Preview: Doc/Fest 2019

Our resident Dochead, Mark Perkins, sets the scene for this year’s jam-packed programme of films, alternate reality exhibitions and talks with intriguing characters at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Doc/Fest, but I do get a bit frustrated when they announce the line-up of films, as I start to wonder how I’m going to squeeze in everything that needs seeing. But with some careful planning, and an acceptance that I might not get much time in the daylight for a week, here goes with a round-up of what’s in store.

The much-lauded festival, which takes place in the city centre for six days in June includes over 180 international documentary features and shorts from 47 different countries. In addition to this, there is the Alternate Realities digital art programme, live music events, talks, panels and even the odd party, and these will all be attended by delegates from across the globe.

The headline event which opens the festival is on Thursday 6 June at City Hall. Diego Maradona promises to be a wild and irreverent look at one of the world’s most iconic sportsmen, both on and off the pitch, and covers his infamous time in Naples. This will be followed by a Q & A with the Oscar and BAFTA-winning director, Asif Capadia.

Live music played with a film has always been one of the highlights at Doc/Fest. I’m looking forward to an event called The Silents Of Avant Garde Paris – a live accompaniment to three silent films from the 1920s, which includes a world premiere from the Modulus Quartet and the Charlie Pyne Quartet; a jazz and a string ensemble combined. In something I’ve never seen before, Elizabeth Sankey has not only made a film exploring Hollywood’s depiction of love on screen, but will be accompanying the film by performing with her own band, Summer Camp. Perhaps the most anticipated venture from my viewpoint up here at Exposed Towers is a performance by Japanese masters of psychedelia and noise rock, Bo Ningen. They will be soundtracking a selection of short films by master of the genre, Toshio Matsumoto. This may well be the underground sensational hit of the festival, and I’d advise you not to waste time in grabbing a ticket for it.

Bo Ningen will be providing a live soundtrack to a chronology of short films by Toshio Matsumoto.

Films about musicians always hold a fascination, too, and a couple of standouts for me are the PJ Harvey film A Dog Called Money, which looks at the creation of her latest album, and the film Once Aurora, about the ongoing struggle by pop sensation Aurora. She’s a modern pop music sensation, having dropped out of school and found fame as she toured with her first album. But now she’s exhausted, and at the tender age of 20 she’s faced with the dilemma of feeling trapped in, and controlled by, a life she might not actually want for herself anymore.

Dark Suns looks like a film to be reckoned with, it being an unremitting and epic exploration of the disappearance of thousands of Mexican men and women. It’s being shown as part of the Doc/Expose thread of films at the festival, which aims to expose the truth behind stories from around the world, giving the filmmakers and the audience the chance to look in depth at stories that make compelling headlines. It is one of several longer films which takes a look at important and complex stories from around the world.

Documentaries are no longer confined to a darkened cinema with a film projected to a seated audience. One thing Doc/Fest has explored over the last few years is the impact that digital technology has on storytelling. To this end, their Alternate Realities strand looks even stronger and more comprehensive than ever this year as it relocates back to the refurbished Site Gallery and other locations around the city centre. The ongoing aim is to challenge what we think of as being a documentary, with 28 immersive experiences and other projects from the cutting edge of digital and immersive storytelling techniques. In one event you use your phone to participate in some interactive theatre, becoming part of a jury to deliver a verdict on what they hear from a surgeon accused of a serious crime. All these are open to the public, but get there in time to book a slot, as last year some of these proved very popular.

The Alternate Realities strand returns – bigger and better than before.

Talks and lectures are a major feature of every year, and the increasingly well-reputed Stacey Dooley will be back, along with guests such as Sir Bradley Wiggins, author Nick Hornby and – in a real coup for the festival – German film director, screenwriter, author, actor, and even opera director, Werner Herzog. As before, there will be free events with Tudor Square home to the Doc/Fest Exchange, where anyone can attend. One highlight that sprung out to me was comedian Tom Walker, better known as YouTube star Jonathan Pie, appearing on the Sunday evening.

There are several ticketing options, in addition to individual tickets or even a full festival pass, such as the DocLovers wristband for 12 films. And there’s another way to see films this year – the Door to Doc scheme. Through this, community groups can pay £1 and in return get a film ticket, transport and lunch. A great way of thanking Sheffield for the ongoing support for the festival.

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