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Senses of Cinema Reviews the 27th Sheffield Doc/Fest

Reimagining the Film Festival Landscape in the Time of a Global Pandemic: The 27th Sheffield Doc/Fest
by Sofie Cato Maas
July 2020
Festival Reports
Issue 95

Cinema is one of those rare forms of art where the relation and tension between aesthetics and ideology, past and present, and formalism and realism, come forward. In such times when the lived reality seems to surpass fiction, hence becoming too hard to grasp, this duality between harmony and dissonance that cinema embodies can offer the spectator a way to relate to whatever it is they live through. Now that most film festivals have had to cancel their upcoming editions or reshape them online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the self-reflexive questions that has been raised by this new reality, is what cinema can offer the spectator in a time of crisis. How does cinema and the realities that we are presented with on screen, fit within the kind of uncertainty that we live through? Cinema has always been a way for me to comprehend feelings I do not fully understand. Where words seem incompetently inadequate, cinema manages to grasp those incomplete thoughts and indescribable fears and desires that roam the unconsciousness, through its synthesis and interdependence of images, sounds, and words – a medium perfect for grasping our ambiguous relation with the real. That this is one of cinema’s unique qualities was also palpable in this year’s program of Sheffield Doc/Fest.

The 27th edition of the UK’s largest documentary festival, the first year under the leadership of Doclisboa’s former director Cíntia Gil and her new artistic team, took place on an online film platform called DocPlayer. The whole program presented on this platform, of which I can only highlight a small section here, is firmly rooted in both historical and contemporary actuality and closely interwoven into the conflicts and contradictions that we are faced with now, thus manifesting cinema both as consolation and a radical platform for change.

There are several main themes that become visible and weave through all the strands, yet they all relate to one concept that has suddenly become of greater importance than before the pandemic: namely the landscape and how it represents change, history, memory and, above all, displacement. The Ghosts & Apparitions section occupies a unique position by offering an inventive context surrounding contemporary new documentary cinema, while simultaneously creating parallels between the present and the past. This strand forms an investigation into cinema’s representation of history and its ability to alter it alongside memory and the spectators’ vision of reality. Cinema’s visual flexibility makes the invisible visible as it forces its spectators to look at reality in a different way.

The festival also created special focuses dedicated to the work of three pioneering directors: the legendary anti-colonial activist and poet Sarah Maldoror, Lynne Sachs and Simplice Herman Ganou. As a tribute to Maldoror, who sadly recently passed away due to the COVID-19 virus, the festival will show her celebrated short Monangambée (1969), and other programming, later this year in cinemas, as part of the Into the World strand.

Both Sachs and Ganou are directors that use cinema to investigate the complicated relationship between the camera and the human body – going beyond the human body as an articulation of ideas and concepts. With the video lecture My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, Sachs created an online journey through her work to explore the way in which the human body features in her cinema, addressing gender, sex, race and generational differences. In it, Sachs guides us through the versatility of her body of work, returning mostly to the question of to what extent it is possible – or should it be possible – to explore yourself (as a film/documentary maker) in your film in relation to whatever the subject of the film you are making is. The lecture interrogates what it means for the camera to analyse the human body and what it means that the body that is in power when filming, the filmmaker’s, is entirely invisible.

My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World by Lynne Sachs

How do we negotiate the photographing of images that contain the body? What experiential, political or aesthetic contingencies do we bring to both the making and viewing of a cinema that contains the human form? If a body is different from our own—in terms of gender, skin color, or age—do we frame it differently? As a juror at the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival, New York filmmaker Lynne Sachs will guide her audience through her own evolution as a filmmaker by sharing excerpts from her films, from 1987 to the present. She will explore the fraught and bewildering challenge of looking at the human form from behind the lens.

