What if the Nazi’s had won? – Sheffield Doc/Fest Day 1 & 2 Round Up

What would it be like to live in a country where the perpetrators of a genocide had not only won, but were celebrated as national heroes, while the survivors continued to live in fear?

Those familiar with Joshua Oppenheimer’s first work The Act of Killing will be familiar with this question, which Oppenheimer returns to in his second film The Look of Silence, which (finally!) had it’s UK premier last night as Sheffield Doc/Fest’s opening film. Both Oppenheimer’s films were shot in Indonesia simultaneously, but where The Act of Killing reveals the “fever dream” perspective of the aging perpetrators, The Look of Silence instead focuses on the stories of the victims and their descendants. In particular we follow optometrist Adi who, one by one, confronts those responsible for his brother’s disappearance and death in 1965. Through Adi’s gaze, at once compassionate and furious, Oppennheimer also targets and confronts us – a Western audience – and our refusal to see the consequences of our global fight against “communism”. As an Australian who has visited and has great affection Indonesia and who knows some of what has happened there and Australia’s part in it, I found the film powerful and personally very affecting. And as a companion of mine said afterward: whatever your preconceptions, it still manages to live up to the hype. The Look of Silence is a masterpiece and cements Oppenheimer’s reputation as one of our most important filmmakers today. I also understand it’s having a ripple effect on a local scale, creating a space for a dialogue in Indonesia that wasn’t there before. Still, the stakes of this film didn’t really hit me until the credits rolled and the screen filled with “Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous”. The personal risks that Adi and the other Indonesian crew members have gone to – literally putting their lives on the line – to get this story out to the world drives home how imperative it is that these stories to be told (Oppenheimer too stated in the Q & A that he is now banned from Indonesia). The festival could not have opened with a more powerful work that also reminds us of the real world impact and potential of documentary storytelling.

That potential extends beyond traditional documentary filmmaking as well: two of my favourite niches of the festival thus far have been the interactive exhibition and the cross over summit: both exploring how new technologies can allow new approaches to storytelling. The interactive exhibition was a blast: like a playbox for digital buffs with the latest in all the toys which we archaeologists love to document our sites with, here out on show for visitors to test out (some only as prototypes, so a bit glitchy). The ones that really caught my eye included the Parrot Bebop Drone with Skycontroller (a commercially available drone that streams live aerial footage and can be controlled from 2km away); the Lytro Illium prosumer field camera (change the focus after you shoot or create a 3D shift); the Intelligent Headset with 3D audio (makes you think zombies are coming up behind you – really #&!*ing terrifying); and the Youtube 360 pocket camera (what it says on the tin). I’d post pictures here for you but I don’t pay WordPress enough for that privilege, so just check out the links below for more details.

The rest of the exhibit addressed how all this technology can actually be applied to interactive documentary storytellling, from slick eBooks to an installation neurogame (it literally hooks you in) to a half live-performance/tweet-based poetry generator (there’s also a VR exhibit but I haven’t explored it there yet). But this is where the real test lies. In the end, the work that struck me most was a little exhibit up the back in the corner called That Dragon, Cancer. That Dragon, Cancer is an immersive interactive story game which is set up and works like a typical video game with a playstation console and chapters instead of levels. It follows the journey of infant Joel Green as he fights against cancer. Joel was a real boy, who passed away at 5 years old, and his story as told here is written and programmed by his parents Ryan and Amy. When they began telling this story through a game playform they believed Joel would survive and the game would be a testimony to his battle, but since his passing the game instead has become both memorial and memoir. It’s simple and beautiful: poetic, reflexive, dream-like, familiar and it hits you in the gut. It’s still in production but as with Oppenheimers work, shows that the most powerful works, no matter the platform, must always find their strength in story.

In other news: cool projects featured at the crossover summit include an interactive comic book tackling India’s rape crisis, and academics using social media to curate serendipity for research. Meanwhile, the jury remains undecided on whether Claude Lanzmann (director of Shoah) is megalomanic at the ‘Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah’ screening and Q & A. And finally, a panel on risk assessments becomes a lot sexier when you’re risks include going undercover, protecting your fixer from persecution after filming, and sneaking rushes illicitly out of a hostile territory.

Favourite phrases of the day:
“There are artists who make stuff and sit back and wait for something to happen; and then there are artists who make stuff and rush it towards the world.” Jake Witzenfeld (Independent Filmmaker) at the ‘Getting a Foot in the Door: Next Steps for Young Filmmakers.’
“What does a large camera on a tripod look like in a war zone? (What does your equipment say about you?” Jezza Neumann (True Vision Production) at ‘This Form Could Save Your Life’ panel.

The Look of Silence: http://thelookofsilence.com/
Parrot Bebop Drone with Skycontroller: http://www.parrot.com/uk/products/skycontroller/
Lytro Illium: https://www.lytro.com/illum/
Intelligent Headset with 3D audio: https://intelligentheadset.com/
Youtube 360 pocket camera: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/133202-do-google-and-youtube-think-360-degree-vr-like-cameras-are-the-next-big-thing
Interactive Exhibition at Sheffield Doc/Fest: https://sheffdocfest.com/view/interactive
Cancer, That Dragon: http://thatdragoncancer.com/
Priya’s Shakti: http://www.priyashakti.com/
Serendipity: http://www.serena.ac.uk/serendipitystories/

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