Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 Round-Up Part II

While Fohn was enjoying her, what had become, habitual lie-in, early bird Martin headed off to catch Les Plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnes), the final film shown in the Agnès Varda retrospective. Delightful and moving as ever, we were only disappointed that Varda herself was not in attendance.

Tuesday’s morning proved to be a very French one as we moved from Les Plages d’Agnès to La Cour de Babel (School of Babel), Julie Bertuccelli’s year in the life of a class for young immigrants in Paris. While the setup (a year in the life of a small class with a dynamic teacher) invites comparisons with Nicolas Philibert’s Etre et Avoir, Bertuccelli manages to tap into a universality that makes even the most ordinary of moments potentially heartbreaking or breathtaking. A triumph!


On a high, we then settled in for An Honest Liar – a look at the life of magician-turned-debunker “The Amazing Randi”, who wowed audiences for decades with Houdini-style tricks, before making it his life’s mission to expose psychics, illusionist, magicians and any other tricksters using their powers for evil – or monetary gain. There’s enough here to engage you for 90 minutes, but in comparison to all the films we had seen at Doc/Fest up to that point, An Honest Liar came up a little short. We respect the fact that Randi is an “honest liar”, but a little more captivating “honest lying” and a little less Uri Geller and his well-documented spoon-bending ways would have been nice.

We ended the evening at Dogwoof’s “Guilty Pleasures” night – one of the many events staged by the festival organisers. We were out and about at a few of them, but this was, undoubtedly, the best of the bunch.

On our final day of the festival we caught up with Julie Bertuccelli to discuss School of Babel (our interview will appear here in the near future!), and we, obviously, watched a couple of films.

The Girl Who talked to Dolphins

First up it was the BBC-produced The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins – an interesting doc which recalled 2011’s Project Nim. Unfortunately somewhat limited in scope – difficult to avoid in an hour-long made-for-TV doc – it is nevertheless a well put-together film looking at an extraordinary story. Extra points for Jeff Bridges’s contribution, and for the infectious enthusiasm of the commissioning editor.

Finally, it was all about The Dog. The story behind and beyond Dog Day Afternoon, this doc is barmy, baffling and often hilarious. Moments of acute pathos pepper this rich concoction, so unbelievable that it must be (mostly) true. Recounted by the man himself, the sort of force-of-nature character who keeps your eyes glued to the screen, even when you know that everything he says needs to be taken with a wheelbarrow of salt. The director and producer offered some wonderful anecdotes from their ten-year journey to bring this to the screen, and expressed their joy at finding such a subject, at being able to tell these stories. A fitting end to the festival, rounding off another excellent year of docs. We might have missed Scorsese, and the range of screenings organised out in Derbyshire, but we had an amazing time all the same!

Fohnjang Ghebdinga & Martin Parsons