Issue 9 February 13, 2010


Article Previews Doc Fest: Taqwacore November 6, 2009

Following a group of self-proclaimed Islamist Punks on a journey across America and Pakistan, Taqwaore poses questions about Islam, the American melting pot, and personal religious identity. The feature length documentary takes viewers into the personal lives of Michael Muhammad Knight and his fellow Taqwacore devotees.

The story starts with Michael, who in 2004 published the book “The Taqwacores”. The underground novel described a fictional Islamic punk movement in upstate New York. As the documentary later explains, Knight wrote the book in order to cope with the religion he had converted to at the tender age of 15. To his surprise, however, this apparently cathartic literary exercise had great online success, ultimately causing young Muslims across North America to start a scene resembling what the book had described. The documentary is a compelling look at the American and Canadian punk kids who struggle to find and walk a line between their traditional culture and the western culture within which they live in.

“Taqwacore” might seem rambling: filmed over three years and without the director putting himself in a prominent narrative role. But far from being a preachy mission documentary, which it might so easily have been, the kids in the film are anything but pedantic or proselytising. Instead, to their credit, they come across as people genuinely striving to find a means of self-expression in, dare I say it, a post 9/11 world, where the difficulties of being a Muslim American can all too easily be assumed. This immediately endears us to the majority of the band members on the Taqwacore tour. Their music, lyrics and passion constantly on show through heartfelt performances of songs with lyrics ranging from the tearfully questioning, “Why do you hate hate hate me”, to the playfully provocative, “Muhammad was a punk rocker, you know tore shit up! Muhammad was a punk rocker. He had a Rancid Sticker on his pick-up truck!”

Director: Omar Majeed

Country: Canada


Dates: 05 November, 14:55 Showroom 3, 06 November, 19:05 SIF Studio

Watch for: Green School Buses, Cannabis Smoothies


Interview: The Beat Is The Law November 5, 2009

Photo by Karl Lang

The Beat Is The Law is the new film from the makers of Made In Sheffield, Eve and Richard Wood. Where their previous film covered the synth pop pioneers of Sheffield in the 1970s, this piece documents a very different scene based in a declining city of the 1980s. Part 1, to be screened at Sheffield Doc Fest in November 2009 tells the early story of the artists who later emerged to be at the centre of UK dance music and Britpop in the 1990s, and the city in which they lived and worked.


Since the period it covers is of one major decline and unemployment in Sheffield, how is the tone of The Beat is the Law different from its predecessor Made in Sheffield?

Richard: Made In Sheffield was about when punk hit Sheffield. It was almost like a year zero for Sheffield, for music, the arts, film makers, the whole lot. A new generation came up and had this opportunity to express themselves thanks to punk. And so Made In Sheffield talked about the naivety of young people just wanting to express themselves and getting really excited about it all and the opportunities that came up for them. Some of them did very well and became very successful out of that initial period of excitement.

Eve: Made In Sheffield, as it opens is like “I still miss it,” it was the best time of their lives. They all look back on it with great fondness, so it had this real feel of being fun. In this film the dads have lost their jobs, there isn’t any optimism. It starts from a totally different premise: The city’s in trouble, everything that was there before isn’t there now.


That’s what seems quite striking about it - that there is a direct parallel between the state of the city and politics, peoples’ lives and the music itself.

R: It seemed to be quite a positive, creative time in the early 80s in Sheffield because you could sign on for as long as you wanted to, you could find derelict warehouses to rehearse in, but at a certain point things started to clamp down in the city. People were politically motivated - with Thatcher people had a nice target to aim for, and I suppose the Miners’ strike was something that was a very pivotal moment. It seemed like some of the people involved in the strike, which included some of the musicians as well - had this sort of optimism, that they could do things, take matters in to their own hands.

With the defeat of the miners, people lost a lot of their energy and motivation. People kind of gave up, what was the point? There was a clampdown, benefits got harder to receive, bus fares went up from 2p, and it’s these elements of freedom of movement, freedom of expression that make things happen.

