Sheffield Documentary Festival

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On Thursday 4th November I travelled to Sheffield because they were holding their annual documentary festival. I went to the festival last year too and found it to be inconsistent because some of the documentaries were very nicely made, while others looked very amateur. This year (as with the previous year) the advertisement was focused on bringing out untold truths with the posters saying ‘the truth is out there’. The first documentary that I watched was a short called A Tidy Life which showed a contrast between two different Welsh families. It was a very simple concept and aesthetically it was mediocre with it’s use of real lighting situations and handheld shots. However there were a couple of nice ideas that I liked, firstly the two families shown were extremely different, even though they were in similar environments. One couple were shown to be heavily drinking and the woman explained how she was frequently beaten by her husband, then it cuts to another couple (who are older) sitting down eating and drinking in a very tranquil and civilised manner. I really liked the shot used in this part – it was a high angled shot from above a television that the couple are sitting in front of and looking at as they eat.

The documentary following this short was called KMS – Jewish Negroes. It was about a group of black Israelis and Ethiopian Jews who made music to counter the racism that they frequently encounter. I didn’t like it because it quickly became boring and the people it was depicting were interesting in very small parts but usually predictable in their behaviour and it quickly became a boring documentary.

KMS

I then saw a short called La Boheme which I was really looking forward to because it was made by Werner Herzog. I was bitterly disappointed because the film of 4 minutes was so simple I felt that it was something that anybody could have made. Maybe I am bitter towards it because I didn’t grasp its concept. It showed Ethiopian couples standing together looking directly into the camera for a few seconds and then walking off in seperate directions. This occurred numerous times accompanied by a powerful classical piece of music. Despite it’s simplicity it still felt lazy because sometimes the characters on-screen would glance at the crew behind the camera which looked awkward and unnecessary and should have been shot again (in my opinion). Very disappointing.

Herzog's La Boheme

I don’t remember the name of the next documentary but it was a Turkish film depicting various characters through stunning visuals and a voice-over commentary with subtitles ofcourse. This was definitely the best documentary of the day regarding aesthetics the colours were vivid, the lighting was beautiful and the majority of the shots utilised a track on which the camera slowed progressed towards the still constructed scene. The commentary was also humorous in parts which made the film easy to watch too.

The final documentary that I watched was called Dirty Pictures and was a story of a chemist named Alexander Sasha Shulgin who is regarded as the ‘Godfather of Ecstasy’. He focuses his work on mind-altering drugs and tests hundreds of different concoctions that he creates to see what effect they might have on the human being. The film is good looking and its protagonist is an interesting character but this alone doesn’t fill the 80+ minutes. In parts it became boring and there was often little in the way of narrative. Moments of the film were fun to watch though, with various characters having interesting and humorous views on how we can and should use chemistry in modern society.

the Godfather of Ecstasy

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