Festival Review: Open City Docs Fest 2012

on Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Open City Docs Fest (21-24 June '12, London) // Words: Saam Das

The second annual Open City Docs Fest took place once again in London this past week, showing an incredible 132 films over its 4 day course. Largely based at University College London but taking in venues such as Cine Lumiere and Riverside Studios, the film festival was a success, doubling its attendance from last year.

Unfortunately, work and other preoccupations restricted the number of events that I could attend but I still caught a good many of our ten highlights of the festival. In particular, I missed out on the winner of the Grand Jury Prize, '5 Broken Cameras', which also won the Audience prize at Sheffield Doc/Fest. However, New Wave Films have picked up the film for UK distribution so we can all catch it soon.

My Open City Docs Fest 2012 began with the London premiere of quirky Icelandic documentary 'Grandma Lo-Fi: The Basement Tapes Of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir' - highlighting the prolific work of a grandmother who began recording songs at home at the age of 70 before retiring 59 albums later. The film utilises fantastic animated transitions as well as cute music videos about the lady in question, featuring a host of other Icelandic musicians, including FM Belfast.

While my opening film was a pleasantly whimsical, 2011 Best Documentary Feature Oscar winner 'Undefeated' was anything but. A moving portrait of a Tennessee high school football team and their passionate volunteer coach. Hilarious moments are offset by troubling interactions resulting in a powerful, 'Hoop Dreams'-esque effort.

Pretty much my most eagerly anticipated theatrical release of recent times, 'Mission To Lars' explored Fragile X patient Tom Spicer on his sibling-led journey to meet his hero, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Although anti-climatic in some respects, the film is surprisingly funny and expectedly touching.

A passionate, enlightening panel discussion followed the 'Mission To Lars' screening with co-director Kate Spicer explaining the difficulty of funding the film - particularly, when it was pitched as a television production. As learning disabilities go, Fragile X wasn't considered "sexy" enough. Nonetheless, the rest of us are glad that the film got made.

Popping over to the Cinema Tent, I managed to catch some of the Happy Hour short films, hosted by the Kitchensink Collective. A special highlight was 'I Met The Walrus', the Oscar nominated short from Josh Raskin - an animation based on an interview with John Lennon.

Another special event in the Tent was the rescoring of 'Il Capo' - in his introduction for 'Undefeated' festival founder Michael Stewart had singled out the event as one to go to. And his words were heeded in a packed out tent, which saw Strangelove, the London Contemporary Voices choir and Revere band members Jonathan Fletcher and Ellie Wilson each score the short film in different ways.

Of the three scores, the one that resonated most emotionally for me was the rousing work of the London Contemporary Voices choir, although each had their own merits. Composer Harry Escott provided fascinating thoughts on the notion of scores as part of a film - primarily seeing his job as one of "translation" and the idea of 3D films overloading our senses.

'Revenge Of The Electric Car' was my final event of the festival, a follow up to Chris Paine's 2006 documentary, 'Who Killed The Electric Car?'. His latest effort sees the electric car revived both independently and at the big manufacturers, charting its ups and downs in an episodic fashion. Is the electric car the shining beacon of the automotive industry as suggested here? I'm not so sure.

Indeed, the panel discussion which followed offered some interesting points - most obviously with regards to the total cost of ownership of the vehicles, whose batteries need replacing every few years. Designer Marianne Bailey suggested she has the key, with a low-cost urban vehicle that is yet to be revealed. As much a mystery as the potential of the electric car.

Aside from the curiosity of attending a film festival largely based in my former university lecture theatres, and the occasional poor time-keeping, Open City Docs Fest was a greatly enjoyable and informative festival. The welcoming atmosphere means we'll definitely be attending again next year. You should join us.

Find more info about the Open City Docs Fest at opencitydocsfest.com.

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