Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016 – Round Up: Part 2

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With so many films across a huge spectrum of gender, politics, sport, engineering and social endeavour to name but a few, it’s been tough to narrow down the films to view here in Sheffield. You can read about our first round of highlights here, but in the meantime here is the next batch of films we’ve been enjoying.


Female rappers are a trend in popular music at the moment; you might not appreciate the output of artists like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea but appreciate this: it’s not illegal for them to make music. It’s not illegal for them to have a voice, to express themselves in the way they desire and share that with those who may also have encountered their experiences. The same cannot be said for Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghan teenager residing in Iran and fighting her hardest to stop her family, back in Afghanistan, selling her as a bride to a man she doesn’t know, so they have enough money for her brother to pay for his bride in return. Sonita wants to be a rapper, she writes her own lyrics and wants to record her music and share her experiences. Slight problem: in Iran it’s illegal for women to sing solo. If we’re mentioning laws let’s throw in a few others: woman are only allowed to study certain subjects at University, apply for certain jobs, can’t get a passport unless their husband agrees, and are severely limited on circumstances in which they can get an abortion. Let’s stick to the singing shall we?

Desperate to convince her mother to let her stay in Iran and continue her education and dreams of being a rapper, Sonita faces generations of social imbalance in her mother’s attitude of defiance. The injustice she faces comes at every turn; the Centre for Women who have been supporting Sonita, both financially and emotionally, are no longer legally allowed to help when they discover what she is trying to pursue. Don’t forget Sonita is a teenager, stranded in a country without the majority of her family, certainly no parents or adult role models to speak to. The women at the centre were a real pivotal positive force in Sonita’s life, so to have that taken away on top of the multitude of other discriminations she faces is a cruel twist.

Sonita is an absolute must see.

Hope does come in the form of an American school willing to offer Sonita a music scholarship to pursue her dreams; but getting the official documents she needs – a passport and a visa – are not without their complications, and she faces a difficult trip back to Afghanistan in the process. A stark reminder of the shocking inequality still faced by women in many parts of the world, Sonita is an absolute must see.


You can Google hundreds of stats on Serena Williams in an instant – ranked no.1 in the world, she holds the most major singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players, male or female. Her 21 Grand Slam singles titles puts her 2nd of all time (in the open era), just shy of Steffi Graff on 22 and she is the most recent female player to have held all 4 Grand Slams simultaneously. But did you also know that after winning a recent Grand Slam title, Williams celebrated by ordering Chinese food and watching The Little Mermaid. You read that correctly, the way you celebrate getting through another week of work is the same way Serena Williams celebrates winning a Grand Slam. When she’s stressed, she hits the karaoke bar with friends to let off steam, and the player she fears playing most is her sister Venus.

the way you celebrate getting through another week of work is the same way Serena Williams celebrates winning a Grand Slam.

Director Ryan White has been able to get an up close and personal look at the star, as well as speaking to those around her who know her best. Curiously, whilst her sister Venus features in the film at certain points, including a scene admitting to Serena she received a financial scholarship to complete the Business Masters she is currently studying for, she is not interviewed on camera for the film. The sisters are close, they continue to live together as they have done all their lives, and so some insight from the elder William’s sister could only have improved the work; yet it does not suffer noticeably without it thanks to Serena’s great on-screen presence. Interesting, informative and an entertaining ride, White has created an in depth look at this tennis superstar.

Recommended:  Inside Out 2 Review

Life, Animated

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have a bit of a thing for Disney movies; the Buzzfeed quizzes confirm the world’s passion for all things Walt. But how many of us can say that Disney changed our lives, allowed us a way to see the world and communicate with others when it seemed impossible? Owen Suskind, the subject of Life, Animated, can certainly make that claim. Diagnosed with Autism at just three years of age, Owen learnt to use the dialogue in Disney movies, which he memorised from sound alone, to reconnect with language and the world around him. Based on the book by his Pulitzer Prize–winning father, Ron Suskind, the documentary won a directing award at Sundance for its unique storytelling and evocative exploration of an inspiring family.

Endearing, funny and full of beautiful animations to accompany Owen’s story.

Owen, his older brother Walt and their parents are a family unit who have battled hard to get to where they are now; there were several years when it was believed Owen would never speak again due to the onset of his Autism. The strength and courage the family has, along with their heart-warming relationships with each other, is at the heart of a documentary that instead of telling Autism sufferers who they are and what they feel, allows them to explain it in their own way. Endearing, funny and full of beautiful animations to accompany Owen’s story. Life, Animated receives a UK cinema release in December 2016, and we urge you to seek it out.

So as Sheffield draws to a close for another year, we’ve brought you our selection of just some of the brilliant films being showcased at the festival this year – highlighting once again the innovation and creativity on show on the factual scene. Go on, check out a documentary on Netflix this weekend, you’ll be glad you did.

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