On the 7th of June, documentary lovers descended on Sheffield’s city center for six days of films and fun in the sun. This year the festival opened itself up to the virtual reality boom and many other modern interpretations of storytelling. But after all the talks, marketplace sessions and drinking there’s one common thing everyone came for: great stories. With a programme containing more films than anyone could ever hope to squeeze into a week, I managed to see most of what was people were talking about. So without further ado, here are my top 5 recommendations from Doc/Fest. Who knows what the availability of these films will be like, so catch them while and where you can.
A Woman Captured
Arguably this year’s most talked about film, Hungarian director Bernadett Tuza-Ritter’s A Woman Captured is a treacherous look at modern-day slavery. Following Marisha, a victim of abuse, the doc shows what life is like at the rough end of the stick. What begins as sad and even angering blossoms into a hope-inspiring example of determination.
Beginning with the difficult to stomach archive footage detailing the brutality towards Catholics decades ago in Northern Ireland, I, Dolours is a mix of never before seen interview material, news clips and dramatic reconstruction that meld together to create a faithful insight into former IRA member Dolours Price’s mind and life. Maurice Sweeney understands the grey areas, embraces cinematic visualization and in the director’s Q&A mentioned the film is screening in Ireland soon. This one’s going to make a storm.
Ever wondered what the lesbian underground club scene was like in the early 2000s? Now you don’t have to. Shakedown is composed of footage taken at the moment that has a VHS look and style, giving the film a major nostalgia factor. Leilah Weinraub captures exclusive material of exotic dancers from 2002 and 2015. The special thing about this film for me is that it is in the purest sense a documentary. Weinraub was there, present and participating before the idea of making it into something else was there. In select moments we see the young filmmaker integrating herself through the camera lens. The sense of community is strong, and the footage feels like stepping into a time machine.
Desolation Center is an anarchist recounting of the punk-rock scene in the late 80s. After being targeted by police and media, promoters put on a limited run of shows in the deserts outside of Los Angeles. The film truly made me feel part of its atmosphere. There’s something amazing about how short-lived the escape from the rest of the world was. I had the pleasure of getting to know director Stuart Swezey over the days we were both attending the festival (many beers were consumed) and not only is he a really cool person, he understands the beauty of ending something before it becomes a commodity.
Minding The Gap
Minding The Gap is the last film I saw at the festival; that alone makes it very special for me. Even if it wasn’t, I still think I’d be confident saying it is the best film—doc or not—I’ve seen from 2018. Director Bing Liu uses footage spanning over years, starting when he was a young boy shooting his chosen family skate friends for fun. The film opens with incredibly dynamic and joyful skateboard rides but evolves into something unexpected and soulful. Covering parenthood, the transition to adulthood and the graves we dig for ourselves, Minding The Gap explores many themes and somehow groups them together in one of the most emotionally viable turns I’ve sat through. I saw it with seven other people and not one of us felt particularly stable afterward. The doc is a true testament to homegrown talent.