1.6.2020

In the lead up to revealing our full official selection for 2020 on 8 June, we would like to announce:

  • the theme of our annual retrospective: Reimagining the Land, curated by Christopher Small.
  • and three special focuses: 
    • a screening in tribute to the late French West Indies film pioneer Sarah Maldoror;
    • a focus on American artist Lynne Sachs; 
    • a focus on Burkina Faso filmmaker Simplice Ganou.

Tribute to Sarah Maldoror

Sarah Maldoror

(Image: Sarah Maldoror in Berlin, 2017. Photo by Henrich VoĢˆckel)

Following her recent passing from COVID-19 at the age of 90, we pay tribute to the late, great, pioneer filmmaker Sarah Maldoror (19 July 1929 – 13 April 2020). Born of French West Indies descent, she studied at the prestigious Moscow cinema school VGIK, after which she joined the pioneers of the African liberation movements in Guinea, Algeria and Guinea-Bissau alongside her partner Mario de Andrade, an Angolan poet and politician, who was the founder of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

Sarah Maldoror was always on the front line of the anti-colonial struggles and her reputation as a militant filmmaker and black woman is an example and an inspiration for the current urgent struggles all across the globe. 

Starting out as an assistant on The Battle of Algiers, Maldoror became one of the first women to direct a feature film in Africa. She directed more than forty films, mainly documentaries. The political and poetical dimension is outstanding in her work, among them, a number of portraits of artists.

“For many African filmmakers, cinema is a tool of revolution, a political education to transform consciences. It was part of the emergence of a Third World cinema seeking to decolonise thought to encourage radical changes in society”, said Maldoror.

We will present her first short, Monangambée (1969), which shows the cruelty of the colonizing Portuguese authorities in Angola. The film takes its title from the shout of Angolan resistance, meaning “white death”. The Sarah Maldoror screening will include others titles yet to be confirmed and will be presented in Sheffield in the Autumn as part of our Into the World strand.

Focus on Lynne Sachs

Lynne Sachs headshot

(Image: Lynne Sachs)

Drawing on her vast body of works from the past 30 years, we will present a curated selection of films by Lynne Sachs, focusing on the notion of translation as a practice of encountering others and reshaping and reinterpreting filmic language. This focus will be part of the online Ghosts & Apparitions film strand.

Five Lynne Sachs films ranging from 1994 - 2018 – mostly involving creative collaboration with others - will feature as part of our online programme from 10 June.

Her latest film, Film About a Father Who, offers a complex portrait of Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, shot over a period of 35 years, and will make its International Premiere in Sheffield in October, and following that, online, as part of Into The World Film Strand.

Together with the focus, we will present Sachs’ video lecture My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, a fascinating journey through her themes and work.

Focus on Simplice Ganou

Simplice Ganou

(Image: Simplice Herman Ganou)

Simplice Herman Ganou’s films, though few in number, exist as a shining piece of beauty, empathy, and absolute trust in cinema as a way of connecting with the world. Living and working and Burkina Faso, having studied in Senegal, Ganou’s cinema is made with a unique sense of time and place, as in a stroll through the spaces and the words that bind people together. Sheffield Doc/Fest invites audiences to discover this exceptional filmmaker through his first two films - Bakoroman and The Koro of Bakoro: The Survivors of Faso - both of which will be available online from June.

As part of the Autumn programme in Sheffield, we will also host the UK Premiere of The Unknown, Ganou’s latest film. 

Retrospective: Reimagining The Land

curated by Christopher Small

With Reimagining the Land, Sheffield Doc/Fest will reassert the primacy of the land as a critical way of thinking about the world and about its various crises, by confronting historical images of land, agriculture, rural life, and proletarian struggle. 

The films will be presented in Sheffield, a city with a long history of spontaneous social movements, many of which are led by the young people the city is famous for.

One of the films to be presented is widely considered the greatest Indian movie of all time - Mother India (1958) centres on the tribulations of a peasant mother forced to organise her own land and labour once her husband commits suicide.

Another is A Japanese Village (1984), in which the Ogawa Pro collective trained their powers of perception onto the minor rhythms of farm life, producing, in spite of the simple subject matter, what is arguably their greatest and most epic work.

The full programme announcement for our 2020 Official Selection will follow on 8 June. For Digital Industry Passholders, films will be available from 8 June via Doc/Player. For the general public, the online programme will be available from 10 June via Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects platform - home of our curated VOD programme of new films from all over the world. A number of films from the official selection will screen in Sheffield once cinemas reopen in the Autumn and will be available online in parallel.

