Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest
Field Notes Part II: State of the Nation — In Huck's latest roundup of new documentaries from Sheffield Doc/Fest, we focus on homegrown stories from the UK.

As the biggest documentary film festival in the UK, Sheffield Doc/Fest is undoubtedly the best place to go to find the state of the nation reflected on film. The local tales on show revealed a Britain struggling to overcome the social, political and economic challenges it faces in these difficult times, but each of the films mentioned below play an important role in catalysing the societal debate we need to if we are to find collective solutions.


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Chemsex by Will Fairman and Max Gogarty

Human beings have been combining drugs and sex to fuel decadent orgies for millennia, but Chemsex reveals that the latest evolution of this practice is having devastating effects on London’s gay community. “Slamming” is a euphemism for injecting and “slamming parties” involve drugs like Crystal Meth taken intravenously to keep sex parties going; sometimes for days at a stretch. These parties have surged in popularity thanks to online forums and apps like Grindr which allow groups of gay men to meet for casual and often unprotected sex.

Support services have noticed a big spike in HIV and Hepatitis C, alongside other problem related to drug use and addiction. The film uses a specialist clinic in Soho as a point of entry to find that health services have limited resources to cope with the problem. There is no coordinated strategy in place to prevent further dramatic rises in the use of injected drugs to enhance sexual experience and many of the users are unaware of the risks involved.

The work-in-progress cut presented at Sheffield by Will Fairman and Max Gogarty from Vice made for fairly harrowing viewing, but their conscientious handling of the subject, combined with the need to raise awareness about an issue with such serious public health implications and the potential to ruin so many lives wholly justifies the at times unpleasant experience.

Still The Enemy Within

Sheffield was a poignant location for the screening of Owen Gower’s Still the Enemy Within as the events of the miners’ strike in 1984-5 are still remembered with feeling in Yorkshire. Three decades ago, local miners were among those who downed tools to protest against the Thatcher government’s attempts to close coal mines, break the National Union of Mineworkers and drastically reduce the power of organised labour in the UK.

Although it was a tense and emotional time, the strike brought out the best in miners and their communities as they came together to support one another through difficult times. At the same time, it showed the British state at its most vicious and ugly, violently repressing people who were trying to protect their right to employment while relying on friends in the media to cover up abuses and discredit the striking miners.

The film recalls the events of the mid 80’s with humour and passion, providing crucial details on events that have only become clear with the release of classified documents in line with the Thirty-year rule.

For many in the room, this was not just a piece of history, but an experience they lived and breathed. However, for everyone else the repercussions of the strike are still being felt and the film connects the era of privatisation and financialisation ushered in by Thatcher’s victory with the zero hours contracts, unemployment and austerity of today.

Kids on the Breadline

Kids on the Breadline is almost the spiritual sequel to Still the Enemy Within as it documents the effects on families of the same mean and divisive politics that miners fought against three decades ago. Austerity, a fall in real wages and cuts and delays to benefit payments under the current government have driven unprecedented numbers of families to rely on food banks to feed themselves in the seventh wealthiest nation on earth.

Jezza Neumann’s documentary follows three families as they struggle to make ends meet. All of the children featured in the film come across as chirpy and resilient in the face of hard times, but the desperation written across the faces of the parents and carers who are forced to resort to ever-more desperate measures to keep the wolves from the door is hard to ignore. By allowing thousands of children to grow up in these circumstances, as a society we are resolutely failing the next generation.

Stay locked to the Huck site for more from Sheffield Doc/Fest.

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