Festival Preview: Open City Docs Fest 2012 [Ten Recommended Highlights]

on Friday, June 15, 2012
Open City Docs Fest (UCL, 21-24 June '12) // Words: Saam Das

As I type this, and probably as you read this, the Sheffield Doc Festival is ongoing. Unfortunately, I am not there. However, I will be in London for the forthcoming Open City Docs Fest 2012, which celebrates "the best of documentary film in the heart of London". Here are ten highlights of the programme.

Showcasing an astonishing 132 films across 4 days largely at sites across University College London, but also at venues including Cine Lumiere in South Kensington and Hammersmith's Riverside Studios, Open City Docs Fest 2012 is clearly a comprehensive effort. As a former student at UCL, it's extremely pleasing to see the institution at the forefront of documentary film in the UK.

Below are ten highlights from the extensive programme, with a focus more closely on the music-related screenings and events, which I hope is understandable. Undoubtedly, there are many more events that you could and perhaps even should investigate.


'Mission To Lars' (Thur 21 June / 20:40 / Greenwich Picturehouse + Sat 23 June / 15:45 / Darwin Theatre)

One of our most anticipated theatrical releases of June 2012, this documentary charts the journey of Tom Spicer (who has Fragile X) as he and his siblings seek to meet his idol, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. The Picturehouse screening also includes a director Q&A.

'Project Nim' (Thur 21 June / 12:00 / AV Hill Theatre)

One of the most critically acclaimed features of 2011, let alone documentary films, James Marsh's follow-up to Oscar winner 'Man On Wire' examines the story of Nim, a 1970s chimpanzee who was used in experiments to determine if apes could communicate with language in a similar manner to humans. Free tickets are available to over 60s.

'Frankenstein: A Modern Myth' (Fri 22 June / 14:00 / Darwin Theatre)

Danny Boyle returned to stage direction last year with the popular 'Frankenstein' production which saw actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate roles as creature and creator. The show is being screened in selected cinemas, and this behind-the-scenes documentary is a perfect companion, also examining the wider context behind Mary Shelley's novel.

'China Heavyweight' (Sat 23 June / 20:30 / Darwin Theatre)

One of the five nominees for the Grand Jury Award, this documentary follows a Chinese boxing coach as he plucks talent from the impoverished Sichaun province. With the Olympics coming to London mere weeks after Open City Docs Fest 2012, this sporting drama seems an appropriate choice. Perhaps 2012's 'Hoop Dreams'?

'Punk In Africa' (Sat 23 June / 16:30 / SOAS)

African music documentaries seem to be popping up all over the place, with 'Under African Skies', Benda Bilili!, and now the UK premiere of this documentary. Examining the influence and evolution of punk rock as it spread across Africa, but most notably in South Africa, where it is juxtaposed with the political struggle. A panel discussion follows the screening.

'Il Capo: Re-scored' (Sun 24 June / 14:15 / Cinema Tent)

Taking a film festival favourite in 'Il Capo' and giving three different artists the opportunity to compose scores for the short film is a wonderfully intriguing proposition. Billed as part gig/part discussion, this event will explore the nature of audio and visual components and their emotional impact.

'Glastonbury The Movie (In Flashback)' (Sat 23 June / 20:00 / Cine Lumiere)

Originally released in 1988 but now re-edited with 30 minutes of extra footage and a new sound mix, this music documentary is perhaps the best way to experience the Glastonbury experience this year until the festival returns in 2013.

'Undefeated' (Fri 22 June / 20:00 Darwin Theatre)

American Football's popularity in the UK has risen to the extent that the NFL has even started playing the occasional league game here. Of course, it is a much followed sport in the US, which partly helps explain why this underdog documentary triumphed as Best Documentary Feature at this year's Oscars. See it to understand the rest.

'Grandma Lo-Fi: The Basement Tapes Of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir' (Fri 22 June / 18:45 / Cinema Tent)

There's something wondrously whimsical about a documentary that features an Icelandic pensioner who at the age of 70 began recording songs in her living room, using kitchen utensils, toys and pretty much anything she could get her hands on. Seven years later, she had 59 albums to her name and maybe even inspired chop-pop artists Clock Opera.

Alistair Mackenzie (Fri 22 June / 15:00 / Festival Hub + Sun 24 June / 15:30 / Festival Hub)

It would almost be spurious to not end on a live music related note as the festival is offering a selection of artists, such as Fiona Bevan and Antonio Lulic. Our pick has to be the soothing folk sounds of Alistair Mackenzie, impressively impassioned.

For more info and to buy tickets, head to opencitydocsfest.com.

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