Archive for the ‘docfest’ Tag

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017

Highlight of Doc/fest for me this year was meeting the legendary Walter Murch, sound designer and editor, who created the picture and sound editing magic of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and the Oscar-winning sound montage of ‘The Conversation’. He gave some real insights into the practice of editing, from overarching comparisons to architecture and choreography to frame-level detail in search of the perfect cut.

Apocalypse Now fan

The link between the ceiling fan and the chopper sounds suggested itself when shots between were removed

Another highlight was an energetic, extended conversation in the wake of ‘You Have No Idea How Much I Love You’, a documentary by Pavel Lozinski – or is it? (a documentary) On the way out of the Showroom Cinema I accosted a fellow producer and asked her whether she’d had the same reaction to the end of the film (basically a punch to the guts). We were then accosted by Amir Bar-Lev, director of the new Grateful Dead doc ‘Long Strange Trip‘ (just released on Amazon Prime) who had the same question. Between the Showroom and Exchange Square with stops along the way the three of us had our own Q&A discussing the ethics of shooting therapy sessions and how they can be shot in an ethical way which doesn’t disrupt the therapeutic benefit. I’d gone to see the film in the first place because one of the films I’m currently working on, ‘Love Lies Bleeding‘ (w/t, directed by Leslie Lee), includes scenes of this kind. Leslie and I spent the week before Doc/Fest working with the wise, seasoned expertise of the likes of Peter Symes and Jihan El-Tahri at Documentray Campus on the story structure.

You_Have_No_Idea_How_Much_I_Love_You

You Have No Idea How Much I Love You (Poland 2016)

 

A past Doc/fest: 2015 (rock, Kurt Cobain, etc.) ; Shorts ; Black Panthers ; Drones.

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Trains, Planes and Canes – Sheffield DocFest Day 4

Was involved in two contrasting panels on my last DocFest day. In the morning the panel I’d pitched to the festival about docs with a lighter touch. It was produced by Documentary Campus, Berlin-based partners of DocFest, the outfit behind the Leipzig documentary festival. Because it’s the birthplace of my late father I’ve a soft spot for it and have been working with them for the last few years, helping nurture emerging documentary talent. On our Seriously Funny panel was Mark Lewis, venerated creator of the landmark ‘Cane Toads: An Unnatural History’, much admired by Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck – see Day 1 below); Rudolf Herzog, the man behind ‘Ve Have Vays of Making You Laugh’ about jokes in the Third Reich and ‘The Paedophile Next Door’ made with Steve Humphreys for Channel 4; Heydon Prowse, one of the prime-movers of ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (Jolyon Rubinstein, his comedy partner was in the audience), whom I worked with on ‘X’, our recent election project at C4 for under 25s involving the shutting down of E4 for the day of the election (leaving just Darren on screen, the man responsible for E4’s On/Off switch).

Last but by no means least, my brother KG who fronts the short form video series I commissioned about West Coast tech and social trends and whether they will make it to Blighty – ‘Futurgasm’ (mainly to be found on All 4).

It was a fun panel, punctuated with loads of amusing clips, including dog and rat humour from Mark and hoodie humour from KG:

We chatted about the advantages of using humour in documentaries – from access to co-operation (see the police in the last clip above), from non-cynical warmth to asking the unaskable.

In the afternoon I did a session on using drones in documentaries, The Sky’s the Limit, led by Brian Woods of True Vision, in the beautiful Chapel building. I showed my Drones in Forbidden Zones project (which also lives mainly on All 4)

and, to balance out the largely techie panel such as Emma Boswell of The Helicopter Girls, took on the subject largely from an editorial point of view, focusing on how to shoot ‘native’ drone films as opposed to using this exciting new tech simply as a cheap helicopter.

Once I was done with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles I boarded a Manned Rail-bound Vehicle and headed South with pleasant memories of one of my best ever DocFests. Proud to have been on the Advisory Board of this particular one which marks the close of Heather Croll’s brilliant expansive tenure, the sure-footed interim leadership of my friend Mark Atkin, and the opening of Elizabeth McIntyre‘s regime, my former colleague from Documentary Campus. Four fine days fabulously finished.

