Sheffield DocFest 2022: Guest Curator Asif Kapadia announces programme contribution

Sheffield DocFest is the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects, now back for its 29th year! Running from the 23rd – 28th June, returning to a fully in-person event for the first time since 2019, the event will be championing the breadth of documentary form – film, television, immersive and art – here in the Steel City.

Earlier today DocFest revealed its first programme contribution from guest curator and award-winning director Asif Kapadia, the man behind iconic documentaries Amy (2015), Senna (2010) and Diego Maradona (2019). As part of his contribution to this year’s event, Asif will also take part in an ‘In Conversation’ event at the festival alongside long-time collaborator, Chris King.

‘A Documentary Journey with Asif Kapadia’ includes works by world-renowned filmmakers alongside rarely screened documentaries – all of which have significantly influenced the director’s career in some way. See below for the list of films chosen, each accompanied by a quote from Asif explaining why they were chosen.

C’était un rendez-vous (Claude Lelouch; France, 1976)

Claude Lelouch takes us on a high-velocity thrill ride through the streets of Paris, speeding past cars and ignoring traffic signs, to be on time for a date.

When I first saw it, I wondered if it was real or whether it was a fake. But it is real. And dangerous. And thrilling. Is it a movie? Is it a doc? A short film? Part of a longer film? I love the fact you cannot neatly place it in a box.” – Asif Kapadia

Dark Days (Mark Singer; US, 2000)

A portrait of life for a community of homeless people, living beneath the streets of New York in the then deserted ‘Freedom Tunnel’, which stretches from Penn Station to Harlem. With the subjects recording much of the film’s material and a soundtrack by DJ Shadow, Singer’s monochrome documentary is a compassionate portrait of a community all but invisible to the rest of the city.

This made me cry. It’s a film that many people don’t know. The filmmaker was so invested in the characters and the subject, the homeless people became the crew and the filmmaker became homeless. The story and the passion that filmmaker invested in it really moved me.” – Asif Kapadia

Fourteen Days in May (Paul Hamann; UK, 1987)

Edward Earl Johnson was on death row in Mississippi for a crime he claims he did not commit. Paul Hamman’s film details his case and the days leading up to his execution. Highlighting the prevalence of African Americans on Death Row, with testimony by Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer and advocate against capital punishment, Fourteen Days in May is a searing critique of a flawed system.

I was in my teens when I saw this and Clive Stafford Smith became a hero to me – the story of a UK lawyer who fights for death row inmates in the US. I eventually collaborated with him on a film about the force feeding of Muslim inmates at Guantanamo.” – Asif Kapadia

A Great Day in Harlem (Jean Bach; US, 1994)

In 1958, photographer Art Kane gathered together some of the finest musicians in American jazz for a portrait on the front stoop of a house in Harlem. It included Count Basie, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford, Horace Silver and Lester Young.  35 years later, Jean Bach interviewed the surviving members of that group for this film. What emerges is a living history of a golden era in music and turbulent time for the musicians and the neighbourhood they frequented.

From one photo of all these jazz legends, this filmmaker created a record of their lives through the interviews she conducted with them. This film also taught me about the importance of editors in the process of making a documentary. They’re so essential in the process of creation. You can make a movie out of anything. If you have will.” – Asif Kapadia

Italianamerican (Martin Scorsese; US, 1974)

Between Mean Streets (1973) and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), Martin Scorsese filmed a conversation with his parents, Catherine and Charles. Over dinner, they look back on their experiences as the children of Italian Immigrants in New York. What emerges is a richly colourful portrait of a close-knit family and the filmmaker’s affection, not only for his parents – who would appear in many of their son’s films – but the culture he was raised in.

As a filmmaker, Martin Scorsese is my hero. This has always been a favourite because the relationship he has with his parents is so funny and there’s no embarrassment. I’ve lost my parents and I wish I had a record like this of them. Scorsese also gave me the inspiration to make features and documentaries.” – Asif Kapadia

London (Patrick Keiller; UK, 1994)

Paul Scofield’s narrator, accompanied by his friend and one-time lover Robinson, journeys through the British capital. His musings as Keiller’s camera passes through various boroughs cover art and culture, politics and social movements, which have all played a role in the development of the sprawling metropolis. This captivating portrait, beautifully shot and mischievously witty, is a frank and occasionally wistful love letter to an ever-changing city.

“I saw this at a time when I went off to the cinema to see all different kinds of films on my own. I watched at the Everyman cinema in Hampstead on a Sunday night and was blown away by it. Shots went on forever, there was a voiceover that sounded more like poetry. It was a film made about a place that I recognised – my city – but revealed it in a completely new way to me.” – Asif Kapadia

When We Were Kings (Leon Gast; US, 1996)

Generally regarded as the greatest sporting event of the 20th century, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ boxing match between world heavyweight champion George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. It took place on 30 October in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and was seen as a shoo-in for the title defender. But everyone underestimated Ali. Leon Gast’s film is a riveting account of the event – not just the match but the lead-up to it, the politics surrounding its host nation – and a stunning portrait of Ali.

I saw this on a huge screen at the Empire Leicester Square. A documentary on the big screen. Muhammad Ali was one of my father’s heroes and he told me I had to see this. He became one of my heroes. I loved Ali and I knew no drama or actor or screenplay could ever do justice to him or his incredible story. Without this film, there would be no AMY. There would be no SENNA. There would be no DIEGO MARADONA.” – Asif Kapadia

LA JETÉE  (Chris Marker; France, 1962)

A man journeys back in time in an attempt to save a future world. As he does, he recalls a moment from his youth, unaware of the role it will play in his own fate. Chris Marker’s captivating short is a photo-roman – a film told through still images, albeit with one momentary exception. It feels like a document of an imaginary world, but ultimately is of a piece with a body of work by an artist who defied any easy categorisation.

I could have included Chris Marker’s SANS SOLEIL. But La Jetée was more of an inspiration for me. It’s not strictly a documentary, but it is documenting a life – albeit a fictional one – through still images. It’s like so many documentaries, like so many films, which exist beyond easy definition and draw on so many different styles.” – Asif Kapadia

The full programme for the festival will be announced Tuesday the 31st of May. The Festival Pass is now available on the DocFest website from £168, providing full access to the full festival programme of films, exhibitions, talks, panels, industry sessions and live pitches, networking events and parties. Free activities will be taking place during the festival, and you can also purchase single event tickets from £5 and ‘DocLover’ packages from £30.

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