E: In that sense, it’s how the politics tie in with the music, the miners were fighting not just for their work, they were fighting for their sense of control for a certain way of their communities and their sense of freedom, to have control over their own lives to a certain extent. That’s what the unions are about - you stick together and you’re stronger. And the artists were similar, being able to experiment and express themselves but wanting to have control, so after the miners strike this becomes harder to do. Their freedoms become limited as well, so it’s almost like the miners, this big battle, was on behalf of the whole nation - this is what we are living with now. In Italy and Germany and France, we have read quite a lot of things about the miners strike, and that point of the defeat of the miners is seen as quite a critical moment in history, not because of the miners, but what they were fighting for and the implications that it has had ever since.

Jarvis Cocker. Photo by Karl Lang



It’s interesting to me because it’s almost within my lifetime, and that’s something that you don’t really get a critical approach towards, it usually tends towards nostalgia.

R: We began to make the film in 2005 and we had no idea what was going to happen to the economy and our support. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year with a new government and it’s like, 25 years ago this is exactly what was happening, has nobody learnt anything? It’s coming back to revisit us again.

E: The thing is, back then it happened here in Sheffield and the north, but it didn’t happen in the south and so people think it never happened. I first came to sheffield 15 years ago and I was quite shocked, I though this is a western country with boarded up houses and desperate villages. I had just been to India where you expect povertybut I was more shocked when I came to Sheffield because I thought “this is a western country - what’s happened?” I think what’s important is this film you can’t identify all the little bits, it’s trying to paint a picture using all the art and the music and interviews and stories. It’s illustrating, trying to get a sense of that time, give you a feel of it.

R: Part one introduces you to the characters and sets them into a context of where they came from and what inspired them and what sort of influence they drew on. In the second part, we become much more involved with their personal stories and where they end up. And they end up at the centre of dance music in the UK and britpop. They don’t just end up somewhere, they are the key players in those two huge movements, and that’s the amazing thing, that they’re on this long journey.


You mentioned bands working against normal business models, record deals and people choosing to stay in Sheffield?

R: They said, why can’t you come up to Sheffield? (record companies) that’s the motivation, we’re good enough here.

E: They were fighting for control: We don’t want to go down to London, we want to build our own recording studios and we can do it here and keep control over our product, and there were only a few who agreed to it. It’s a parallel between what was happening in the country and what they were trying to do, like a union, a collective.


What came out of that, record labels?

R: The curious thing about it is that Chakk were touted as being the next big thing in Britain - Industrial Funk. The record companies were all over them, so they got a unique deal where they agreed to sign to a label in return for a recording studio, which was unheard of. And that turned into FON studios down in the Wicker in a warehouse, full of rats and the sound of trains overhead, industrial sounds mixing with the studio sounds. So they managed to keep some form of independence and lots of bands recorded there, so the local bands that worked together in the early 80s suddenly had the opportunity to record in Sheffield.

E: This continued with the formation of a record label which started to do very well. and they had the first hit out of it, House Arrest which sold around half a million copies.

R: There’s quite a big chain of events which comes from this collective that’s just trying to do its own thing in Sheffield. Chakk gets a recording studio, that studio turns into FON…. It progresses on from there, and that’s where we start the next part.


Was it easy to see this as a chronological story when you started?

R: It was a massive jigsaw puzzle - if you took any of the people involved, obviously they’ve got their own stories, but to get an overview of what’s happening is very very difficult because there’s different things going off at the same time, and you can’t see how to tell that in an hour or soE: It’s almost like you know that there is a backbone to the story - there’s the political situation, there’s the general story of what happened to Chakk, you know that Pulp is around and that’s what you go off and then along the line you find more things and connections and you see how you can shape the story. We have spent long evenings together trying to figure this out because people will remember their experience and it was such an intense time, it was such a long time ago they don’t know exactly. So we’ve probably got more of an overview of what was happening than they have, because they were doing their individual thing.


What do you have planned for distribution and release?

R: The first step has been in getting it into Doc Fest and we’re going to see what opportunities we can get out of that, but we are independent, we’re trying to stay independent

E: It’s almost like an organic development - we can’t really say that this is exactly the plan because we don’t know how it’s going to pan out which is kind of exciting but also very scary, it keeps you on your toes. I think that’s very similar to what these people were doing. It’s a very changing time for independent film, with the internet, different ways of producing film so there’s no set route anymore and we have to stay open to opportunities.

R: We have created a site for the film where you can find out more and spread the word. It would be great if it leads a really beautiful life online.


