The Big Melt & Pussy Riot – DocFest Fires Up City on Opening Night

And so it begins…

 

Docfest 2013: Day 1

 

Now in its 20th year, not only is Docfest Sheffield's premier film event, but also now has an international reputation, with festival goers arriving from over 60 nations to view the latest and greatest documentaries from around the world.

 

Regardless of this, Docfest is firmly a Sheffield-bred beast, a fact affirmed by the launch night event, a celebration of the history of steel and its impact on the region. Watching steel smelting may sound as interesting a prospect as watching cement dry, but the footage instead reveals the people behind the process, the culture and social impact that steel had. Sheffield's golden boy, Jarvis Cocker, provided an evocative and occasionally breathtaking live soundtrack to the moving images, with the help of a multitude of musicians and fancy gizmos. The combined result is quite spectacular, finding humour, drama, and intimacy in the most unlikely of places – the forging of steel feels more like the forming of the Earth, such is the sense of grandeur provided by the score. One balletic sequence with workers precariously working on a bridge high in the air, completely unsupported, was as hypnotic as it was alarming.

 

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The second of the festival's launch events – unless your choice was to trek out to a cavern in the Peak District for a screening of The Summit (truth be told, the prospect of a warm cinema appealed to our sensibilities far more) – was Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. A group of feminist ideologists, Pussy Riot choose to demonstrate their frustration with the Russian government's policies by performing subversive punk rock songs in public places. After one particular demonstration in an Orthodox Cathedral, three of the member are arrested, sparking international interest in their plight, with public figures and popular protests calling for their immediate release. 

 

With incredible access to the trials of the three young women, it is a fascinating study of an emerging free-spirited generation, challenging the religious and political status quo of a seemingly antiquated system. The girls are the intelligent and well-spoken heroins of the piece, although the film-makers cleverly weave in wider issues of Russia's political and social history, showing that issues aren't always as clear-cut as they appear. The screening was concluded with a live interview with Katja, the one member who has been released.

 

A very strong start to what promises to be a great 5 days of film, with the highlight of tomorrow being the screening of Apocalypse Now, followed by a Q&A with legendary editor Walter Murch. 

 

 

Words by Ali Bianchi. Lead photograph by Jacqui Bellamy and David Grant/DocFest.

 

 

 




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