Doc/Fest

the bomb

the bomb was another film that I managed to catch at Sheffield DocFest, but something struck a chord with me when watching it as I went back to see it again. (and again later on streaming service through DocFest) And I believe it comes down to sheer audio and visual experience that is the bomb.

It opens in the quite a bizarre way but remains strangely captivating, with a compilation of army parades whilst music pumps. What starts as innocent footage of army parade soon descends into the parading of vehicles and nuclear weapons that is at the disposal of the armies nowadays. But the opening sequence becomes quite seductive as the weapons of mass destruction are paraded whilst The Acid thumps in the background and finishes almost in celebratory fashion as snapshot footage of rockets being fired fills the screen.

As the scene changes, The Acid’s music becomes quite intoxicating as it drives the bomb from one scene to the next. It should be noted that the bomb doesn’t feature a traditional narrative, but rather a compilation of archival footage throughout the sixty minutes of running time, whilst The Acid back the footage with their music.

With the help of this archival footage, Eric Schlosser, Smriti Keshari and Kevin Ford bought to life this audio and visual experience about nuclear bombs. But what becomes the triumph within this film is that the awareness they are bringing to the forefront about the dangers of these bombs that isn’t necessarily common knowledge. This message isn’t forced down your throat either, but shows enough footage for the audience to engage in their own way.

Whilst the opening scene thumps away in this seductive way, the footage of the nuclear weapons failing contrasts that strongly. The failing weapons have an abundance of mishaps, from misfires to failing to stay the course and some even falling from the sky as they fail to take off. This contrast is really powerful, especially as it is a far sight from the innocent-looking parade captured earlier.

the bomb brings an awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, but the way in which this message is presented is the thing that stays with you. You are not force-fed information, but rather the visual and audio experience of the bomb really sticks with you. It’s structure is perfect as well as it shows the contrast from Oppenheimer creating the first bomb to the aftermath of the Japan bombing in the Second World War in some painstakingly striking footage.

Schlosser, Keshari and Ford, with the aid of this structure found a way to tell the story about nuclear weapons keeping it informative and enjoyable, but most importantly, thought-provoking.

Sheffield DocFest 2017: The Work (2017)

On Tuesday evening DocFest hosted it’s award ceremony and announced that the winner of the audience award was The Work. This same film actually picked up the Grand Jury prize for documentaries at South by Southwest film festival, which is really unsurprising considering The Work is potentially one of the most emotionally raw and profound documentaries I have seen in a good while.

Twice a year Folsom State Prison allows members of the public to join with inmates of the prison in an intensive group therapy session for four days. Their aim is to discover lost emotions, or gain closure on sensitive subjects they may not get the chance to do before. The key to this working is that no man is forced to vent or divulge information, but if they offer something the group come together, inmate and civilian alike, to help them move past the all too familiar suppression.

The result of this group therapy? An absolute pressure cabin of four emotionally raw days.

The Work follows three members of the public, Charles, Brian and Chris as they engage in this intensive group therapy session whilst seeking help from the inmates, primarily Vegas and Dark Cloud. But rather than having it centralised through these characters, the inmates alliances are left at the door as they begin to support each other in the group.

This allows for some incredibly footage as Vegas helps Kiki break down his proudly built masculine armour as he pleads that he just wants to cry. The group immediately swarm the former Asian gang member and coach him to tap into his emotions. This becomes a common occurrence throughout as the inmates and civilians alike tread this similar path, each with difference stories to tell.

The group engage in emotional and physical exercises as they help one another, but also themselves to harness the emotions they have been suppressing. The Work becomes incredibly moving, but an interesting look into masculinity as it explores different stories from Dark Cloud’s horrid past, to the intense embrace that captures the rapid heartbeat that matches the audiences after the intense scene.

Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous have managed to effectively capture an emotionally raw film, but filmed it in such a way that the audience almost feel they are sat in on the circle, as you hear the screams and anger from the other groups in the sessions. The fly-on-the-wall filming really works, and The Work is incredibly engaging with the beginning and end results of all those involves in the sessions.

