Category Archives: Film

Final Doc/Fest Recap

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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Sheffield Doc/Fest


This year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest kicked off on Wednesday with the DFG’s DocDay, which is a great event for aspiring 16-19 year old filmmakers. I was asked to go along and mentor a group for the second half of the day. It was a really great session and the quality of their film ideas was incredibly high. We had to talk them through their pitch proposals and then select the best to be pitched to a panel. Our group settled on a really fun idea for a mockumentary but alas didn’t win.

After the 4 hour drive and the hectic afternoon of doc ideas bouncing everywhere we decided to have an early night in preparation for the full programme beginning the next day.

We woke up early, incredibly excited as we were heading off to interview Chris Hedegus and D.A. Pennebaker first thing. The interview went well and it was incredibly inspiring to hear them talk about their career and the ways in which they approach filmmaking. I decided to ask them towards the end the obvious question of whether there was anyone they wish they’d made a film about but hadn’t and I was given the unexpected, but superb, answer of Richard Nixon at Thanksgiving dinner. We filmed the interview and hopefully I should be able to get it up here soon.

The rest of the day saw a fantastic line-up of screenings and panels. The first we went to was Working Your Film, a session run by BritDoc’s Jess Search and joining her on the panel were Robert West, David Bond, and James Franklin. It was a really great session looking into how to approach the campaign/NGO side of documentaries and James Franklin’s masterclass in online marketing was particularly interesting. Afterwards Jess did a call for all organisations in the room that aim to support docs to stand up and I had a sudden out of character burst of bravery and talked about the different things we are trying to do at the Frontline Club. Whilst talking my nerves overcame me and I honestly have no idea what I said but I’m told it was good and lots of people came to talk about possible collaborations afterwards. We also got a shout out from Jess Search who said how much she loved the club which is a fantastic endorsement.

Our second panel of the day was Co-Producing with the Brits – Heaven or Hell? with Nick Fraser, Simon Dickson, Tom Koch, Hans Robert Eisenhauer and chaired by First Hand Films’ Esther van Messel


Left to Right – Tom Koch, Hans Robert Eisenhauer, Esther van Messel, Nick Fraser and Simon Dickson

The session was a really in-depth look into the world of international co-production and the behind-the-scenes deals and negotiations that go on in the hope that films can find the funding to get made. There were a few disagreements about the difficulties involved in the way co-productions are now arranged but ultimately you were left feeling that these people truly would fight to find funding for films they believed in. There was an ever present cloud of doom hovering over the panel when the decline of available slots was mentioned but you did realise that there was a big battle going on to preserve the importance of documentary and the players involved in co-productions were at the forefront of it.

The rest of my day was spent in meetings with some really great filmmakers and also with people who had great ideas about projects they wanted the club to be involved with. We bowed out early and headed back to the hotel room but the rest of the festival made a beeline for the annual roller disco which also included AJ Schnack’s announcement of the 2010 Cinema Eye Nominees.

Tomorrow is possibly our businest day event-wise. I am going to try and take more photos and will hopefully get more time tomorrow to do another re-cap.

Aside from all of this I am covering the films at the festival for The Documentary Blog. Click the logo below to follow….


And if by any chance you’re reading this and you’re at the festival please excuse my shameless plug and make sure you check out the panel I’m producing on Saturday – Filmmaking on the Frontline: In association with the Frontline Club

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Men of the City


Men of the City is the new feature documentary from Marc Isaacs’, a filmmaker with an incredible knack for managing to capture British life and people accurately. He filmed Men of the City over two years in the City of London, which for those who don’t know, is a square mile area within London itself and which is primarily the main business centre. The film focuses on four main characters, ranging from a high-end hedge fund manager to a street sweeper and we experience the crash through their journey and the effects it has on each of their lives. As is usual with Marc’s films no character is painted in either a sympathetic or negative light but merely presented as they are without judgement or assessment and again present is his ability to draw out the kind of on-camera admissions that most other filmmakers rarely eek out of their subjects.

