Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Day Four

Day 4 started with ‘From The Godfather to the God Particle’, a talk from renowned editor Walter Murch. Engaging with concepts of fungibility and issues of control for filmmakers, the talk was enlightening and accessible. It was obvious just why Murch has been so successful for so long, with his fascination for technology especially apparent. His use of a clip from The Unbearable Lightness of Being was particularly informative, showing the effort it took to integrate scenes featuring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche into real archive footage of the Prague Spring.

Jean-yves

Our next engagement was a talk with Jean-Yves Ollivier, the subject of the film Plot for Peace. Ollivier’s work on the political backstage helped bring about the end of Apartheid, but he has been shamefully overlooked by the public eye, until now. An unassuming man, despite his involvement in some of the biggest political affairs of our time, Jean-Yves reflected on his life and on what it means for him to now be a character in a documentary. Also raised in this interview was the importance of Sheffield itself, a recurrent theme of the festival: ‘Sheffield was the first city to declare itself a “Nelson Mandela city”…at the time Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher, was calling Mandela a terrorist, but Sheffield went against this. How could I not be affected by Sheffield?’.

Next up was the film that brought Walter Murch to Doc/Fest this year, Mark Levinson’s Particle Fever. A beautifully constructed film, it did lose us here and there as its focus on the search for the Higgs Boson (aka the God Particle, though don’t call it that in front of the scientists) headed deeper into jargon-heavy territory, but the strong characters and tremendous editing kept our attention firmly focussed. The film’s greatest success is bringing a very human dimension to the sci-fi environs of the CERN project – there is scope for so much more to be said.

Particle fever

Lunch was once again at Fancie, after which we spoke to the director and one of the producers of Particle Fever. Both exuded a passion for their film, which was clearly a labour of love for all involved. They explained the process of creating the film, and especially the problems one faces in dealing with five years’ worth of material. We raised our idea for a CERN sitcom, but apparently having cameras stalk you around your workplace while you look for the key to the structure of the Universe can be a tad distracting – a pity!

Fohn had to return to the south, so Martin faced the final film of the day alone: a secret screening of Nick Broomfield’s latest film, Sex My British Job. An occasionally harrowing account of Taiwanese journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai’s undercover investigation in a Chinese-run London brothel, the film is notable for the minimal presence of Broomfield himself. His famously dry drawl provides a commentary throughout, but his physical presence is reduced to a series of cameos until the final, typical confrontation. Broomfield was in Kenya, and so joined the Q&A via a slightly dodgy Skype connection. The questions were particularly animated, with many blaming Nick for apparently endangering his subjects. He pointed out that his job is to make a film, without ‘playing God’. An avowed Broomfield fan, I found the film to be an intriguing look at a dark corner of society where paperless immigrants are forced to do horrible things to survive.

Nick Broomfield

Another day, then, that highlighted the magnificent scope of documentaries and sessions at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year. The fact that some of the films proved contentious just goes to prove the importance of showcasing these stories, exposing secrets and opening up debate in the viewing public.

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