10 must-see films at the sheffield doc fest

Sheffield Doc Fest returns this June with a strong LGBT strand, the European premieres of two Sundance standouts on U.S. racism and a number of incredible documentaries worth catching. Here's some of our highlights.

by Colin Crummy
23 May 2017, 11:55am

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution
In 1985 Ontario, Bruce LaBruce and GB Jones didn't fit in. On the one hand, there was lesbian and gay culture with its thirst for mainstream conformity; on the other, the punk scene, which rejected everything but old school notions of masculinity. So in a genuine feat of DIY, the two created J.D.s, a zine which simultaneously attacked both positions and helped nurture a new queer punk culture. Queercore, as the movement LaBruce and Jones helped foster was subsequently called, is the subject of Yony Leyser's documentary with contributions from PeachesKim GordonKathleen Hanna and John Waters.

Whitney: Can I Be Me?
Nick Broomfield immerses himself in his cinema to polarising effect. But in this Whitney Houston biopic, the filmmaker stays out of the picture while painting a depressingly familiar, if compelling story of drugs, family, fame, fortune, and decline. There are inevitable, awful parallels to Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse documentary, but where Amy also successfully argued the case for Winehouse's art, Broomfield concentrates on the circumstances that help create Houston's personal hell. Broomfield, director of Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac, will be in conversation at the festival with Louis Theroux ahead of the film's UK premiere on 11 June. That special screening at Sheffield City Hall will be followed by a Q&A between Broomfield and radio presenter Sarah Jane Crawford, followed by a live tribute performance by singer Michelle John.

About 45km outside of Auckland is the former Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital, now reimagined as New Zealand's premier place to go when you want to scare yourself shitless. The country's largest 'scream park', Spookers is a family run business where performers dressed as zombies, clowns and freaks try to scare the paying customers. The European premiere of Florian Habicht's film about the park, the performers, and the nature of fear itself will be shown in an immersive, Spookers-style 1920s cinema, so the audience can test their own fright levels for themselves.

Whose Streets?
This will be the European premiere of Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis' documentary about the social-political fallout of the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brownby police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August, 2014. In Whose Streets?, the two directors and activists immerse themselves in the unrest that followed the shooting, as anger and activism spilled onto the streets of Ferguson.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
Transgender pioneer, Stonewall rioter and mother of drag Marsha P. Johnson is the subject of David France's whodunit doc, which queries the official version of Johnson's death in 1992. Then, the NYC PD were quick to call it suicide, but activist Victoria Cruz is on a mission to find out what really happened. And David France, director of the AIDS doc How to Survive a Plague, is on his own mission to shine a light on the most marginalised in the LGBT community.

Bruk Out!
The women of dancehall get wild in Cori McKenna's documentary about the hyper sexualised, much co-opted Jamaican dance sensation. Bruk Out! follows the women twerking for their life for a chance at the 2014 International Dancehall Queen crown. The director using this competition narrative arc to access the revelatory stories behind the dance moves.

Geek Girls
Think 'geek' and a roll call of nerdy men come to mind, from Mark Zuckerberg to Joss Whedon, The Big Bang Theory boys to Forbidden Planet's typical shopper. This, argues filmmaker Gina Hara, ignores a huge section of the geek community: women. A nerd herself, Hara, sets out to explore the largely uncharted world of nerdy women that takes her into gamer culture, Harajuku girls and the less cute environs of online fakery and death threats.

Famously independent and spotlight shy Dries Van Noten is a surprise addition to the canon of fashion documentaries, but filmmaker Reiner Holzemer gets to follow the Belgian designer during his 30th year in the business as he develops four new collections and prepares for his 100th show.

Strong Island
Yance Ford won a special jury prize for storytelling at this year's Sundance for his searing, intimate memoir of his late brother's death 24 years ago, and deservedly so. For Strong Island not only recounts the killing of William Ford by a young, white mechanic who successfully pleaded self defence, but it also investigates the racism at work, and the grief that followed the catastrophic incident.

Daisy Asquith dug deep into the British Film Institute's vaults to bring to the screen this portrait of gay men and women in the 20th century. With music from Hercules and Love Affair, Goldfrapp and John Grant -- who performs after the opening night screening and who is also the subject of a separate doc by Asquith -- this film is part of a series marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

From 9 - 14 June 2017. Tickets and programme info at sheffdocfest.com


Text Colin Crummy 

Sheffield Doc Fest
Bruk Out
whose streets
whitney: can i be me
doc fest
geek girls
queercore: how to punk a revolution
strong island
the death and life of marsha p. johnson