Sheffield Doc Fest: Pop Up Docs Nirvana!

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Sheffield Doc Fest is arguably the world’s leading showcase for documentary films. For one week every year filmmakers, film promoters and film-nuts descend on this Northern city to celebrate the factual form. In summary – it’s akin to Nirvana for the Pop Up Docs team!

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Pop Up Docs were very fortunate to be funded by Film Hub South West to take part in the 2015 festival which was the biggest festival yet – attended by delegates from no less than 57 countries and with 31 World premieres. There’s so much going on it’s a tough call to see and do everything you want to, but a couple of film highlights included Kirby Dick’s THE HUNTING GROUND and Jerry Rothwell’s HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE ORGANISED)

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THE HUNTING GROUND seemed a natural progression for director Dick, following on from his Oscar-nominated feature THE INVISIBLE WAR which investigated the increase in violent sexual assault within the US military. THE HUNTING GROUND followed a similar theme; addressing the systemic reasons that colleges fail to act to rapes on campus, even when rape victims come forward looking and often begging for justice. The film feels like it’s covering a topic we are already familiar with, but very soon we are shocked by its revelations – this is more than ‘a few odd cases’; There is an epidemic of rapes in US colleges. But Dick’s film is not sensationalist, nor is it emotionally detached from its subject matter. It is a rallying call to action and a film that leaves you in awe of the bravery of both the victims and some of the university and college staff who have stood up to these powerful institutions at the expense of their careers. In his post-film discussion Dick alluded to this being a problem that is as familiar on British soil as it is on US. A hot topic for discussion and yet the strict timetable for the Doc Fest screenings didn’t allow us to pursue this further. Hopefully with the space and time that Pop Up Docs screenings can accommodate, we can explore some of these issues further should we screen THE HUNTING GROUND.

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Pop Up Doc’s first ever screening back in 2012, was a Jerry Rothwell classic: TOWN OF RUNNERS. So we watched the UK premiere of Rothwell’s latest feature with great enthusiasm. HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE ORGANISED) is an archive-led film that tells the incredible story of how the organization we know today as GreenPeace came into existence. As its subtitle suggests – it’s a crazy journey involving a rag-tag team of young environmentalists, underground journalists, photographers, musicians, scientists, and expatriate American draft dodgers – who set out to stop Nixon’s atomic bomb tests in Alaska and end up inventing environmental activism. Sundance described it as a “hippy-heist” movie and nothing could be more accurate. The film is an inspiration and proof that a handful of people can change the world. We would love the opportunity to screen the film when it is released later this year. Pop Up Docs were also fortunate enough to attend a seminar featuring ROTHWELL producer Al Morrow, editor Jim Scott and archive producer Elizabeth Klinck, which explored the making of this incredible film – an incredible story in itself. If the revolution was disorganised then the archive footage was a shambles! From listening to the filmmakers discuss the production of the film, they gave the impression that the journey through various archives strongly helped form the narrative of this film.

As well as the opportunity to view copious amounts of quality documentary films and develop an exciting screening schedule for Pop Up Doc’s year ahead, Sheffield Doc Fest is a great place to network.

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The bars are full of film programmers with whom to share ideas and notes of films seen – and with filmmakers who are keen to discuss different ways of screening their films. But one of the most interesting discoveries we made this year was a Swedish group who share almost identical ideals to ourselves. The INFLUENCE FILM CLUB was born out of the belief that great documentaries deserve to be seen and talked about – something we couldn’t agree with more. They operate more like an umbrella organisation for book-club style film clubs, but as their values are so similar, we were able to share many ideas and tips. They create learning and discussion documents for films to be used within small groups, a little like the leaflets Pop Up Docs provide at the start of our screenings. We hope to be able to collaborate with Influence Film Club in the future.

The Doc Fest is a hub of creative talent and attending the event has helped Pop Up Docs to develop an inspiring new schedule of screenings for the season ahead as well as allowing us to meet with some of the most important minds in documentary filmmaking today. Thank you Film Hub South West for making it possible for us to attend!

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