• Aaron Roe

Review: Sheffield DocFest 2022


After two years of a strictly virtual experience, Sheffield DocFest made a triumphant return to facilities, with cinemas absolutely packed full of punters starved of the real thing.


For this writer's first ever festival experience, I managed to catch four films over the course of two days (probably a poor shift, but I’ll do better next time, I promise), all around subjects with wildly different degrees of circumstance and disposition.


Bombarded by complex and layered storytelling, I was allowed into the psyche of people whose lives I was once shamefully ignorant of.


Pongo Calling

Stefan Pongo is long-distance truck driver and patriarch of a Czech-English family living in Manchester, who finds himself as the vocal point of a political movement concerning the rights of Romany people.


When the Czech Prime Minister starts spewing a load of racist observations about the Romany people (an ethnic minority to which Pongo belongs to) on national television, Pongo decides it’s time to speak out, and through the power of social media becomes a political activist, traveling around Europe to spread a message of equality.

This story about a systemic racism that most people are unaware of is as vital as it is harrowing

It’s a delicate film, and director Tomas Kratochvil’s camera gives us a candid portrait of a working class family; we observe them eat, sleep, bicker, build hopes and dreams. Stefan ultimately has a hard time juggling his activism with his family obligations, but this story about a systemic racism that most people are unaware of is as vital as it is harrowing.


In The Court of The Crimson King

Now I’m a sucker for a band documentary- it’s so easy to get swept up in a linear collage of archival footage and interviews. A few minutes into Toby Amie’s documentary and we realise this isn’t your average mockumentary. Aime’s managed to tag along on a tour with prog-rock gods King Crimson, and gets acquainted with the various members of an ever-changing line-up.

The film offers an autumnal insight into the life of an ageing rock star

Even when he isn’t the subject, band leader Robert Fripp dominates the narrative with an obsessive, cantankerous way of working. One of the members of the band even went so far as to compare working for Fripp as a ‘low-grade infection’. Instead of making a simple ‘advert’, the film offers an autumnal insight into the life of an ageing rock star, the need for artistic expression and how to maintain discipline.


Songbirds

I didn’t just dabble in new releases, and the festival offered many opportunities to revisit some essential viewings - like Brian Hill’s Songbirds. Filmed in HMP Downview, a women’s prison in Surrey, Songbirds explores the lives of several innmates by meshing together the cliché’s of a musical. Each inmate, with the help of then poet-laureate Simon Armitage, writes and performs their own numbers that play out like exorcisms of the soul. Each song gives us an insight into the often tragic lives of these troubled women with sometimes darkly comic results.

Hill gives us a scrap or two of hope to keep us going through the bleakness

Even though there’s this overbearing feeling of melancholy throughout, Hill gives us a scrap or two of hope to keep us going through the bleakness.


And Still I Sing

As world leaders continue to go against every ounce of common sense and continue to strip women of their fundamental rights, Fazila Amiri’s film boils the blood. And I Still Sing follows the journeys of three Afghan women involved with the popular show Afghan Star, which would be our equivalent to The Voice or X Factor. Zahra Elham and Sadiqa Madadgar are two of the only female contestants from a very male line-up; despite insurmountable suppression, these young women carry on their backs the hopes and dreams of Middle-Eastern women with unparalleled bravery.

It’s an important film, which in itself feels like an act of defiance

The show's sole female judge Aryana Sayeed is a national star, but that doesn’t stop her from facing the same discrimination as any other female, and the film explores her uphill battle for equality. It’s an important film, which in itself feels like an act of defiance.


sheffdocfest.com