PROGRAMME ANNOUNCEMENT DETAILS

Tribute to Sarah Maldoror in Into The World in October:

Monangambee

(Image: Monangambée by Sarah Maldoror, 1969)

MONANGAMBÉE

Sarah Maldoror,  Algeria, 1969, 18 min 

Shot in Algeria, this fiction film shows the stupidity and cruelty of the colonising Portuguese authorities in Angola. The wife of a young supporter of Angola resistance visits him in jail. Before leaving, she tells him she will bring him something on her next visit, but the guard watching them hears her words and reports to the head of the prison. As a result of loss in translation, the man is tortured. "Monangambée" is the shout of Angolan resistance meaning "white death". The score was contributed by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Lynne Sachs focus, in Ghosts & Apparitions online:

Drawing on her vast body of works from over the past 30 years, we will present a curated selection of films by Lynne Sachs, focusing on the notion of translation as a practice of encountering others and reshaping and reinterpreting filmic language. Tensions arise from the filmmaker’s memories of Vietnam as a tragic place of war in Which Way Is East…; The Last Happy Day is a portrait of a man who translated “Winnie the Pooh” into Latin and reconstructed the remains of American soldiers; Your Day Is My Night tells of places in New York inhabited by immigrant workers and shaped by their lives and stories; the translation of Barbara Hammer’s images and sounds on a deserted landscape become a poem for her deceased friend in A Month of Single Frames. If translation can be considered the job of filmmaking, these works become a poetic and political tool for widening our view of the world and touching on its complexity, rendering it intimate and available for thought. Between them - Theatre, performance, music and an extremely sensitive and tender camera - compose a body of work that becomes more relevant each day.

WHICH WAY IS EAST: NOTEBOOKS FROM VIETNAM

Lynne Sachs (in collaboration with Dana Sachs), USA, 1994, 33 min

“A frog that sits at the bottom of a well thinks that the whole sky is only as big as the lid of a pot.”

Two American sisters travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, followed by their own ghosts and those of local memories. On their way, they meet a country and its richness - strangers, translations, parables and stories, in a complex landscape. History is put into perspective, as each conversation becomes a true encounter: uncountable possible words to translate what we see and what we hear. The Vietnam they knew from TV is only a tiny part of this world to which they now decide to pay attention.

THE LAST HAPPY DAY

Lynne Sachs, USA, 2009, 37 min

A portrait of Sandor (Alexander) Lenard, a Hungarian medical doctor and a distant cousin of Sachs.  In 1938 Lenard, a writer with a Jewish background, fled the Nazis to Rome. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service hired him to reconstruct the bones of dead American soldiers.  Eventually he found himself in Brazil where he translated “Winnie the Pooh” into Latin, an eccentric task that catapulted him to brief world-wide fame.  Personal letters, abstracted war imagery, home movies, interviews, and a children’s performance create an intimate meditation on the destructive power of war.

YOUR DAY IS MY NIGHT

Lynne Sachs, USA, 2013, 64 min

Since the early days of New York’s Lower East Side tenement houses, working class people have shared beds, making such spaces a fundamental part of immigrant life. A “shift-bed” is an actual bed that is shared by people who are neither in the same family nor in a relationship. It’s an economic necessity brought on by the challenges of urban existence. Such a bed can become a remarkable catalyst for storytelling as absolute strangers become de facto confidants. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of Chinese immigrants in the USA, a story not often documented.

THE WASHING SOCIETY

Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker, USA, 2018, 44 min

When you drop off a bag of dirty laundry, who’s doing the washing and folding? The Washing Society brings us into New York City laundromats and the experiences of the people who work there. With a title inspired by the 1881 organization of African-American laundresses, The Washing Society investigates the intersection of history, underpaid work, immigration, and the sheer math of doing laundry. Dirt, skin, lint, stains, money, and time are thematically interwoven into the very fabric of the film, through interviews and observational moments. With original music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello.

A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES

Lynne Sachs, made with and for Barbara Hammer, USA, 2019, 14 min

In 1998, filmmaker Barbara Hammer had a one-month artist residency in the C Scape Duneshak which is run by the Provincetown Community Compact in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. While there, she shot 16mm film with her Beaulieu camera, recorded sounds with her cassette recorder and kept a journal. In 2018, Barbara began her own process of dying by revisiting her personal archive. She gave all of her Duneshack images, sounds and writing to filmmaker Lynne Sachs and invited her to make a film with the material.