With selections from:
Drawn and Quartered (4min) San Francisco, CA | 1986 | 4 | 16mm 
Sermons and Sacred Pictures: the Life and Work of Reverend L.O. Taylor (29min) Memphis, TN | 1989 | 29 | 16mm
The House of Science: a Museum of False Facts (30min) Tampa, FL/San Francisco, CA | 1991 | 30 | 16mm 
A Biography of Lilith (35min) San Francisco, CA | 1997 | 35 | 16mm
Window Work (9min) Owego, NY | 2000 | 9 | video 
Wind in Our Hair (Con Viento en el Pelo) (40min) Buenos Aires, Argentina | 2010 | 40 | 16mm and Super 8mm on video
Same Stream Twice (4min) Baltimore, MD/New York, NY | 2012 | 4 | 16mm 
Your Day is My Night (64min) New York, NY | 2013 | 64 | HD video and live performance 
And Then We Marched (3min) Washington, D.C. | 2017 | 3 | Super 8
A Year in Notes and Numbers (4min) New York, NY | 2017 | 4 | digital 
Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor (8min) New Paltz, NY/ New York, NY/Kristinehamn, Sweden | 2018 | 8 | Super 8 and 16mm film to digital 
The Washing Society (44min) New York, NY | 2018 | 44 | digital

Presented at:
• 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival – LIVE STREAM

• Punto de Vista Film Festival 2020 (Spain) – Cancelled due to COVID-19

Mana Contemporary (Jersey City, NJ) – Postponed due to COVID-19

Shapeshifters Cinema (Oakland, CA)

See images from the film here:

Lynne Sachs on Jury for 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival


We’re incredibly excited to announce the selection of three esteemed jurors for the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival, scheduled for March 24–29, 2020. The three will attend the six-day festival, viewing more than 120 films in competition and awarding roughly $22,500 in cash and in-kind awards. In addition, each juror will present a specially curated program of work during the festival. Check out their bios below!

The 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) will be presented as a free live-streamed six-day event March 24-March 29, 2020! We made the decision to suspend all in-person events for the 58th AAFF due to growing health concerns surrounding COVID-19, and instead present short and feature films in competition entirely online.

The online event will be streamed through Vimeo as a one-time event and will be accessible worldwide. All listed times are in Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -04:00). Moderated live Q&As with filmmakers will be streamed following the film screenings in order to continue discourse between filmmakers and our audience. Jurors will fulfill their commitment of reviewing programmed films in competition in order to confer the $22,500 in awards.

Each program is different. Films are not rated. All programs are intended for mature audiences, unless otherwise noted. Some films have imagery of a stroboscopic nature.


Osbert Parker

Three-time BAFTA-nominated director Osbert Parker is perhaps best known for his signature style of using cut-out animation mixed with live-action to create one-of-a-kind imaginary landscapes within commercials and short films. He directed eight short films for the Channel 4 series Misfits (2012) and co-directed (with Laurie Hill) the short film Sir John Lubbock’s Pet Wasp (2018) for Instagram, based on Untold Stories, commissioned by animate projects and Anim18. As a freelance director, Parker worked at Quentin Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart, as its first commercial director in 1995 and as Steve Barron’s second unit director on Hallmark’s TV feature Arabian Nights. Parker’s short films have received great acclaim on the international film festival circuit. Film Noir was nominated for best short animated film by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in 2006 and was also nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Yours Truly, was awarded Best Short Animated Film at the British Animation Awards. 

Lisa Steele

Lisa Steele is a pioneer in video art, educator, curator, and co-founder of the Toronto-based organization Vtape, an award-winning media center and distributor of video art. She has collaborated with her partner Kim Tomczak since 1983 in producing videotapes, performances, and photo/text works. Their awards include the Bell Canada Award in Video Art, a Toronto Arts Award for media arts, and in 2005, a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Currently, Steele teaches at the University of Toronto as part of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. 

Lynne Sachs

 Lynne Sachs makes films, installations, performances, and web projects that explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together poetry, collage, painting, politics, and layered sound design. Between 1994 and 2009, her five essay films took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy, and Germany – sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions. Sachs has made 35 films, which have screened at the New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney.  Lynne studied history and studio art at Brown University and studied film at both the San Francisco Art Institute and San Francisco State University. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches experimental and documentary film. In 2014, Lynne received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Film and Video. “Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and poet whose moving-image work ranges from short experimental films to essay films to hybrid live performances,” according to filmmaker Kelly Spivey.