There is an emotional intensity that is so high, it begins to envelope you as you share the emotions with the group, from Kiki’s breakdown to Dark Cloud’s intense internal battle and Chris’ profound breakthrough. Rehabilitation of inmates at prison has always been a testy subject, but Jairus and Gethin proudly finish The Work with anyone that has been through this programme, has never returned to prison, which speaks volumes about the program. After the ninety minutes of viewing, it’s clear to see why as you genuinely feel and see people change through the four days of the intensive group therapy.

Sheffield Doc/Fest: Ulysses in the Subway (2017)

Ulysses in the Subway was a three dimensional experience film, and that was probably the most exciting thing about the film. This experimental documentary introduces the audience to the sounds of the New York City Subway for sixty minutes as it traverses through its routes.

But here’s the kicker, there isn’t any narrative to it, nor actual visuals to accompany, but rather an abundance of soundwaves capturing the audio track we experience. Ulysses in the Subway reminded me of those tracks you can put on to help you relax, like a thunderstorm or the background noise to a coffee shop. But as Ulysses in the Subway drew to it’s close, I realised it was not something I would actively sit down and watch, or listen to.

As I mentioned, there isn’t really a narrative drive held within the film, but there could have been something more interesting to do. There is a sequence where we hear a busker playing steel drums and thanking the people who are donating money, this could have been a starting point and tour around the different buskers on the New York Subway. Not this audio experience of just listening to a train journey clunking its way around New York.

The 3D experience did not really work for me, and the visual representation of the sound began to hurt my eyes after a short while. It was interesting to watch the graphs bounce around to the audio, but it becomes quite monotonous after a short while. To try and keep it fresh, there was images of the old New York Subway spliced into it, but these were few and fair between and did not bring anything other than a change of pace to the visual.

Truthfully, I went into Ulysses in the Subway expecting little and my expectations were still shocked at what unfolded. When compared to the likes of The Bomb and DRIB in terms of experimental documentaries Ulysses is eating their dust. Unless I am missing something about this experience, but it just felt as though it was designed for someone who was missing the sounds of the New York City Subway and needed their comforts, something that I did not require.

Sheffield Doc/Fest: Drib (2017)

There was an unusual draw to Drib, and I still cannot pinpoint what it was. Maybe it was the narrative that is so wrapped up in legal issues, that the director Kristoffer Borgli had to create a fictional energy drink brand just for the film.

At the centre of Drib is Borgli’s friend Amir Asghernejad, a comic from Oslo that went viral by getting people to beat him up. As a result of this and aggressive marketing, Amir was approached by an unnamed famous energy drink brand.

With the marketing world always wanting to be ahead of the curve and in the loop, they contacted Amir to become the star of the new ad campaign centred around his violent videos. However, due to the legality of retelling this story, Borgli created the fictional brand of Drib to retell Amir’s story. And he definitely had fun with it, even going as far as creating an awesome clothing brand (drib.us)

For the next 90 or so minutes, you are wrapped in the ridiculous five days that Amir spent with the marketing team. Borgli chose to fill these minutes with the unbelievably bizarre narrative, the perfect mix of comedy driven through Amir and it is all crafted with a purpose. Borgli’s craft and film knowledge is perfect, as Drib becomes a cinematic adventure with Amir in Los Angeles.

For me, the choice to have the narrative driven through a one-on-one interview with Amir and then recreating his story with Drib in place of this unnamed drinks brand was perfect. It allowed Borgli to exercise his knowledge of film language, but also allowed Amir to do what he does best, and be funny.

Due to the actual narrative and the direction Borgli takes us in, a question raised of whether this is actually the truth, or just a superbly played out ploy by Borgli. But that doesn’t take anything away from how enjoyable Drib actually is, as Borgli recounts Amir’s story with the unnamed energy drink company with the help of actors playing different roles, aside from Adam Pearson who plays himself.

The importance of Drib lies in the impact that marketing has, and the vice-grip that it can hold over someone through NDA’s (Non-disclosure Agreements) or the ridiculous extent some companies may go to just to achieve a ‘good’ marketing campaign. Drib will not go down in history as one of the great documentaries, but it will go down as one of the most interesting due to content but also the impressive use of film language.

It’s worth mentioning that Drib seemed to be an experimental film to some degree, with it blurring the lines of non-fiction and fiction, due to Borgli’s form of narrative telling. This is not helped by the questioning of whether this story it true or not, but after the ninety minutes are up, it doesn’t matter due to the enjoyment of Drib and Amir’s pretty implausible story.