Documentary film has often used the medium to hold a mirror up to the industry and craft itself. From Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man to Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack, documentary has long been the vessel through which film can be further explored and understood. This year, the Doc/Fest film programme contains a handful of documentaries that play with the theme of film, challenging their audience to consider the role of the filmmaker, the audience and the subject. Here are just a few of the documentaries in this year’s programme that centre around film itself - using camera phones, found footage, the video essay and performance along the way.
My First Film
Director: Zia Anger / 75 mins / European Premiere
Zia Anger screens her lost and abandoned works, with live commentary that details the making of, rejections, and lessons that made her the artist and filmmaker she is today. The performance takes place in a movie theater. On the screen is a projection of a laptop screen. Zia sits in the audience, on her laptop, and communicates with the audience exclusively via typing in the Text- Edit application.
Director: Elizabeth Sankey / 78 mins / UK Premiere
Having devoured romcoms as a young teen into womanhood, they have played a leading role in the formation of director Elizabeth Sankey’s identity, and fantasies of love. How does Hollywood dictate what love looks like and who deserves it? In this vibrant essay film, Sankey considers the rules of the game and how the formula has transformed over time. On the night of Friday 7 June, Romantic Comedy will be screened in The Crucible Theatre with a live score from Summer Band.
Director: Aaron Zeghers, Lewis Bennett / 50 mins / European Premiere
After being diagnosed with leukemia in 1993, Danny picks up a camcorder and begins to create a film, with himself as the central character. The lo-fi Vancouver cityscape reflects back an alienated existentialism as Danny grapples with his personal demons, spurred on in the face of his own mortality. Danny - as himself - is impressive, funny, and intelligent enough to have built his own sailboat, but also neurotic and full of regret. What comes forth is a sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-heartbreaking found footage documentary about disease, mental illness, manhood, and the meaning of life.
What We Left Unfinished
Director: Mariam Ghani / 71 mins / UK Premiere
During the Communist era in Afghanistan (1978-1991), films were weapons and filmmakers became targets. But despite government interference, censorship boards, scarce resources, armed opposition, and near-constant threats of arrest or death, Afghan filmmakers kept making films that at times were subversive and, in the filmmakers' opinions, always "true" to life. What We Left Unfinished is the mostly true story of five feature films that were shot, but never edited, during this time, when the stories told onscreen merged with the fever-dreams of constantly shifting political.
Director: Agostino Ferrente / 78 mins / UK Premiere
In this funny and original slice of life film, teenagers and best mates Pietro and Allesandro make a selfie-style doc about their rough Naples neighbourhood, in the wake of the killing of their friend by local police. Encouraged by director Agostino Ferrente, their story is of friendship, loyalty and boredom - and how to keep yourself in the frame.
The Amazing Johnnathan Documentary
Director: Ben Berman / 91 mins / European Premiere
In 2014 the subversive magician John Edward Szeles AKA Amazing Johnathan was given a year to live, but lives on. Ben Berman embarks on making a film about him but it becomes trickier than anticipated. With familiar faces such as Weird Al Yancovic and Eric Andre joining this hall of mirrors, this is an incredibly entertaining documentary, full of twists.