150 films = 150 real stories

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MB has returned from Sheffield’s Doc/Fest, a five-day documentary festival dubbed ‘Cannes for documentary people’. Our Editor/Director Jimmy Irwin and Motion Design Director Glen Yeoh joined the festival, with over 3500 delegates, to see the 150 films pushing the boundaries of the documentary format. The event is intense, with the emotional punch that only stories based on true events can provide. Jimmy and Glen’s standout films showcase the breadth of the festival: from ‘Speed Sisters’, about the first Palestinian women’s car racing team (used as a lens to explore the ongoing Palestinian conflict) to the quirky ‘Addicted to Sheep’, and the harrowing ‘The Doctor Leaves Last.’

Just like other media, traditional platforms for documentaries are being forced to adapt to changing viewing habits. New online channels have emerged, encouraging filmmakers to have a more focussed awareness of the audience they are trying to reach. Although some channels, such as The New York Times’ ‘Op Docs’, have found success through curating a specific style of documentary, the genre as a whole still remains a labour of love for many filmmakers.

The advances in tech such as VR, and the opportunities it will create for documentaries, is hugely exciting. ‘Kiya’ recreates a series of real 911 calls in a virtual environment using an Oculus Rift headset. Giving the impression of physical proximity to the ‘characters’ creates a particularly visceral experience and being present in the chilling and factual scenes – but being helpless to intervene – adds a new layer of emotional intensity to the filmmaker’s repertoire.

Throughout the festival one thing was clear – storytelling is the most important aspect of any film. Though new technologies create opportunities, without a focal story to the films, they are reduced to tech demos. It’s an exciting time to make documentaries – new ways to produce and share films are constantly emerging. Festivals such as Doc/Fest are crucial as a platform for new and disruptive filmmakers to challenge the industry.

Image credit: Sarah Burgess, Moving Brands

This originally appeared in Moving World Wednesday 20150617 

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