This week sees the return of one of the highlights of the UK’s festival calendar in the form of Sheffield Doc/Fest, which runs from 7-12 June for its 2018 edition. As ever, the programme of over 200 documentary shorts and features boasts an array of non-fiction from thrilling crowd-pleasers and thought-provoking journalism to virtual realities and challenging hybrid cinema.
The festival opens on Thursday 7 June with the world premiere of Sean McAllister’s A Northern Soul which follows a struggling warehouse worker in Hull who, by night, fuels his creative passions as a hip-hop performer. Doc/Fest’s focus on performance and music is once again apparent throughout the packed programme: São Paulo pop star Linn da Quebrada on stage following a screening of Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla’s Tranny Fag, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore will perform live after the UK premiere of Stuart Swezey’s Desolation Center; and Singaporean vocal loop artist Weish will live accompany the UK premiere of Sandi Tan’s Shirkers. Elsewhere in the festival’s Doc/Rhythm strand, Pedro González Rubio weaves life, theatre, and fiction together as a group of students prepare a production of Antigone while Lauren Greenfield essays a materialistic, image-obsessed culture and the corruption of the American Dream in Generation Wealth.
Poetic portraits of place abound with Khalik Allah’s lyrical journey around his maternal ancestral home of Jamaica, Black Mother, and Hale County This Morning, This Evening by RaMell Ross both must-sees. As is Xiao Xiao’s Turtle Rock, a monochrome slow-cinema visit to the mountain village in which the director was raised. All of those films play in the Doc/Visions strand – the best place for finding the festival’s outré offerings. Other recommendations include a selection of 16mm Nathaniel Dorsky shorts and a mini-retrospective of Margaret Tait. Also of interest are Going South, the second part of Dominic Gagnon’s tetralogy exploring the cardinal points of the internet in the post-truth era, and Sergei Loznitsa’s Victory Day about the anniversary celebrations of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
Nicolás Molina’s Flow observes the human connection between the Ganges in India and Biobío in Chile and is up for the environmental award alongside the likes of Ex-Shaman and Into the Okavango. One or Two Questions is Kristina Konrad’s four-hour found-footage reflection on the democratic values of Uruguay after the passing of a 1986 law granting amnesty for human rights violations committed by the military and police during the decade-long dictatorship. Chris Kennedy’s footage is also found in Watching the Detectives, an exploration into the power of internet frenzies as it observes Reddit and 4chan users unleash a flurry of wild speculation following the Boston Marathon bombing.
This year’s festival also sees several older or rarely seen works getting a screening. Jean Rouch’s 1974 film Cocorico Monsieur Poulet, about a trio of poultry sellers on a trip across the bush screens as part of the Electric Avenues strand alongside Huang Weikai’s Disorder from 2009 which compiles footage from a dozen amateur videographers into a portrait of urban social dysfunction.
Audiences can also get their machinima fix with Liberty City Crawl (Superman II) by Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti, or sample some recent Kevin Jerome Everson in the form of his 2017 short, IFO. Night owls are also in for a treat with La Commune (Paris, 1871) the 2000 four-hour hybrid history by the incredible Peter Watkins and Bobby A. Suarez’s They Call Her Cleopatra Wong (the inspiration for the aforementioned Shirkers) playing as part of the Docs ’Til Dawn.
Sheffield Doc/Fest takes place from 7-12 June. To see the full programme and to buy tickets visit sheffdocfest.com.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson