There was a surprising amount of films commissioned directly for television playing at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year, several already broadcast, and many being aired very soon. So, this week, from the comfort of your home, you can play catch-up and watch a selection of the best suggestions.
A quick glance at the Storyville home page shows that tonight on BBC4 at 10pm is Prodigal Sons, which follows an old football hero who is now a post-operative transgendered lesbian woman, home for a school reunion, and was the film my festival comrade James Newton recommended most. In next Monday’s slot is Elizabeth Stopford’s touching film I’m not Dead Yet about an inheritance battle within her family, and apparently there is a twist in the middle that changes your perspective on everything. Strangely the film that played in last Monday’s slot, Operation Iraqi Filmmaker, played at Sheffield a whole year ago, and was picked up as an acquisition there, to be aired much later than its festival outing.
The slick opening night film Thriller in Manila is playing on True Stories tomorrow at 10pm, and already played at BritDoc earlier this year. It goes behind the scenes of the famous Muhammad Ali fight with Joe Frazier, from Frazier’s rarely heard perspective of who Ali was and how he operated through intimidation tactics. There is some amazingly strange archive footage unearthed which shows Ali joking with the Klu Klux Klan affectionately. The film really informs how the myth of celebrity can be created and how we can buy into an idea of a sports hero and happily ignore some ugly and brutal truths about their behaviour and attitudes. James Toback’s Tyson documentary, which I saw recently at the London Film Festival not Sheffield, similarly delves behind the headlines propping up a later heavyweight champion. Toback has been close friends with Tyson for over 20 years, but rather than use that relationship as the basis of the film, he decided to go in the opposite direction, and have Tyson’s perspective on himself singularly. There is no denying the charges laid against him, and so the film operates in almost the exact opposite way to Thriller in Manila by reinforcing Tyson’s strength and skill in the ring, despite the activities outside of it.
Next Sunday night sees the screening of Morgan Matthews’ new film The Fallen. It’s an epic tribute to, and about, the people who serve in the British Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both Morgan Matthews and the exec Steve Hewitt (who also chairs the Sheffield board of directors) questioned the proposed length, but Richard Klein insisted it should be an expansive three hours, and so it stands proud as the most ambitious single documentary commissioned by the BBC. The film works wonderfully, attention never swaying, and I heard reports that the entire cinema was crying throughout the screening – just to warn you. Touching tales, told compassionately. Lastly, although not screened at Sheffield, I was chatting to Zac Beattie who’s Cutting Edge film Rich Kid, Poor Kid plays this Thursday. It’s about two girls who live on the same street, but lead lives a world apart from each other’s existence etc, and is meant to be very good.
Should films that already have a secured broadcast home dominate film festival schedules? Obviously ones that push boundaries, such as length, form and access, have a deserved place, but it was interesting to note the difference compared to last year. For example, Mum, Herion and Me, Jane Treays recently broadcast Cutting Edge, played. It is an entirely excellent film about how to love a daughter who you can’t force help on, who sleeps homeless down the road from the family home to ensure a better routine for all, and who is unable to enjoy birthday pampering without slipping off for a hit, paid for by mum for a bit of peace. The quality of the film is not under question, but previously a television screening would have voided a festival screening because of premiering status issues, and an opening night film would have been a national, if not worldwide premier. What do people think about this – are strict rules relating to where the film has already played becoming outdated in a bid to play the best films?