Sheffield Doc/Fest 2020: 15 films to put on your watchlist
James R | On 10, Jun 2020
Today marks the launch of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2020, but not as we know it. With cinemas closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, the annual festival is going ahead virtually this June, before hosting a series of screenings in cinemas this autumn – you can see the full line-up here.
Lynne Ramsay’s new short Brigitte is among the line-up, along with Berlinale award nominee Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue by Jia Zhang-Ke, Lisa Rovner’s Sisters with Transistors and Michael Cumming’s music doc King Rocker, featuring Stewart Lee. But while many of the festival’s higher profile entries are being held back for autumn, when they will stream online alongside their theatrical screenings, there are still intriguing, promising and award-winning films to enjoy in your living room.
The festival’s line-up, which spans 115 films, is streaming on the festival’s new VOD platform, Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects. Titles cost £4.50 each, with a pass available to watch the whole lot for £36. The line-up will stream until 10th July, while Q&As with the filmmakers in the programme, both live and pre-recorded, will take place from July to November.
We took a dive into the programme to pick out some of the most interesting and timely films, from inspiring tales of LGBTQ+ activists to explorations of people from opposing social circles connecting through conversation, film and music. From David France’s Sundance winner Welcome to Chechnya – which will soon air on HBO in the US and on Storyville in the UK – to Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival winner Aswang, here are 15 films to put on your watchlist:
Welcome to Chechnya
Since 2017, Chechnya’s tyrannical leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has waged a depraved operation to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ+ Chechens, overseeing a government-directed campaign to detain, torture and execute them. With no help from the Kremlin and only faint global condemnation, activists take matters into their own hands. David France’s new documentary tells the story of a group of people confronting evil.
Now available on BBC iPlayer
Bring Down the Walls
Coinciding with the escalation of mass incarceration in the 1980s, house music emerged from Black, Latinx and queer communities embattled by oppressive law enforcement policies. After watching Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Phil Collins’ documentary is an intriguing next step, exploring the prison industrial complex through the lens of house music and nightlife – and proposing the dance floor as a space of personal and collective liberation, and new ways in which we could come together as a society.
We’re Still Here
Filmed over four years, Melissa Herman’s documentary captures the way that developers have knocked down estates in London to build housing that ordinary people can’t afford. Available in a bundle with United Voice.
The Viewing Booth
How do films and images impact the way you view the world? In a laboratory-like setup, The Viewing Room sees an American student and enthusiastic supporter of Israel, Maia, made to watch and comment on the videos made by a Palestinian activist collective, which is filming the daily life of inhabitants of the occupied territories and the behaviour of the Israeli army. A timely, worthy experiment.
Keith Haring: Street Art Boy
When Keith Haring died aged 31 he was one of the most famous artists in the world, having blazed a trail through the art scene of 1980s New York, using his art to advocate for gay rights and AIDS awareness. Ben Anthony’s documentary combines archive footage, featuring Andy Warhol, Madonna and Grace Jones, and Haring’s encyclopaedic collection of polaroids to piece together the definitive portrait of the artist and activist in his own words and work.
Now available on BBC iPlayer
Your Mother’s Comfort
With the impending election of an extreme-right wing president in Brazil, trans activist and politician Indianara Siqueira fights to defend the LGBTQ+ homeless shelter she founded called CasaNem. As the residents of CasaNem face eviction, Indianara runs for office, occupies a Brazilian heritage site and mobilizes her community to protest in the streets, all in her struggle to save them. Available in a bundle with The Yael Bartana’s Undertaker.
A tribute to the late jazz musician Wallace Roney, as he prepares to rehearse and perform a composition left unrecorded by his mentor Miles Davis. Roney was Miles’ only protégé, the one musician Miles would trust to fulfil his wish. The work took on an added poignancy when Wallace unexpectedly passed away in March 2020 before seeing the music’s release out in the world.
Available until 22nd June
Me And The Cult Leader / Aganai
Atsushi Sakahara, a victim of the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo’s subway system, travels with Hiroshi Araki, a representative of the attack’s perpetrators, as they visit their respective hometowns and the university they both attended.
Please Hold the Line
In an age where we rely on phones and the internet to keep in touch with those distant from us, this intriguing Ukrainian offering comes with a poignant sense of perspective, as it follows cable technicians in Moldavia, Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria as they visit their customers.
The Story of Plastic
Through striking footage, original animations, and archival material, this documentary unearths the real causes of our growing plastic pollution problem and the narratives we have been fed by industry to distract us and displace blame. One to watch if David Attenborough’s alarm calls haven’t woken you up already.
Young women are taking medical advice in a public hospital in Argentina. This is the place where pregnant teenage girls have to make a decision, to keep their child or to have an abortion. In these intimate and non-judgmental conversations, the young women take this precious time to think and talk.
In the Philippines, in two years, over 20,000 men, women and children were killed in Duterte’s war against small street drug dealers and users. In the dark outskirts of Manila, the filmmaker follows a little boy, a coroner, and some other characters concerned by this increasing violence and injustice. The shadow of the aswang, the legendary local monster is haunting the bloody nights of the city.
Formed by Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin, The Go-Go’s started out in the 1980s LA punk scene. Talent, ambition, and the coinciding birth of MTV and the music video catapulted The Go-Go’s ascent. They made history as the first all-female band to write their own songs, play their own instruments, and release a No. 1 album. As the pressure of fame grew, hard drugs, alcohol, and infighting start to take its toll. Alison Ellwood’s spirited tribute shines a light on the band’s success – as musicians, ground-breakers and survivors.
You’ve Been Trumped and You’ve Been Trumped Too director Anthony Baxter heads to Michigan to shine a light on the life-threatening water crisis in Flint. Narrated by Alec Baldwin.
Shut Up Sona
Being on the receiving end of blasphemy lawsuits, internet trolling, and death threats are all in a day’s work for Indian singer and leading #MeToo activist, Sona Mohapatra. Over three years, filmmaker Deepti Gupta follows Sona as she battles with music execs and India’s patriarchal traditions at large in her fight for equal space in the music industry and beyond.