Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014: Archive-Based Stories Trump Muckraking Exposes
Alfred and Jakobine, via Sheffield Doc/Fest
On the second day of Doc/Fest, I didn’t take in any special events of the sort I began with. And unless you count being nearly run over by a gang of 10-year-old hooligans on Razor scooters, my non-screening experience was rather unexciting. This was my time for a full day sitting in auditoriums discovering films I’d previously never heard of. A lot of Sunday’s programming included a number of great docs I’d already seen (such as 1971 and Point and Shoot) so I navigated the non-familiars. That can be a gamble, but I think even if I didn’t love most of what I saw on Day 2, I feel I had a well-balanced marathon of films I’m glad I saw.
Here are some brief thoughts on each title, ranked in order of my favor:
Last Days of Vietnam
I had actually heard of this one ahead of time, and Nonfics has even featured a review of the doc, which is about the American evacuation of Saigon in April 1975 and is the latest from director Rory Kennedy (Ethel). My initial takeaway is that it’s remarkable how much footage exists of these events, especially from the final hours and throughout the airlifts. At one point, one of the interviewees today admits that he can’t describe what the overcrowded ships looked like anchored around Con Son island – and he doesn’t have to, because we can watch the clips. Seeing a film like this makes me madder about having to watch the same iconic shots used over and over in other docs whenever there’s a mention of the war’s end.
That said, sometimes even Kennedy’s use of certain archival material feels randomly selected. It’s a film for which visuals are background illustration for talking-head storytelling as opposed to narrated caption of what we’re seeing. Much does go hand-in-hand with what the interviewees are talking about, however, and although the gist of what was going on can seem overstated throughout the historical recall, there are a handful of truly amazing specific accounts here. It’s the one definite must-see doc of the five features and one short I saw yesterday.