December 9, 2019

Film Festival day 2 review: A pentuple bill of films and a double bill of parties at #sheffdocfest

Everyone knows watching two films in a row is a double bill and is one of the best ways you can spend your time. But what is it called when you watch five films back to back? A pentuple bill? a quintuple bill? Either way, how do you prepare yourself for such a marathon? An athlete would warm up – the idea being to do a little of what's coming to get yourself used to it. Logically then I should sit in a dark room for a while. Logic's not all it's cracked up to be. Instead I had a Bangladeshi breakfast and wandered in the bright morning sunlight to Sheffield's Showhouse cinema.

The first screening of the day was at 10.15. That's a very civilised time compared with Cannes where the films start at 8.30am. The film had two names in the title. Someone and someone. Albert and Joachine? No, Alfred and Jakobine. The story of a man who once travelled around the world in what is called a London taxi, directed by Jonathan Howells and Tom Roberts.

Before that though was an hilarious short animation by Ainslie Henderson. A Christmas Memory is the simple tale of his surprise over a bizarre event that occurred when he and his brother were young. His mother wants to have a family photo taken. Perfectly normal you might think, except she wants everyone to be in the nude. Ainslie replies on behalf of them both that they are not interested where upon – to his horror – a less inhibited younger brother strips off and happily rushes into shot. The doll-like animations are attractive, the tale simple, odd and amusing.

But back to Alfred and his 'London taxi'. The vehicle is nothing like that which the phrase London taxi conjures up for anyone who has been to London. Alfred, a white bearded loner had honeymooned with his wife Jakobine in Morocco. On a whim they bought a car from a couple of Brits and drove around the world. On their return to the USA in the early Sixties Alfred left Jakobine.

For the purposes of this documentary he decides to drive to New York from his house in New Mexico to see Jakobine. In the same old car, which hasn't moved for forty years. He takes his and Jakobine son Niels with him. Luckily for the film Alfred seems to have taken plenty of 8mm film on his first travels. These shots are mixed with interviews with Jakobine and her new husband, shots of Alfred and son sorting out the jalopy and setting off again.

The film is marred by too much incidental music that cuts in behind both interviewees and the archive footage of Alfred and Jakobine on their long honeymoon. It feels as though the whole film exists for the reaction of Joachine when she sees Alfred and the taxi arrive at her house, uninvited as she points out. Otherwise it is a story most of interest to those in the film and their close friends.

After catching part of an outside screening in the sun – an archive documentary about the benefits of cycling – it was back to the Showcase for the second feature of the day at 12.45pm. No amusing short this time, instead straight into another tale of the Libyan revolution – the most filmed conflict in history. Even the shots of fighting on screen in Point and Shoot show other rebels filming what is happening. Marshall Curry is the director but he is using footage shot by Matt Vandyke.

Before joining the Libyan rebels Vandyke was an aimless Westerner and the film does make you think so that's what would have happened if I'd fallen in with some Libyans at uni. An interview shot at his home in Baltimore is interspersed with some of the hours of footage he shot on his travels and at war. Before fighting he had ridden 35000 miles round parts of Africa on a motorbike and his story takes him through capture and solitary confinement to rebel success and CNN news bulletins. American goes to fight in Libya and films everything that happens will clearly have exciting moments, and much of Curry's job was to select the best of the footage to tell the tale. Digitised or animated footage replaces those parts of the story where Vandyke was not able to film. It is another look at a well covered conflict, but from the unusual perspective of an American member of the rebel forces. Vandyke has OCD and narcissistic tendencies which further colour his experiences. This is a man who knows his girlfriend and mother have been terrified whilst he has been in prison in Libya, but can still – on his unexpected release – not go home to see them but stay on in Libya with his Libyan friends. It makes a personal film that doesn't look at the broader issues of the conflict but focuses on the experiences of one man, who takes his mental issues with him across the world.

To the smaller Screen 2 for the world premiere of ex-tabloid journalist Rich Peppiatt's debut film One Rogue Reporter. Resigning in 2011 from the Daily Star he gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, giving a view of the newspaper industry that was far from complimentary. In his debut film he goes undercover as an old fashioned newsman in a trench coat and with a press card in his hat. In this guise he pulls stunts on tabloid editors that reflect the tricks they or their papers have played on other people.

With Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan amongst the interviewees, and funny stunts it is an amusing and short film, coming in at 55 minutes. With co director Tom Jenkinson he has made a lighthearted work about a serious subject, that makes the issue of press regulation and behaviour relevant. But it does use the same methods that it is critiquing, invading the privacy of men such as Kelvin Mackenzie, Paul Dacre and other tabloid editors. Presumably privacy should apply to everyone, so although One Rogue Reporter is a funny film it is based on a flawed eye-for-an-eye, or rather, kiss-and-tell-for-a-kiss-and-tell sense of justice.

The Dog tells the back story of the criminal events dramatised in Al Pacino's movie Dog Day Afternoon. Directed and produced by Allison Berg and Frank Kerauden it features the perpetrator himself. John Wojtowicz introduces himself as The Dog. He seems to have taken the nickname from the film but that isn't clear. What is clear is that he revelled in the notoriety and enjoyed making the documentary.

Based on an interview in which he justifies his bank robbery, the filmmakers have followed the failed bank robber and 'admitted homosexual' around New York as he points out where he got married, his first flat and other landmarks in his life. For reasons not made obvious but concerning the lack of a fair trial he has got out in much less than the 20 years to which he was sentenced. The film doesn't explicitly mention how long he served.

The filmmakers take Wojtowicz back to the bank. He loves it, but then this is a man happy to walk around in an I robbed the bank t shirt. The event is famous for being filmed and the media being in attendance as it happened. There is lots of archive for filmmakers to use, so it is a relatively easy story to tell. It didn't really need telling and Wojtowicz certainly didn't need the extra coverage. Like the Great Train Robbery, there were repercussions for other people. A young man was shot dead in the botched aftermath, even if it was by FBI agents.

The Dog has made me less keen to watch Dog Day Afternoon itself, which finishes off the day's films. But you don't often have the chance to see a double bill of movie and documentary about movie. I remember Sidney Lumet's heist gone wrong movie as being worth the time. Actually it's mainly about locking and unlocking a bank door. With a bit of shouting across the street to the cops in a barber shop. Al Pacino gives an attention-grabbing performance as Dog, but it isn't the deluded John Wojtowicz of the documentary. On this viewing it appeared unnecessarily long. Given the film starts with the inept criminals parked outside their target and about to go in, 125 minutes is a long time to fill with vacillation. The screening wasn't busy, whereas all the non-fiction screenings have been packed out. They like their documentaries in Sheffield.

Day 2 ended with a couple of parties. One sponsored by VICE at PLUG had thumping music, filmmaker dancing and free Grolsch. The other at the Millennium gallery featured South African DJ Clive Bean and pink lighting. Take your pick, or – purely in the interests of research you understand – go to both.