Tears through the Years – Sheffield DocFest Day 3

Fred Hampton Black Panther

Started the day with the best documentary I’ve seen so far – The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the revolution.  I was introduced to its talented, measured director Stanley Nelson as I entered Showroom 3 cinema. I told him about some footage we found in the attic of Solus, my first job, of James Baldwin with two Panthers in London (with Huw Wheldon for BBC’s Monitor shot by Jack Hazan).

It’s a masterful historical doc, the story told perfectly in a clear, disciplined and balanced way. Huey Newton’s story is plain tragic. The women protagonists are powerful and impressive. The stand-out character is Fred Hampton, a captivating orator assassinated by the Chicago pigs.

The story couldn’t be more resonant than now with the chain of events unravelling recently like this:

I chatted after with Stanley and Dick Fontaine (of the National Film & TV School) about the trustworthiness of police testimony then and now, and the power of the US authorities through the last 50 years.

Middle of the day was Roast Beef’s curious The Russian Woodpecker – an oblique route in to capturing the looming resurgence of the Cold War. It takes an artist, Fedor Alexandrovich, to know which way the wind blows in Russia/Ukraine and to become as much an over-the-horizon radar as the mysterious Duga early-warning system he discovers in the shadow of Chernobyl. Conspiracy theory, Cold War paranoia, arty kookiness and Soviet spookiness make a heady brew. Fedor and director Chad Garcia attended the screening in Sheffield’s library.

Rounded off the day at a session on Long Lost Family chaired in his usual ebullient way by ITV’s Simon Dickson (a former colleague at Channel 4) and featuring Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell. It is quite the most emotional show on TV and beautifully made (bar the music). The high production values and excellent direction mark it out from its roots in a Dutch format and a US version. Captures exactly the strengths of UK factual TV. Constructing the format on the official social worker process of adoption reunion was clever thinking. Davina and Nicky are both total pros with real heart. I’ve just watched the latest episode and there was not a dry eye in the hotel room.

Long Lost Family davina mccall nicky campbell

Eat My Shorts – Sheffield DocFest Day 2

My session today was as panelist rather than chair, on the subject of the rise of the Short Form Doc. Showed clips from a range of my recent commissions from Circus Girls to Body Mods, from Futurgasm to The Black Lesbian Handbook, to give a sense of the variety of output. The session started by showing two of the earliest short form films known, from late 19th century France (including the Lumiere Bros.) Shared the platform with Katie Metcalfe from the Short of the Week site/Sundance and a couple of struggling documentarists from Greece among others – it was a good, broad mix. My old friend Bill Thompson from the BBC was in the audience and captured the session in this cheeky tweet:

Adam Gee talking at Sheffield DocFest 2015

The new Sheffield DocFest Director, Elizabeth McIntyre, was also there and was strongly supportive of my assertion that it was misleading and plain wrong to portray short form as the little brother of long form documentary. It is not short TV, not cheap TV, it is a thing in itself, a fabulous form.

I met the acting Director at breakfast (Mark Atkins), as well as the recently retired Director (Heather Croall) and the current Chair (Alex Graham) so that was the full set today.

Before my session I went to the Brett Morgen masterclass in the City Hall where I hung a bit with the Music Doc posse from yesterday – Brett, Paul Viragh, Chris Wilson and Leslie Lee. I picked up some good tips from Brett – who talked about Cobain: Montage of Heck, The Kid Stays in the Picture and Crossfire Hurricane – including his ambitious approach of striving for an immersive cinematic experience to distinguish his docs e.g. to solve the problem that dozens of books and numerous films had already told the Stones story when the band brought Crossfire Hurricane to him – he sees his films as “a ride”. Also his use of asynchronous sound is interesting.

After the ‘Make it Short’ session, which seemed to go down really well, I went for a drink with Bill and had a fascinating chat with Bill, Brett and my friend & former colleague Jan Younghusband (of BBC Music) about new tech, AI and the spaces of human presence in our era.

