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Sheffield Doc/Fest 2009
By Owen Anthony
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire contributor

Doc/Fest award winners with Roger Graef, Heather Croall and Hussain Currimbhoy
Sheffield Doc/Fest award winners for 2009

Sheffield's international festival celebrating documentary film-making returned to the city in November 2009. BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire's film reviewer Owen Anthony spent the weekend there:

The international documentary world descended on Sheffield in their droves to celebrate the world of documentary film making, broker deals, share their expertise and imbibe the occasional glass of wine.

More than 100 films were shown at the 2009 festival, from first-time directors to established and internationally-renowned names such as Nick Broomfield, D.A. Pennebaker and Penny Woolcock, many of whom came to Doc/Fest to talk about their films.

Funders commissioned films, distributers snapped up 'the next big thing' and the international profile was raised with the likes of a sneak preview of Michael Moore's new film "Capitalism: A Love Story."

The overriding impression was of the diversity of films and film-makers attending. Just looking at the award winners demonstrates that; the Special Jury Award went to Erik Gandini's look at Berlusconi's Italy 'Videocracy', the Youth Jury award which went to Andrew Lang's 'Sons of Cuba' about the Havana City Boxing Academy's under 12s, and an Innovation Award bestowed on Patrick Bergeron's 'LoopLoop', a film which combines images, sounds and encounters captured on a train journey through Vietnam to name but a few.

Eve Wood's film The Beat is the Law features Jarvis Cocker
Eve Wood's film The Beat is the Law features Jarvis Cocker

The Beat is the Law

Closer to home, talking to Eve Wood, whose fascinating film 'The Beat is the Law (Part 1)' depicts some of Sheffield's musical pioneers in the 1980s and early 90s, and their journey through Thatcher's political landscape, it is apparent how much work and effort goes into making the films we've seen here in their finished version.

Interviews started for The Beat is the Law in 2005, finances were difficult to come by even on the back of the successful 'Made In Sheffield' and she almost gave up on the film in 2007 when it looked like it wasn't going to happen.

But backers stepped in and, in Eve Wood's words, the film "developed a life of its own... seemingly separate stories fit together about a group of people on a journey in a city in not very good shape."

Sons of Cuba
Sons of Cuba is about the boys of the Havana City Boxing Academy

To see the film playing on the closing night in its home town is a fantastic validation of the effort expended to get there and is typical of the experience of many film makers at the festival.

Even with the support of high profile musicians such as Pulp, Richard Hawley and Chakk, making films like The Beat Is the Law can be difficult when "press comes in a wave then disappears for a bit."

Pitches and commissions

Behind the scenes of the festival, films were being commissioned and the lucky few who pitched successfully will now begin the long process of getting their films to the screen in an era where the distribution landscape is changing but as Eve Wood points out; it's both exciting and hard.

"Ten years ago there was only one way of distributing a film. It was getting into shops and it was hard to get recognised. Now you can do it via the internet. New technology changes the ethos. It becomes cheaper. It's exciting times for filmmakers."

This year's selection of films was the best so far in Sheffield, accorfing to Doc/Fest Director Heather Croall. Running for a full five days and bringing several thousand people to the city (an estimated 17,000+) there can be no doubt that the festival should go down as a success.

Other films included:

Moving to Mars: A Million Miles from Burma follows two Burmese refugee families who are relocated to Sheffield
Moving to Mars follows two Burmese refugee families in Sheffield

Moving to Mars: A Million Miles from Burma is the festival's opening film. It follows two Burmese refugee families who are relocated to Sheffield.

The Beat Is The Law Part One is Eve Wood's fascinating take on the Sheffield music scene and its place in the politics of the 1980s, featuring contributions from - amongst others - Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley.

The Cove: A National Geographic photographer looks into the plight of dolphins off the coast of Japan.

American: The Bill Hicks Story: This is a documentary about arguably one of the most important comedians of his generation who died tragically young.

Sons of Cuba: See a side of Cuba you never knew existed. Follow the boys of the Havana City Boxing Academy as they vie to compete in the Under 12s National Championship.

More information can be obtained from the Showroom or Doc/Fest websites.




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