Bad photo of Albert Maysles. Disclaimer: photographer was too in awe to get closer.Maysles (who made seminal 'Cinema Verite' films with his late brother David, including Gimme Shelter [shown at Branchage 2008], and Grey Gardens), was at Doc/Fest to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award, give a masterclass and introduce a few of his films. Despite being made in 1968, Maysles' Salesman shone out as one of the greatest films in the festival. This portrait of door-to-door Bible salesmen travelling across America in the late 60s is as touching, funny, eloquent, honest and endearing as it is revealing, in its subtle capturing of a time and a place.
We also caught a few early screenings of soon-to-be-released films to watch out for. First up, Life In A Day - a composite of footage of 'everyday life' filmed by the good people of planet Earth on July 24th 2010. Director Kevin Macdonald is a versatile kinda guy - he's won BAFTAs for both docs (Touching The Void) and fiction (Last King Of Scotland), as well as an Oscar for the astonishing One Day In September. Regardless of the type of film he's making, they're always stunning because he really knows how to shape a story and keep the audience enthralled. Life In A Day is no exception - and it's hardly surprising that it runs you through the gamut of human emotion, as it's a film about human lives - the little things, the big things, the mundanities, the tragedies, the sinister, and the loving - all around the world. (Well, around most of the world, but the limits to the footage they got in are more than understandable).
Next, already in cinemas, and highly recommended, Asif Kapadia's extraordinary bio-pic of Formula One driver and Brazillian national hero Ayrton Senna. Senna's magnetic charisma and passion for driving, for his religion, and for life makes his story utterly captivating. Lovers of Formula One should be frothing at the mouth with the glut of race footage in this film, but people who associate F1 with blaring tellies to be avoided on Sunday afternoons (yup, hi, right here) will be equally charmed and mesmerised by the man and by the film.
Strangely enough Calvet also traces the life story of one charismatic, larger-than-life man, but this one was a runaway, gangster's body guard and addict, running his life into the ground, until at his very lowest point - locked in a house in Nicaragua on a three month diet of drugs and paranoia - he discovered that he could purge himself of his torments by painting. There's a long way to go from that point to the man we meet in the film, retracing the crucial moments of his life across the globe and trying to hunt down his long-abandoned son. It's impossible to look away from Calvet and the film, like the man, is fast-paced, brutal in its honesty, colourful and surprisingly sensitive for something that feels so brash.
Another big film at Doc/Fest coming to a screen near you (in August) was Project Nim - again, in a way, a portrait of the life of a man. Except of course Nim isn't a man, he's a chimpanzee, who was raised like a human child as part of a 'scientific' experiment to see if chimps could be taught to use (sign) language to communicate with humans. Well, it's a bit like science, except shockingly irresponsible and ill-advised from start to finish. Nim's story is a tragedy - and Oscar-winning director James Marsh's handling of the chimp's life tale is probably one of the most humane treatments Nim ever received.
Last but not least, a shout out for Just Do It: A Tale Of Modern Day Outlaws. Clearly a film that was challenging to make from start to finish, it's a rare look behind the scenes at activist groups like Climate Camp and Plane Stupid, following them through their clandestine planning sessions to their surprisingly well organised direct action attacks. Don't go to this film to if you're looking to find a discussion about whether activism is an effective way to deal with climate change, but definitely watch it to see some properly passionate people who are fed up with feeling impotent in the face of global problems, and so take matters into their own hands. The surprising meat in this story isn't so much about young 'uns chaining themselves to railings and breaking into power stations (impressive as that is), but about police powers to silence the dissenting voice - hair-raising to say the least.
Brilliant festival, run seamlessly, thanks in no small part to the lovely atmosphere fostered throughout and Doc/Fest's legion of wonderful volunteers.