I sat outdoors for a bit in the afternoon watching a documentary about the relationship between human beings and the earth on the hill of Howard Street, on a lawn in a deckchair in the June sunshine, enjoying its hippy vibe whilst reading ‘Our Mutual Friend’, all round green&pleasant.

In the evening I went to see a film about The Damned (Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead) by Wes Orshoski. It was entertaining with some really funny moments, quite conventional but a great range of interviews (from Chrissie Hynde to Mick Jones). Wes spoke a bit after the screening, an enthusiastic Yank, and Captain Sensible’s son was in attendance. From Neat Neat Neat via Smash It Up to Eloise The Damned turned out some great tunes through their various early incarnations. In short, they were The Ramones of Britain. A bit too silly for their own long-term good, condemning themselves to being something of a footnote.

Damned Damned Damned

Damned Damned Damned

Rock docs knock off socks – Sheffield DocFest Day 1

kurt-cobain-montage-of-heck brett morgen

Today’s first day for me at DocFest 2015 has been dominated by music which is at it should be in the home of Joe Cocker, Comsat Angels, Heaven 17 and The Human League. I headed North in time to chair a lunchtime session in the uber-Victorian town hall on the current state of play of music films and rock docs. We had something of a supergroup on the panel, the Cream of the cream, including:

  • Brett Morgen, director of Cobain: Montage of Heck and the Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane
  • Paul Viragh, writer of the Ian Dury movie Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll
  • Jessica Edwards, director of Mavis, a new documentary about Mavis Staples
  • Julia Nottingham, producer of the surprisingly romantic The Possibilities Are Endless about Edwyn Collins and his wife, representing Pulse Films who made my favourite film (scripted or unscripted) of last year, Film4’s 20,000 Days on Earth, featuring Nick Cave
  • Chris Wilson, producer of Hotel California, centred on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the rest of the 70s Laurel Canyon set

We covered a fair bit of ground including the reimagining of music docs in the form of films like Pulse’s The Possibilities Are Endless; Brett’s technique of cutting and designing the audio track first (particularly evident in his The Kid Stays In The Picture film about Robert Evans); films inspired by magical live experiences and made by fans; the commonalities between scripted drama about musicians and music docs; the opportunities in theatrical releases with a cinematic approach versus those in TV.

I had a good chat with Brett and Chris outside a cafe in the afternoon about music and film geekery from 12 Years a Slave (Brett went to film school in New York with Steve McQueen and thought there was a massive leap forward from Shame to 12 Years) to Fiddler on the Roof.

Paul, Chris and Brett plus Leslie Lee who produced our session wended our way to a slightly bizarre karaoke bar to watch the Champions League final at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin before heading over to the Showroom cinema to watch the Cobain film nice&loud.

My favourite scene is when Kurt plays the master tape of Nevermind to his mother and she realises the implications of how scarily brilliant it is and tries to warn him.

What the Cobain film leaves me with are these keys to Kurt’s life:

  • fear of humiliation
  • sense of shame
  • love of playing live

mavis documentary jessica edwards

History Boy

the dawn of time universe sun big bang

I’ve been coming to DocFest (formerly the Sheffield International Documentary Festival) since the dawn of time. I’m sitting cross-legged on the hill of Howard Street, on a black marble seaty-thing, as I write this, buddha-like. The hill runs up from the station towards the city centre and is one of the best bits of urban regeneration I’ve seen in this country. Overlooking this spot is an Andrew Motion poem written on the side of a Sheffield Hallam University tower block addressing travellers arriving in the city (Andrew Motion in part inspired Simple Pleasures part 4). After my many years coming to the festival I came up with a good strategy involving this hill yesterday. Instead of relentless regular blocks of formalised meetings crowding out the day I arranged no meetings – just sat on one of these black marble blocks and waited for people I knew and wanted to see pass by me. It worked very well – I got to chat with more people and the chats were the lengths they needed to be.