Whether it was sheer luck or complete cunning to have started making a film in this area just before a major recession remains to be seen, but what it does mean is that Marc may have made the most insightful film we’ll see about the current economic situation and it’s effects.

isaacsOther recommended watching by Marc is The Lift, you can watch it in full at YouTube here and Second Run recently released a selection of his work available here

Men of the City will be shown as part of Storyville on BBC 4 on Saturday October 24th 2009 10.30pm

If you’re coming to Sheffield Doc/Fest you can see it’s showing at the following times:
Friday November 6th 17:05 Showroom 3
Saturday November 7th 12:15 Showroom 4

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Long distance inspiration

I had the pleasure of a completely unexpected call from a former classmate the other night, calling all the way from Pakistan.

It’s probably been close to a year since I last heard from Ali and to be honest I expected never to hear from him again, which made the phone call all the more fantastic.

Ali will be an amazing filmmaker, there’s no doubt about that. It’s in his blood. During our Masters I began to really like Ali as he lacks many of the social graces I do, in that he can’t tolerate bull***t, speaks his mind and isn’t afraid of putting people’s noises out of joint if they don’t agree with him. I’m not saying I always agreed with what he said, and that can be said from his perspective of me, but I certainly admired his complete focus to filmmaking and his constant desire to learn.

It was the first time I’d spoken to him since he completed his film and it was wonderful to just talk about the experience of making our respective films. We both shared an emotional rollercoaster in the process of the shoot, his far more so than mine as he was filming in Pakistan last summer throughout all of the numerous changes that happened in his country and the process left him drained and exhausted.

For the both of us the films had been less about an assignment as part of a course but our first chance to make films that we were desperate to make and to engage in something we were extremely passionate about.

Making a film about the Death Penalty challenged every sense of ethics, morality and justice that I have and really made me re-evaluate my own opinions in a way that has changed me forever. It was not an easy process and was mentally draining. Something I truly hope happens with every film that I make.

Ali’s experience was one that I can’t possibly comprehend, seeing his country combust whilst looking at it through a lens. Day in day out viewing political meltdown, death, grief and all the while dealing with the logistics of the shoot, while feeling as though you have to put your personal views of the situation to one side to remain impartial must have been unbelievably difficult. My experience pales in comparison.

Although he remains dejected about a large amount of the process, and still doubts and still feels frustrated it felt as though the experience had been worthwhile. Even though it feels like hell whilst it’s happening I can’t imagine Ali ever doing anything that wouldn’t push him to the extremes.
Making a light-hearted, safe film is just beyond his comprehension, and I hope mine.

More than anything the conversation made me feel extremely guilty that I haven’t picked up my camera for months. He was still in a place where the film was still consuming him and was still a massive part of his life, and I was jealous. It has been nearly a year since I finished the cut of my film that I submitted to uni and I felt ashamed.

I haven’t stepped back from documentary in any way but I have from filmmaking and my personal work. Although I have decided to put off attempting to be a full-time filmmaker for the time being, due to my lack of experience and need for further training, I am not using the camera enough and I am not in the mind set of just simply needing to be working at my filmmaking that I know Ali can never stop doing.

The phone call couldn’t have been more of a wake-up call and any better timed. My drive has returned and I have promised myself to make another film I care about before the end of the year.
So thank you Ali, even though you feel the film has pushed you to your limits you haven’t given up and you should be proud, and I can’t wait to see it.

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Goodbye Texas

Well we’ve just finished our penultimate day. It’s actually going to be quite sad to leave. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve met some phenomenal people. I wont say too much about the film as I’m too superstitious, but I’m going to write a shoot account when I get back home.

Anyway I got some of the photo’s I’ve taken developed, the lady who developed them fiddled with them so a lot of them look slightly dark or slightly light.

We have a day full of general shots tomorrow, one interview and our final execution, which is a sad way to finish the shoot.

Here are some moments from the shoot:

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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