This year’s documentary strand is a perfect little snapshot of where the world was at as everything came to a shuddering halt in early 2020. It was thought there was little interest in mapping the journey of the pandemic in the intervening period. Instead this programme focuses attention upon a number of unique realities that together will help to engage audiences, in-person and online, with some of the most pressing issues of our time.
From the horrendous legacy of apartheid as experienced in the Johannesburg townships of Tomasz Wysokiński’s harrowing and redemptive Walk With Angels, to the DIY activism and hedonistic celebration of sex positivity and community creation in Harri Shanahan and Sîan Williams’ exuberant oral history of 1980s London’s Rebel Dykes, in the film of the same name, this is a programme that will not shy away from the complexities and nuances of difficult circumstances and complicated individuals.
Two portrait docs are featured in the programme. The Prince of Muck is a world premiere from Dutch doc debutant Cindy Jansen, that transports us to the eponymous Scottish island. For a few generations this island has been the home of the MacEwen family and in the 1970s Lawrence MacEwen made it very much a place at the forefront of eco-conscious agricultural methods, that have since been superseded. Now as the elderly patriarch of the island Lawrence is struggling to relinquish control of how the island should be run, as the world beyond its shores changes at a such a rapid rate.
In stark contrast to this small self-contained world, the club music pioneer Laurent Garnier is very much a global citizen. At the height of his fame in the 1990s, it was not unusual for Laurent to do club nights in Berlin, New York and Tokyo within the same weekend. Emerging from the UK club scene in the late 1980's, Garnier wed together Chicago house and Detroit techno to create a signature blend of club music that went on to influence the likes of Carl Cox, Daft Punk and David Guetta. In Gabin Rivoire’s revealing musical profile, Laurent Garnier: Off the Record, we get to see so much of the charisma and talent that made Laurent one of the first superstar DJs.
The programme further engages with the struggles of communities to contend with a rapidly evolving world, in Jennifer Ngo’s account of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests of 2019 in her debut feature Faceless. This account of young protesters battling the police and the Chinese authorities to preserve democratic freedoms for the island, takes us behind the scenes of a political struggle that asks plenty of uncomfortable questions about the nature of authoritarian regimes in the 21st century.
Finally, the world of work is focused upon in The Gig is Up, Shannon Walsh’ timely cinematic essay on the precarity of so many areas of the contemporary workforce. It is a perfect companion to 2021's big Oscar winner Nomadland, as it scrutinises the practices of Uber, Amazon and Deliveroo, among others.
Screenings of Faceless and Rebel Dykes, available to watch in-person and online, will both be followed by events in our Reel Talks series. Browse the Reel Talks programme.