howard street sheffield docfest 2014

I am now on the train pulling out of Sheffield. I leave behind a very satisfying couple of days’ experience. It began as I got off the other train the other way on Sunday evening. I dumped my stuff at the hotel and went out for dinner just out of town with Colm O’Callaghan, a colleague from RTE in Dublin. We chatted about all manner of stuff, centred on Ireland and music, and most excitingly discussed the possibility of doing a collaborative historical project next year. We headed back to town to meet  at a bar the speakers in the session I was to chair the next day. We did a judicious amount of preparation (mainly a quick chat to reassure them we’d be talking about stuff they know well and don’t have to think much about and ascertaining what video material they’d brought with) then oiled the getting-to-know-you wheels with alcohol.

robert capa d-day landings

The session the next morning entitled ‘Interacting with the Past’ focused on interactive and multiplatform TV in the History genre. Joe Myerscough, Producer/Director from the excellent Windfall Films, represented the superb D-Day: As It Happens project from Channel 4 in 2013. The delightful Elizabeth Klinck, a super-expert Canadian visual/archive researcher, added an interesting perspective. And my Channel 4 colleague, Online Producer Marie James, focused on The Mill, a historically accurate drama set in 1831. We managed to range across a lot of territory around what interactivity brings to History TV and from a lot of perspectives (indy producer, broadcaster, support services, commissioner), driven by questions from the audience, so it felt free-flowing, flexible and practically useful. Went down well, felt good.

Andre Singer

Andre Singer

At the other end of the day I went to see a new history documentary, Night Will Fall, directed by Andre Singer. I can’t write about it yet beyond what’s already in the public domain but suffice it to say it’s a very impactful film about the filming of the Holocaust. It will be showing on Channel 4 in January coming. One unexpected aspect of the story is that Alfred Hitchcock was involved in this filmic recording of the Holocaust by Allied troops. I chatted with Andre and his wife Lynette, who wrote the commentary for the film, on the way out. Also the producer Sally Angel, who I first met last year through an online project via my friend Steve Moore. We had a lively discussion about what age is best to first introduce young people to the imagery of the Holocaust. I believe it should be 16+. The person from the BFI thought younger was OK on the basis that kids get to see horror films (not an argument I buy – the documentary footage in Night Will Fall is another world from scripted drama).  I first crossed paths with Andre and Lynette when I was starting out on my career and they ran an outfit in Covent Garden called Cafe Productions (that name’s just come back to me after all these years). I went on a bus ride with Andre last May (2013) to Yad Vashem when he first told me about the film. It’s been nestling in the back of my mind since then.

So a day steeped in History.

Brilliant creatures rebels of oz documentary howard jacobson germaine greer

And today started out in similar vein. I went to see Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz, a 2-part BBC/ABC documentary about 4 Australians who made good in London in the 60s, bringing a fresh perspective to a country only just emerging from the War. The Creatures in question are Germaine Greer, writer Clive James, art critic Robert Hughes and comedian Barry Humphreys. Jacobson considers Germaine Greer the most rebellious and radical of these. It’s a fabulous story – woven together by novelist Howard Jacobson (who himself wrote startlingly about the Holocaust in the brilliant Kalooki Nights, which sits on my Shelf of Honour).  I had a brief chat with him after, mainly congratulating him on pulling together such an illuminating story. He said he was in search of the secret to the Oz “zest for life”.

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

I got close to having a chat with Germaine Greer but it didn’t quite happen. I wanted to talk Frank Zappa with her as the BBC recently released a wonderful radio documentary she made about him. There was a great clip in the film of her hanging with Robert Plant and Led Zep.

germaine_greer 60s

Over breakfast this morning I had a great plan-hatching session with a couple of documentary makers (one from Leipzig where my dad was born) which was also a kick.

So it’s been a couple of days with a heartbeat of History. I had to give it up as a subject in formal education after O Level (apart from a small burst of it as part of my German/Modern Languages degree) but at heart I’m still a History Boy.

evolution denied ape to man

 

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