Tag Archives: documentaries

Shared Experience: Document Human Rights Film Festival 2018

With all the political upheaval going on in the UK at the moment, it is tempting to want to just hide under a duvet and sleep throught it all. However, once we look outward and explore people’s lives outside our own living environment, we will often find astonishing parallels and might discover a shared human experience we didn’t realise existed.

Document Human Rights Film Festival Glasgow has been around for a decade and a half and this year’s edition took place from 30 November until 2 December 2018 at the Scottish Youth Theatre in the heart of Merchant City. The festival presented 40 feature length and short documentaries – many prize-winning and all inspirational – from around the world plus a number of intriguing discussions with international filmmakers. As every film was only shown once, it was a tough choice, but I still managed to make it to a good range of screenings, which were all fascinating in their own way.

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On Friday night I picked a special screening curated by Creative Interruptions of restored films from the time of the Palestinian revolution, which was followed by a Q&A with Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal. My own knowledge of this part of the world is fairly limited and it was interesting to see that the PLO with their generally military approach to conflict also worked on preserving the local culture, which included a filmmaking unit, aiming to keep alive a collective memory, so important to the survival of any culture. It was a glimpse into a world which the other side tried their best to hide from the people and the wider world. Listening to Hawal talk about his own experience trying to make and distribute films about difficult or controversial topics and a limited budget reminded me how little we really know about non-Western cultures unless we really do our own research. Document Film Festival was therefore a welcome window into an often hidden, multifaceted world.

My first film on day two was a nearly 2.5 hour long meditative piece by experimental American filmmaker Ben Russell entitled ‘Good Luck’, which explores the differences and similarities of two groups of men working in the mining trade in vastly different conditions in Serbia and Suriname and was shot on Super 16mm film. As there were some tech problems (later resolved) and as I was feeling pretty rotten because of a cold, I decided to leave after about half an hour, but sincerely hope there will be another chance to see this film. It was received very well at the festival.

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I returned to the Scottish Youth Theatre later that night for a screening of Chaos by Syrian filmmaker Sarah Fattahi, who is currently based in Vienna. The film portrays three Syrian women living in exile with very different stories but united in their experience of trauma and all the complexity it involves. Sadly, a workshop with the filmmaker scheduled for the same day had to be cancelled, but we were lucky to have a skype Q&A with Fattahi touching on the topics covered in the film. I was really impressed by Fattahi’s work and approach and will definitely keep an eye out for any future films.

The last film I saw was probably my favourite and was very moving from start to finish. In ‘A Woman Captured’ filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter had unprecedented access to the life of Hungarian woman Marish for a year and a half and followed her from a situation of what can only be described as modern slavery (like an estimated 45 million people worldwide!) to standing on her own two feet and forging a positive future for herself and her family. I was close to tears several times when I saw Marish getting treated literally worse than any animal and the difficulties she faced escaping this terrible situation. In times where cuts to social budgets are the norm in this country, too, it begs the question what we are doing in our own communities to avoid such terrible abuse. Not easy viewing, but with (luckily) a hopeful ending, it motivated me to keep fighting against injustice. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for all of us to do so.

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After an empowering weekend of films and discussions I highly recommend checking out this small but important film festival, which boasted an incredibly dense programme of brilliant documentaries you won’t see in your local Cineworld. Yes, it can be difficult to take a closer look at issues around the world most of us are lucky not to have to deal with on a daily basis. However, those you care about human rights will instantly find their tribe at events like Document. It was easy to get talking to other attendees and the dedicated and friendly festival producers and volunteers (see pic above), many of them students of human rights and similar degrees. I had never been to the venue before, but will definitely look out for future events there as it is in such a central location and had a nice vibe about it.

I’m already looking forward to Dardishi Festival, a new feminist zine and arts festival happening in Glasgow from 8-10 March 2019. Their fundraising booklet with women’s writing and art (see below) is really beautiful and partnering with Document was a great idea. It’s so good to see smaller festivals supporting each other. They often get less press than bigger events with larger marketing budgets, but like with Document, the programme quality is often at least as high. In fact, finding local festivals and helping them thrive could be your new year’s resolution, how about that?!

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Life on Screen: DOXA Documentary Film Festival 2011

Finally, finally another documentary film festival! As I can’t make it to Hotdocs, Sheffdocfest nor Guth Gafa this summer, Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival, which happened from 6-15 May 2011, was a welcome fix for my doc-starved self. A Justice Forum as well as a Spotlight on Vancouver were among some of this year’s programming highlights.