Article Previews Doc Fest: Kings of Pastry

Accompanied by the endearing pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, Kings of Pastry reveals the world at the very top of French pastry making, where every four years, the Olympics of pastry production takes place in Lyon. Sixteen chefs face three gruelling days of waking up at 4am to produce lollipops, cream puffs, cakes, and most striking of all, their sugar masterpieces: tacky sculptures of sugar flowers and chocolate arcs a metre high. The whole experience is comparable only to the pernickety judging of Master Chef mixed with the endurance of the Tour de France. But even that description is way off. All the chefs compete for the title of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, MOF for short. An award given by the highest French official: the President himself. Apparently to be an MOF is the highest honour held in pastry making, such that fraudulently wearing the tricolour MOF collar is a criminal offence in France. So with passions on their utmost edge, we watch the steady handed chefs create their works with the utmost care and love.

That the documentary itself moves along with supremely calculated pace is no surprise: this was produced with the BBC by one of the biggest documentary making teams in the world, Pennebaker and Hegedus, and we will definitely be seeing it on our TV screens in the near future. But what it may lack in its originality of direction, it more than makes up for in its expert showing of a very strange and wonderful world. There is something reassuring watching the long segments of Gallic shrugging and confectionary sugar being molded into delicate ribbons set to Django Rheinhardt-esque guitar. 

Director: Chris Hegedus & D A Pennebaker

Country: USA, UK, Netherlands

Premiere: World

Dates: 06 November, 17:45 Showroom 1

Watch for: Gallic shrugs, old men intellectualising pastry


Article Previews Doc Fest: Videocracy November 4, 2009

Italy, 2009. Silvio Berlusconi not only controls the country’s politics but almost all of the Italian media, directly or indirectly. Besides holding stakes in many publishing houses, Berlusconi’s family also runs the country’s biggest commercial TV group, Mediaset, whose stations are notoriously famous not for quality programmes but for shallow entertainment.

Director Erik Gandini lives in Sweden but grew up in Italy. He returns to his home country to take a critical look behind the scenes of Italy’s media world and assess its influence on both politics and media. Gandini tries to show how Berlusconi’s media attempts to create an uncritical audience whose only wish is to become famous and join the Premier’s friends’ glamour world. He follows a mechanic from the countryside whose biggest dream it is to become a TV star and who therefore goes to the gym, learns karate, practices singing and keeps going to auditions – in vain. 15 Year old school girls dream of becoming the weather girl on one of the channels – for two weeks in their life – and therefore accept humiliation in TV shows where they have to fight for the “job”. Videocracy is a stunning and exciting documentary about the connections between politics, media and society. It leaves a sour taste and paints a sinister picture of telly-republic Italy.

Director: Erik Gandini

Country: Sweden, Denmark


Dates: 06 November, 19:20 Showroom 3. 07 November 9:30 Showroom 3

Watch for: Fascist youtube videos, greasy men, scantily clad Italian women.


Article Previews Doc Fest: Disco and Atomic War November 3, 2009

An autobiographical documentary set in the 70s and 80s Disco and Atomic War shows Cold War Estonia as a country that, due to its proximity to Finland, had become the frontier of Western influence in the eastern-bloc. The director tells his story of a child living in a world of subversive family and friends who partake in anti-Soviet activities such as watching Dallas, Knight Rider and Finnish instructional videos on disco dancing.

Between reconstructed scenes of childhood activity ranging from schoolboy fun to receiving smuggled television receiving equipment, and in a wonderfully nostalgic landscape of casual sportswear and defunct car brands, are interviews with some of the fascinating characters behind the period. We meet the former head of Estonian state television, who finds himself held responsible for the Estonians’ failure to enjoy national TV; a sociologist commissioned by the authorities to undertake research into the national character and the effect that western propaganda was having; and an eccentric inventor whose powerful home made mercury receiving equipment blocks out the communication at a nearby nuclear missile facility.

Overall the film paints a compelling picture of the common cultural experience, not by attempting to critique the value or ‘truth’ of each type, but simply through its sensitive understanding of popular culture. Small references – like talking to a car with your watch or the notably increased national birth rate Emmanuelle was broadcast – demonstrate the complexities of the media. In a sense, you can begin to see the rationale of blocking foreign signals as a possible means of corrupting minds, but at the same time, the reception of foreign media is taken in wonder and fascination - a window into another world entirely.


