Since last year’s festival the world has changed, a lot. We have seen an uprising in the Middle East, the Occupy movement showed their strength and the WikiLeaks saga is still ongoing. This year the Sheffield Doc/Fest programme includes five films about the freedom of speech, a right we should all be granted equally.
One of the strengths of documentaries is that they can bring about change. A change in attitude, behaviour, culture or even in the legal sense; bring about political change. This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have the right to freedom of speech. The following five films, amongst which a European and UK premiere, all show us the importance of this right.
We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists
Dir. Brian Knappenberger | USA 2011 | 89 mins
Few people cite Scientology as a force for good in their lives – outside of Scientologists themselves, of course. But it was communal hatred of the creepy cult – and their bullying, litigious online presence – that forced the hacktivist group Anonymous from a culture of pranksters to an influential cyber-army. As a number of the group’s most prominent activists face over-the-top prison sentences, director Brian Knappenberger explores the history of the radical collective, and how it rose from a patchwork of bloggers, to become an influential change-agent in the Arab spring. Inevitably with such an amorphous, all embracing group, schisms endure. Most want to use their numbers to promote civil disobedience and curb some of the world’s excesses. But others simply want to continue to cause anarchic mischief online, or as one of this doc’s many entertaining commentators puts it: “If you’re not out there making epileptics have seizures, then you’re a moral fag”.
Thursday 14 June, 21.00 & Saturday 16 June, 14.15
High Tech, Low Life (European premiere)
Dir. Steve Maing | USA 2011 | 88 mins
A young man is standing chest-deep in a grassy field poring over an electronic tablet. Living in the neglected backwoods of China, Zhou Shuguang (alias “Zola”) is one of more than 500 million Internet users in the country. Harnessing the power of instant information access and dissemination through networks like Twitter, he and other citizen journalists have learnt to bypass the strict codes of conventional Chinese media to provide readers with first- hand, unmediated accounts. Tiger Temple, a 50-something activist with a legacy of political persecution in his family, reports on plights faced by farmers in the agricultural hinterland, whereas Zola, a back-chatting blogger with a slightly inflated ego, gravitates towards more urban and sensational stories. Co-producer & editor of the award-winning Lioness, Stephen Maing follows them over an extensive period, through arrests, airport inquisitions, and nagging parents. It’s a fascinating, all-access story of how two people fueled by idealism cope with pervasive state control.
Saturday 16 June, 10.15 & Sunday 17 June, 15.15
5 Broken Cameras
Dir. Guy Davidi & Emad Burmat | France, Israel, Palestine 2011 | 90 mins
It’s a sad reality for Emad Burnat that one of the first phrases mastered by his toddler son Gibreel, is “the wall”. Burnat has the misfortune to be living in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, which Israeli settlers, protected by aggressive Israeli army, are attempting to make their own. Although he first bought a camera to film his family, he also begins recording the increasingly chaotic scenes taking place in the beautiful landscape outside his house. When his camera is broken, he moves onto another one – five years yielding five broken cameras, giving the film its title and chapter structure. Although he never planned to be a film-maker, Burnat proves to be both a brave and an extraordinary one, keeping his camera rolling amidst frightening scenes of unpredictable aggression, often aimed at himself, in a film richly deserving of its many awards.
Friday 15 June, 12.45 & Saturday 16 June 12.45
Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (UK premiere)
Dir. Fredrik Gertten | Sweden 2011 | 90 mins
When Frederick Gertten’s film Bananas was accepted into the Los Angeles Film Festival, he was delighted. An examination of food giant Dole’s devastating use of pesticides in Nicaragua, the film would be having its world premiere in the same city as Dole’s global headquarters. Then the “cease and desist” letters started arriving. Despite not having seen the film, Dole was determined to control the narrative around it – and cast Gertten as an unscrupulous spreader of lies. Not content going after Gertten and his tiny cohort of colleagues; Dole began bombarding the LAFF itself, from the organisers to journalists and sponsors, with shocking results. Shrewd enough to recognise he was in the midst of a quickly unfolding David vs. Goliath story, Gertten does what any self-respecting documentary maker does – he starts filming. The result is a front row seat to a spectacular display of corporate bullying – a must-see film for anyone interested in the right to free speech in an increasingly nasty world.
Saturday 16 June, 17.00 & Thursday 14 June, 11.45
Shadows of Liberty
Dir. Jean-Philippe Tremblay | UK 2012 | 93 mins
Jean-Phillippe Tremblay examines how the media in the US is in the controlling hands of a handful of commercial enterprises exercising extraordinary political, social, and economic power. Having always allowed broadcasting to be controlled by commercial interests, the loosening of media ownership regulations that began under Reagan and continued under Clinton has led to the horrifying present scenario where five mega companies today control the vast majority of the media in the United States. These companies, with their endless corporate concerns, not only don’t prioritise investigative journalism among their media holdings, but in fact actively clamp down in it. Tremblay illustrates the disastrous consequences that have befallen the few journalists willing to stick their heads above the parapet. The nefarious nexus of the military-industrial complex and the news media which paved the way for the Iraqi war is just one example of the tragic legacy of a country which continues to put corporate interests above public good.
Saturday 16 June, 15.30