Final Doc/Fest Recap

Posted by Charlotte on November 13, 2009 at 2:12 am.

I had planned on blogging every day from Sheffield but almost from the moment I woke up on Friday morning I was run off my feet. Thank god for the hotel breakfast as it kept me going through the day. Weirdly it’s difficult to grab something to eat as you run around the festival and forever etched in my mind was having to track down a vegetarian sandwich last year for a panellist and being handed a raw onion baguette as their only option.

After catching up on emails and various meetings my first stop was to see Nick Fraser introduce La Vida Loca, a film both he and I have been fiercely supporting after the tragic death of it’s filmmaker Christian Poveda in El Salvador. We showed it last month at the Frontline Club to an absolutely heaving audience.

From there we headed straight for what was obviously going to be the most entertaining and dramatic panel of the festival Campaigning Documentaries: The Thin Line Between Passion and Propaganda.

On the panel were Nick, Jess Search of BritDoc, Ceri Dingle from WORLDwrite, Kevin Toolis from Many Rivers Films and chair Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas.


This was a session I particularly wanted to see as we had arranged to do it at the club with Nick but unfortunately at the last minute he couldn’t make it and our panel turned out to be incredible. It was chaired by Roger Graef (Films of Record) and saw Hamish Mykura (Head of Documentaries and More4), Havana Marking (Director of Afghan Star), and John Battsek (Executive Producer of The Age of Stupid) duke it out. The full video of that panel is here.

This was a slightly different type of line-up and was much more centred around the commissioning and place of campaigning docs. Everyone had expected Nick and Jess to completely butt heads but within the first five minutes they had united in opinion and were facing extreme opposition from Kevin and Ceri. I have to say it was slightly weird to see a battle between two of my previous employers, but that actually made it more fun as I had an idea of what was coming. Claire Fox was a very bizarre chair as she refrained from the usual role of moderating the discussion and instead provoked it to an extreme degree.


I live tweeted throughout the whole thing, much to the annoyance of a lot of people I’m sure. Sheffield provided hashtags for all the sessions so if you are interested then you can see them here #dfcampaigningdocs

Nick made a call to arms for industry to not lose the British tradition of the best investigative journalism and added that he hoped more NGOs can be inspired to fund really good, critical, independent documentaries.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the panel:

Nick Fraser: The problem with US filmmaking is too many trustafarians making docs, not the amount of campaign films

Jess Search: Long term social impact is more satisfying to a filmmaker than lone tv broadcast

Ceri Dingle: Its a shame Jess doesn’t realise how middle of the road her films are
Jess Search: Get the fucking list out!

After a brief break we made our way to the BritDoc Bar to see AJ Schnack and Debra Zimmerman’s A-Z Chatshow which was a lot of fun


The main discussion for Friday was about shorts and filmmakers having to do their own PR. AJ was very much against filmmakers touring with their films becoming standard practice as he felt that once one film was done he was very keen to get onto the next and would rather a distributor handled that aspect and got in touch when he was needed. Debra agreed saying it should be the filmmaker’s choice to tour with the film. There was a minor disagreement about the amount of women filmmakers in this year’s Cinema Eye nominations but they both agreed that often women producers are forgotten about when the director is male.

After this I ran over to the BBC dinner which was really nice, it was an absolute pleasure to get to talk to Chris Hedegus more and DA Pennebaker told me all about filming Monterey Pop with Albert Maysles, at which point I felt as though I was in documentary-geek heaven.

I woke up on the Saturday in a state of complete fear about the Frontline Club panel. Late the night before one of our panellists had had to drop out. Unfortunately putting on a panel that features war filmmakers means that often they have to quickly react to developing stories.

We had already lost one who was stuck up a mountain and this time we’d lost another to the big story in Equitorial New Guinea. Luckily Jules Williamson, who is an outstanding filmmaker, was at the festival and came on board at the last minute. I owe her a huge amount as her contribution actually gave the discussion far more depth as she came from the perspective of someone embarking on a project that had potential to be dangerous, rather than just past experience.


My summary of the panel is on my Frontline blog here.

The session went really well and we had a great Q&A. My stress levels instantly dropped and I really felt I could begin enjoying the festival. I had to persuade Jemma slightly that going to the tapeless filmmaking session would actually be interesting and it really was. All manufacturers were present and it was fascinating to hear about where they’re heading in the next few years and the possibilities within that.

We decided to head back to the BritDoc bar for the next A-Z and the stress of the day unleashed some sort of crazed desire to dance, which carried on until very early the next morning.  Luckily the next morning the bar was having sunday papers and bloody marys and, fortunately for me, they provided a virgin option. We then sheepishly attended a few remaining sessions, which included the amazing Leslie Woodhead talking about his history of making documentaries about Russia, before the very long drive home.

Overall the festival was manic but wonderful. There was a great atmosphere and the panels were fantastic. Huge thanks to the wonderful Doc/Fest team.

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