Review – The 22nd Aldeburgh Documentary Festival

A weekend of documentary delights – a smorgasbord of filmatic treats – an extravaganza of celebrity presenters. The Aldeburgh Documentary Festival is a must for those that are serious consumers and/or practitioners of films about the world in which we live and those who work and play within it.

I’ve been attending for the last five years and it’s not something I would willingly miss. Facilitated by actress Diane Quick this festival has grown and grown – and due to her hard working team and her personal influence and network, attracts now some of the biggest names in the world of documentary film making.

From the most influential in the White House to the most humble in the back hills of Nepal, this year’s theme was about those who strive to be more than they are – to face immense challenges even if they don’t overcome – those with a heart and a vision that is bigger than themselves.

Opening night saw the screening of Dutch born Maurice Dekker’s film Ants on a Shrimp following the extraordinary journey of world renowned Copenhagen restaurant NOMA to the heart of Tokyo as they attempted to take their unique take on food into the Japanese culture. Founder Rene Redzepi was a cross between Hester Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsey – his vision are dishes made with whatever ingredients can be found in the area – including bark leaves, roots and insects to make strange taster dishes some of which defied belief. Dekkers himself is a celebrity presenter in Holland as well as an entrepreneur whose fair trade chocolate bars have become bigger than Nestle in the Netherlands.

The next day saw the morning session packed for Joanna Lumley in Conversation with documentary film maker Vanessa Engle. Facing some searching questions from Engle which she elegantly batted off we looked at clips from her documentary work going right back to the 1990’s.

In the afternoon in conjunction with the poetry festival was a screening of a film about American poet and activist Robert Bly, A Thousand Years of Joy , a man from humble begins in the mid west who became an influential literary voice as well as campaigner and whose men’s movement ‘Iron John’ swept The States in the 90’s.

Life, Animated in the evening, a film about autism into adulthood, was presented by playwright Nick Deer whose own son Pascal suffers from the same condition. This film focused on Owen Suskind – a young 23 year old who’s childhood was blighted by his state of being locked away within his own world unable to communicate with his family until one day they discovered they could unlock his prison by communicating through Disney cartoon films – all of which he knew off by heart. The film looked at him as an adult who wanted to live independently – and was illustrated by beautiful animations of his own drawings about his childhood.

Sunday morning saw a timely heavy weight panel discussion about the state of American politics and the rise and fall of Barak Obama led by journalist and presenter Nick Robinson in conversation with Norma Perry maker of the recent BBDC series Inside Obama’s White House.

The afternoon was a delightful session – journalist and presenter John Sergeant interviewing Louis Theroux about his life and work with clips from his documentaries and culmination in the presentation  of the festival’s Life Time Achievement Award.

The festival finished with a wonderful film presented by Bill Nighy about a girls football team in the remote hills of Nepal, Sunakali – A Teenage Girls Journey to Glory, and how it has changed the way girls are viewed by their villages – giving them more equal status with the boys in education

There were also screenings upstairs in the bespoke studio for those who wanted films of a more indie flavour.

A thoroughly interesting and informative weekend and one I would urge you to seek out next year.

Suzanne Hawkes

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