International Premiere of Lynne Sachs’s latest film, as part of Into The World screenings in October:

Film About a Father Who by Lynne Sachs

(Image: Film About A Father Who by Lynne Sachs, 2020)

FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO

Lynne Sachs, USA, 2020, 74 min 

International Premiere

Over a period of 35 years, Sachs shot varied footage  of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering Utah businessman. This is her attempt to understand the web that connects child to parent and sister to sibling. With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, Sachs’ cinematic exploration offers simultaneous, sometimes contradictory, views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. Sachs as a daughter discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal.

Simplice Ganou focus, in Rebellions online:

Simplice Herman Ganou’s films, though few in number, exist as a shining piece of beauty, empathy, and absolute trust in cinema as a way of connecting with the world. Living and working and Burkina Faso, having studied in Senegal, Ganou’s cinema is made with a unique sense of time and place, as in a stroll through the spaces and the words that bind people together. 

Bakoroman is the self designation of homeless children in Ouagadougou, who are neither children nor adults, who wander the streets and roads, and lead a life of their own. These two feature-length films work as a duo: Ganou goes back to one of the protagonists of his 2011 film, and films the adult times of a Bakoroman.

BAKOROMAN

Simplice Herman Ganou, Burkina Faso / France, 2011, 62 min 

Leaving one's family at 7, 12 or 16 years old. Taking up residence in front of a shop, in a video store, outside a bus station. Learning to do drugs, beg, steal, flee, and fight. Making friends and enemies. Integrating into a new world. Five Bakoroman on the road from their village to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's capital city, in pursuit of a better life.

THE KORO OF BAKORO: THE SURVIVORS OF FASO (LE KORO DU BAKORO: NAUFRAGÉS DU FASO)

Simplice Herman Ganou, Burkina Faso / France, 2017, 78 min 

Polo (one of the Bakoroman filmed by Ganou in 2011) has been roaming around Ouagadougou since childhood. At 29, he is the eldest of a group who lives off odd jobs and getting high. A harsh immersion in a reality as rough as the asphalt missing from the streets, the film is above all a view from the inside.

THE UNKNOWN (L’INCONNU)

The Unknown by Simplice Ganou

(Image: The Unknown by Simplice Ganou, 2020)

UK Premiere 

Simplice Herman Ganou, Switzerland, 2020, 12 min 

Simplice Ganou, maker of the beautiful Bakoroman (2011) and The Koro of Bakoro, The Survivors of Faso (2017) - both shown in our online programme - is a uniquely empathic and sensitive filmmaker. The Unknown starts almost as a child’s game: can I make friends in Winterthur? It then becomes a psychological thriller, a drama, a search for redemption - and ultimately a poignant portrait of what it is to feel like a stranger in a new place.

Reimagining the Land - Retrospective curated by Christopher Small:

Mother India by Mehboob Khan

(Image: Mother India by Mehboob Khan, 1957)

With Reimagining the Land, we will reassert the primacy of the land as a critical way of thinking about the world and about its various crises. The rise of the climate movement reflects a growing anxiety about ecological catastrophe, a global disaster that promises to render vast swathes of the world’s land uninhabitable and millions of its population landless. The bulk of this catastrophe was precipitated by powerful corporate and governmental landowners controlling, manipulating, and abusing law and land. Before the current health crisis, young people took to the streets to strike; in the most effective form of urban protest against an all-connected metropolitan world, they block passage through city streets.

The COVID-19 pandemic called for Reimagining the Land. Beyond the logistical issues of hosting screenings, five of which will take place in Sheffield later in the year, we had to ask: how might a retrospective like this one now be received by the public? The response to the crisis has been to fortify existing centres of power, atomise communities, limit the movement of citizens, ban air travel, and curtail commuter routes, often without providing an adequate alternative. Merely watching these movies today, with their alternating wide-open vistas or combative struggle in close quarters, is a subversive act.

One of the films to be presented is widely considered the greatest Indian movie of all time - Mother India (1957) centres on the tribulations of a peasant mother forced to organise her own land and labour once her husband commits suicide. Another is A Japanese Village (1984), in which the Ogawa Pro collective trained their powers of perception onto the minor rhythms of farm life, producing, in spite of the simple subject matter, what is arguably their greatest and most epic work. Sheffield is a city with a long history of spontaneous social movements, many of which are led by the young people the city is famous for.

Reimagining the Land confronts historical images of land, agriculture, rural life, and proletarian struggle. A retrospective, like a rear-view mirror, allows audiences to peer back into the past while hurtling into an uncertain future. These violent or utopian images are tools: history is recovered, buried currents are made visible, and struggle becomes possible once again in however small a way.