A couple of weeks ago, I attended #SheffDocFest invited by The Wellcome Trust through their curator of the Ideas and Science stream Erinma Ochu. It was a fantastic experience, which came at just the right time for me, as I embark onto more documentary film making with colleagues in Salford. One of the main appeals for being at Salford was to work with environmental and life scientists, whose reseaerch is with non-human species. By working with them, I hope to enrich my theories around posthumanism and biotechnological change. However, the element of the #SheffDocFest that was most helpful to me was around the overlap between journalism and the art of documentary. Some argue that journalism has lost its capacity for in-depth investigative work and that the art of documentary making is providing a space for more creative, groundbreaking journalism to emerge. The few pieces I saw in Sheffield really hit home these possibilities.
The first film I saw was The Nine Muses, which was a lovely way of being exposed to artistic film making, which could be underpinned by a scientific narrative.
Next, I hopped over to a panel debate called Final Frontiers 101, which had the amazing Robin Ince with Alice Bell and David Kirby from Manchester. It was part of the Wellcome programme and focused on a discussion about how science and film makers work together to develop stories that are factually accurate, but also entertaining.
Next up was a mock commissioning session, whereby a panel sat through a process of imagining how a work gets commissioned, covering the stages of production from idea to screening. It was a great insight into the commissioning process, the range of people involved, the financial negotiations around release territories, and the sheer fragility of the whole process!
After this, I had a chance to pop into one of the commissioning panels, focused on factual entertainment. It was a lovely glimpse into a crucial overlap that academics need to figure out - how to make their science entertaining.
Before 6pm, I also managed to pop in to Site Gallery, which had a VR exhibition, exploring how film can be created for such devices. It was a quite eery space, with people wearing headsets standing in silence, moving around slowly. The content within the devices was the best I have seen and the potential of platforms like Oculus Rift are really creating possibilities to realise film in a way that could only be imagined back when VR first took off in the 1980s.
I was then able to briefly pop along to a Film Londond drinks reception, before heading over to see 'Spectres of the Shoah', which, stylistically, made me think about how much you can do with a simple interview style documentary, bringing in archival images and footage to re-create a story from years ago. It was simply beautiful and breathtaking and a wonderful experience to hear about. Below is a photo of the director with Nick Fraser, who has been helping to push the film to new audiences.
The final event of my night was the amazing story of Greenpeace, in the film 'How to Change the World'. As someone who believes we should all have the capacity to enjoy this aspiration, it was a wonderful way of reconnecting with the possibilities of environmental activism and how central image making is in the process of making change happen. The founding members of Greenpeace, particularly one of its founders Bob Hunter, for me, wonderfully encapsulated what we need to do to make change happen. Bob had the skills of a journalist, the insights of a scientist, and the energy of an activist. Despite Greenpeace's complicated early life, this film is a great starting point for changing the world.
Overall, the SheffDocFest was an amazing day - oh yes, I did all this in just one day 12pm-10pm. So grateful to have been there at this time, where film making is becoming a bigger part of my life. Congratulations to the Wellcome Trust for putting themselves into a new space, bringing science to film and film to science. Another big thumbs up for this amazing organization.
ps. can I have some money to make an epic documentary in Brazil next year with the amazing Professor Robert Young