Director: Jaak Kilmi

Country: Estonia, Finland


Dates: 06 November, 21:40 Showroom 3. 08 November, 12:35 Showroom 2

Watch for: Retro glasses, Soviet Disco Moves, Mullets


Article Previews Doc/Fest November 2, 2009

Finally it’s here: Doc/Fest . The week that Sheffield is over run with baffled  southerners, besotted media types and aspirant directors. Oh, and there are tons of films too!  Films, world premieres, from all over the globe in the coolest, most important documentary festival in the world. So this week throughout the festival, Article is choosing some of the best looking titles and previewing a film a day for your information loving pleasure. Today, we start off with an introduction from the festival’s Programmer himself, Mr. Hussain Currimbhoy. Woop! 

Still from the film Videocracy by Erik Gandini

Still from the film Videocracy by Erik Gandini

Documentary is like the Grandmaster Flash of cinema: without it there would be no cinema. In fact, to me, everything is a documentary. Rock clips to TV ads – the shape is different, but it’s all really a recording of life in some form, right? Yet doc directors constantly push shit uphill getting their films backed, distributed and seen.

I’ve been programming the Sheffield Doc/Fest since 2008 so I get to see docs from varying perspectives. Last year an American director came to Doc/Fest with his film and within moments of arriving he was in the bar sounding like a grandfather version of Marty Scorsese while talking to UK based directors: ‘You M****s have it so f*** lucky here. We don’t get s*** at home. Have you ever seen what a magnum can do…’ It is here I step in to introduce my new American friend to my old friend Johnnie Walker.

Some would disagree at this simple interpretation, but a point he’s kinda got. BBC, Channel 4 and the like have been behind some of the best documentaries ever. Just this year ‘Man On Wire’ won the doc Oscar.

Cut to: reality. Broadcaster budgets are tighter. Audiences and viewing habits are changing. Some docs and fiction are now made to be seen purely online. If you work in the industry or just love docs, the way to keep up to date and see theory in action is Sheffield Doc/Fest. Humble as they tell us we are in Sheffield, few folk mention that Sheffield Doc/Fest is, like, one of the biggest documentary festivals in the world. Documentarist or not it’s good to know that Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore, Kim Longinotto and Morgan Spurlock have been guests at past festivals. Doc/Fest 09 is days away (eeeek!) so let me get it off my chest: I’m rather sweaty about the appearance of ‘The September Issue’, director RJ Cutler, who is high tailing it from LA for us to do a masterclass. RJ is hysterical. I heard he made Anna Wintour smirk. DA Pennebaker - Rock doc pioneer who still acts like Bob Dylan’s roadie - is coming with his new, brilliant film about pastry chefs (‘Kings Of Pastry’ is like the love child of Gordon Ramsey and doc ‘Spellbound’ from 2002. Laugh now but you will be on the edge of your seat, I guarantee it). Hara Kazuo from Japan is attending to present ‘Extreme Private Eros’ too. It’s a 16mm doc he made in the 70s when his wife became a lesbian and left him. Hell, when my girlfriend came out and left me the last thing I wanted to do was film her giving birth. Not so in Japan! Gotta admire the man for that at least.

But If I were you, I’d be lining up to see the Russian film about Tarkovsky and his cinematographer. I’d be checking out the doc about the Muslim Punk bad. I’d look up our film about how disco and Communism are like oil and water. Free tickets for students, by the way. Seriously.

As for the 1500 filmmakers, distributors, buyers, broadcasters, sales agents, sound recordists, composers, and journalists that attend, they are here for the session programme, the MeetMarket and to party. The MeetMarket is Doc/Fest’s version of a speed dating service where filmmakers with scripts and projects are matched up with decision makers from all over the world to get their ideas to the next stage. Each year several million Great British Pounds are raised to get docs on screen. We even have some of the finished films in the programme. First we think, then we party. For a fest of this weight that is only 4.5 days long, guests are regularly impressed by the way public and industry mingle and drink together like there is no tomorrow. I’ve just realised that Sheffield’s greatest strength as a city is what permeates into an elemental component of the Doc/Fest ethos: no hierarchy, please check your pretensions at the door. But if you have an imagination you are more than welcome.