Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 Round-Up Part I

Another year, another Sheffield Doc/Fest, and we cats were back in town to chow down, party and, most importantly, watch a few good docs.

After a Pulp opening the night before, we opted for a lie-in the following day before rearing our ugly morning heads for our first doc of the festival, Going to the Dogs.

Going to the Dogs

Directed by Penny Woolcock – with a little help from some familiar friends – Going to the Dogs explores the blood sport of dog fighting as well as a man’s relationship with his dog. Featuring ring leaders, historians, pheasant hunters and the filmmakers themselves, Dogs is a highly engaging, informative and often funny deconstruction of a world that we knew little about. It may not be everyone’s cup of the tea, but it made us sit up and think before passing judgement.

Life Itself came next (no rest for the felines) – Steve (Hoop Dreams) James’s insightful, open and pleasingly non-hagiographic doc about the life and death of renowned film critic Roger Ebert. James’s personal connection with Ebert (who was an early supporter of his work) makes for an engaging film, and the warts-and-all aspect builds a satisfyingly real picture of him. Two thumbs up! Fohn sat down for an interview with the director after the screening to discuss the making of the documentary.

Following 2012 festival-closer Bones Brigade, this year’s skating doc All This Mayhem painted an altogether darker picture of the sport. In this tale of Tas and Ben Pappas – self-confessed ‘bogan’ brothers from Melbourne who rose to become world champions – the glorious rise is depicted as being indivisible from the agonising fall. Tas and the director were present at the festival, and Martin spoke to them about bringing this dark, personal story to the screen.

We finished day one on a secret note, more on which anon. Suffice to say, we have a whole new iTunes shopping list!

Monday started with the aerial spectacle Born to Fly. Following Elizabeth Streb’s dance troupe from its work “lab” in New York to its Olympic show in London, Born to Fly made Fohn, for about 82 minutes, want to step away from the ol’ Fohnhouse and become one of Streb’s “action heroes”!

Born to Fly

While Fohn was off enjoying the “pop action” in the above documentary, and catching the charming festival opener Happiness – about a little boy who is sent to the local monastery – Martin was off interviewing Charlie Lyne, about his debut feature Beyond Clueless, after which, he headed back into the dark for Derby Crazy Love, a short but engaging introduction to the oestrogen-charged sport of roller derby. While not a work of great depth, directors Maya Gallus and Justine Pimlott offer up a thoughtful and enjoyable glimpse at a sport fasting becoming part of the mainstream. Given some of the subjects’ responses, it appears that this might well represent a fossilised glimpse at the unspoilt, sponsorship-free glory days of the sport.

Derby Crazy Love

Fohn’s final solo outing of the day was to catch Dogwoof’s 112 Weddings, in which director Doug Black revisits couples from the 112 weddings he has shot over the years (because filmmaking doesn’t make us all millionaires!). Funny, poignant and a great idea, 112 Weddings was Fohn’s favourite film of the day. She thinks. It had generally been a great day for documentaries.

Our last film of the day was The 50 Year Argument – an interesting retrospective on the last fifty years of The New York Review of Books, filled with informative interviews. A celebratory sift through a star-studded archive, but nothing groundbreaking. It could have done with the inclusion of an element of print versus online, such as the enlivened Page One back in the day. At Saturday’s premiere screening, Scorsese himself popped up via Skype, but we cats were either on a bus journeying up to doc mecca, or catching up on sleep. You snooze, you lose!

Stay tuned for part two.

Fohnjang Ghebdinga & Martin Parsons