Despite a few minor issues, such as my day job getting in the way, I managed to see a good few films at the festival. Here is my favourites list with comments:

The Florestine Collection – amazing 31 minute short, which was very moving, the website is well worth checking out if you’re into art, animation, dressmaking, pot-bellied pigs, New Orleans or are simply a human

Louder Than A Bomb – a very close second for me, the opening night film was a tour de force of cutting edge slam poetry with a live performance of one of the main characters thrown in on the night for good measure, brilliant

KOOP – an intriguing and layered artist portrait which was beautifully (!) shot by Marcia Connolly and really well edited, a quiet film but the images do stay with you

Detroit Wild City – more depressing than I thought it would be but it still made me want to go and explore this city caught between the past and the future, great film

Forgotten Transports series (4 films) – as shocking as it was, and it really was, the director’s meticulous research and the fantastic editing made this somber historic documentary an experience that you’ll remember for a long time

I also enjoyed Prosecutor (good pace and charismatic main character) and The National Parks Project (interesting approach, even if a tad too long for one session) but sadly missed a whole lot of other films, including some of the award winners.

Apart from a couple of Pacific Cinematheque shifts I also worked at the opening and closing events, which were great for mingling with filmmakers, audiences and other volunteers. Of course the week went by way too fast, but thankfully there are plenty more film festivals coming up in this culture-filled city throughout the year.

Stay tuned for more festival fun in the weeks and months to come!

Fleadhed Out (in a Good Way): The Galway Film Fleadh 2010

This year I was lucky to be able to spend a whole week at the Galway Film Fleadh and I managed to see quite a few of the many intriguing Irish and international film screenings. I hadn’t volunteered with this festival before but it was pretty much business as usual: taking tickets, handing out audience award voting slips, cleaning up the venues and helping with all sorts of other events and tasks. There were some familiar volunteer faces from Guth Gafa and, as with every good festival, lots of friendly repeat volunteers. A bonus with this event was that we got vouchers for some excellent Spanish food by Cava who supplied the hospitality tent, i.e. the Rowing Club,  all week with their yummy tapas.

At the start of the fleadh I did a good few shifts in the Cinemobile (fond memories of its weekend residency in Gortahork in June), which to me always feels a bit like being on a ship, especially when it rains. You welcome the punters on board the ‘cinema vessel’ and it’s all cosy with a hundred red seats inside and the rain drumming on the roof outside. My first highlight of the week was in the Town Hall though, a late screening of Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. While it could have done with some more creative editing, it was amazing to see the doc again, this time on a really big screen. Just a pity I couldn’t really sing along like last time in Barcelona surrounded by die hard Leonard fans, but it was lovely all the same (especially as I’ll be missing the Sligo gigs this summer, sniff).

I tried to catch as many of the documentaries as possible as that’s what I’m currently most excited about. Some very good ones indeed, many different styles and stories from all corners of the globe, each of them moving in their own unique way. Favourites included The Beholder, Kings of Pastry, The Pipe, Counting Sheep, Men Who Swim, Steam of Life, Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, Exit Through The Gift Shop (about Banksy) and some of the short docs on Sunday morning such as If These Walls Could Talk, Alibi, Bow Street and Bye Bye Now. Another highlight was the panel discussion with Lee Unkrich (director) and Darla K. Anderson (producer) of Pixar’s Toy Story 3. To hear about their Brain Trust concept and the detail they put into their films (down to editing voiceovers at individual syllable level!) was pretty astonishing. Also caught a directors talk on Saturday with Dieter Auner (Counting Sheep), Dylan Williams (Men Who Swim) and Joonas Berghäll (Steam of Life) chaired by Irish documentary filmmaker Anna Rodgers. It is truly amazing how much blood, sweat and tears goes into the making of a feature documentary. The amount of dedication, resilience, passion, diplomacy and ability to fundraise needed to complete a doc is absolutely incredible and made me appreciate seeing the completed films even more.


I’m a bit too fleadhed out at this stage to remember much else, but some of the feature films I saw, including The Runway and The Kids Are All Right (Irish release around October I think), definitely also deserve a mention. Brendan Gleeson, who replaced Annette Bening, who had to pull out of the Galway visit due to unforseen circumstances, was a highlight as well. His public interview was as humorous, wise and warm-hearted as the man himself (thankfully there are still actors like him around, he might just be one of the very last of a pretty endangered species). Here are this year’s award winners. The party on Sunday night with Alabama 3 (sang theme tune for The Sopranos) and lots of delicious tapas and wine nicely rounded off an exciting week of fantastic films. The festival organisers seemed really happy with both the buzz around town as well as the ticket sales throughout the week. It’s so heartening to see how many people still want to see independent films and how many great quality features, docs and shorts make it to the screens every year despite the odds being very much stacked against them. This is no doubt due to the hard work and dedication of countless individuals producing, mentoring, working, directing, acting and organising behind and in front of the camera who never seem to tire of keeping the magic of filmmaking alive for all of us. Bless them!