video in the Villages, in parallel with his own practice as a filmmaker. His work, spanning more than 30 years, was not only key in helping enable a really thriving indigenous film culture in Brazil but also in documenting, reproaching and fighting often lethal governmental policy that – prior to the more publicised indignities of Bolsonaro’s presidency – has challenged indigenous life and culture. His archival work, filmic practice and activism are codependent and indistinguishable, bringing to light the contemporary perseverance and legacy of over 500 years of colonialist ethnocide that sits at the basis of Brazilian society and continues to be only scarcely addressed by Portugal.
Carelli started his career supporting and documenting persecuted indigenous communities whose civil rights were being impinged, with regard to urgent questions concerning the ownership of land more specifically. These communities, unmapped, were being killed and robbed by landowners and cultures of commercialist imperative, and Carelli’s early works exacted a form of paperless proof or claim to place this has extended to a workshop practice that continues to utilise film (and the act of filming) as a direct and political practice. This short captures the generational bonds of one such community and – through the presentation of an archive of place and population – explores the possibility of a continuous conversation between past, present and future generations living on this land.
This is a beautiful programme of three screenings programmed by Wood Lin of the Taiwan International Documentary Festival.
One is a programme of short films that work with archive footage to build an emotional history of Taiwan relating to ideas of belonging and longing, the sense of a territory built of many different identities.
The second is of films relating to questions of family and family bonds – so, again, belonging, but within the microcosmos of family.
And the third screening will be of one of my favourite films of all time, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Time to Live and the Time to Die. It’s a beautiful example of a film that breaks the boundaries between documentary and fiction and mixes it all together and speaks of the power of cinema through whatever method – actors and fictionalisation and poetic construction – to give you a strong sense of reality and of someone’s experience.
These are films from the BFI Archive by three women pioneers in the UK – Kay Mander, Margaret Thomson and Sarah Erulkar – which move between documenting daily reality and trying to use film as an education and discussion tool, and it’ll be an interesting time to revisit that.
That’s also the idea with the Ghosts & Apparitions programme: we want to create opportunities to revisit UK film history, not just international film history, and make it as accessible as possible to our public and produce useful conversations that speak to today’s reality.
(Arts Programme Curator)
Sheffield DocFest’s Arts Programme could be its own significant contemporary art exhibition. We too are working on a hybrid presentation model: we’ll have several exhibitions installed across a few Sheffield venues, but everything will also be shown online, including a portion specifically conceived for that space. And because we’re funded primarily by Arts Council England, the whole programme is open and accessible to all, including the online presentation.
Soukaina Aboulaoula in Marrakech is curating the online-only exhibition. Her main thematic exhibition Right on Time looks at different notions of time, past, futurity and different generations, and she’s also working on an interesting radio platform presenting new audio works by an international selection of different artists.
The main group thematic exhibition, Here in This Room, looks at how artists have depicted or reimagined domestic space through the themes of domestic ambience and domestic surrealism.
(Heesoo Kwon, South Korea)
Heesoo Kwon works with virtual figures of avatars in different settings. Here she inserts her digital avatar in home movie footage of her family from the 1990s to interrupt the gendered dynamics she sees. For instance you see the family sharing a meal sitting on the floor, and the digital image of a nude Heesoo Kwon comes in and starts dancing on the dinner table, trying to break the space and talk about domestic labour. So she uses humour and grotesque elements in service of a strong political and feminist vision, which from what I’ve seen is unique amongst the work coming out of Korea.
The idea of this double retrospective is to pair an artist who has been working extensively across decades with a younger artist, and see what that shows about each’s work, and what the conversation brings together. I’m hoping it might be a format to take forward.
Chao is an artist from the San Francisco Bay Area who works on celluloid and makes really interesting short-form 16mm hand-processed explorations of space and Asian American identity and heritage.
Wong is also from the Bay Area but not as known as he should be. (He taught for 30 years at the San Francisco Art Institute in with the likes of George Kuchar and Robert Nelson, and has worked across experimental films, public sculpture and photography, always finding conceptual takes on all these forms.)
I find they share a visual aesthetic, but also a really interesting and not straightforward accentuation of the Asian American diaspora. We’re screening Al’s 1977 film Twin Peaks, a 60-minute 16mm structuralist film which the Pacific Film Archive has restored on 16mm, along with a short film by Emily, Bruce Takes Dragon Town. So it’s exhibition, screening and public conversation.
(Daïchi Saïto, Canada-Japan)
Saïto is a Canadian-Japanese filmmaker whose work is made to be shown specifically on 35mm projection. It’s a structural piece that he shot in the Chilean Andes, with lots of in-camera work and hand-processing. We’re showing it a couple of times, standalone – that’s meant to be the exhibition form of this artwork.
(DocFest Exchange Programmer)
Exchange is the other pillar of the DocFest programme, supported by the Wellcome Trust, so it brings in voices from science but also art, academia, other forms of knowledge. Last year we looked at indigenous forms of knowledge relating to land, the environmental crisis and climate justice.
This year, inspired by Theo Anthony’s film All Light, Everywhere, our theme is entitled Beyond Our Own Eyes and looks at the idea of perspective, how our tools – cinema, but also tools of science like telescopes and microscopes – can confine or expand our perspective, and how our concentration or sensitivity to perspectives beyond the human might generate new ways of thinking. There are many existences and ways of living in the world: especially in our analysis of the environmental crisis, too often we speak as if the problem is monolithic and universal and the solution must similarly be global; but maybe if we look elsewhere we would see different mentalities, logics and ways of relating to land that would open new possibilities in how we do politics economics, agriculture…
(Victor Kossakovsky, Norway/USA)
This is a film about farmed animals – a modern pig and her piglet, and also features a cow and chickens. The cinematography is incredible for giving you a sensitivity for what life might be like for Gunda, the pig, and the sensation that these animals are looking back at you. There’s a complexity, an intelligence, a life. It’s not that you can understand or inhabit that other perspective, but there is power just in that sensitivity to its presence – it helps you think radically about we relate to the natural world.
Karrabing Film Collective are a growing, cross-generational group of indigenous filmmakers in Belyuen, Northern Territories, Australia, who cross the generations, from grandmas to young kids – they call themselves a ‘kin group’. They make films in very experimental ways, using whatever tools they have to hand – cameras, mobile phones – about how they relate to their land and their ancestral presence on it. The purpose is not so much to raise awareness or pay witness. Rather, it’s a way of taking back their stories through filmmaking: to empower the younger people in the collective especially with their way of seeing the world; it’s not just some crazy way that grandma views the world while the ‘real’ world lives in Sydney or Brisbane or wherever; it’s not just their past, it’s their present.
Access: Sheffield Doc/Fest
How to be a documentary filmmaker in the UK? It’s all about what hotel bar you know, video-essays Charlie Lyne.
By Charlie Shackleton
Sight & Sound Summer 2021
In our current (double) issue we hand centre stage to 100 hidden heroes of cinema who have shaped film history. Plus Ben Wheatley on In the Earth, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, Victor Kossakovsky’s pig portrait Gunda, Jane Fonda interviewed, Limbo and refugees on film, and a look back at My Own Private Idaho. Available in print and digitally.Find out more and get a copy