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Sheffield Steel

IAN SINCLAIR previews some of the hard-edged entries to the Yorkshire city’s annual Doc/Fest, which begins this weekend

DIRECTED by Johanna Hamilton, 1971 is an accomplished US feature-length documentary about the break-in that happened at the FBI regional office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971. 

Strongly opposed to their nation’s ongoing destruction of Vietnam a small group of activists decided to move from non-violent protest to non-violent disruption. 

Calling themselves The Citizen’s Commission To Investigate The FBI, they stole documents that showed J Edgar Hoover’s political police force was involved in a decades-long campaign of spying and subversion against the anti-war movement, black groups, the women’s movement and political radicals. 

The break-in triggered the first Congressional investigation of the FBI and played the key role in uncovering the infamous counter-intelligence programme Cointelpro. It’s a reminder of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Unlike the highly motivated and organised protagonists in 1971, most of the people in Juliet Brown’s Ecoside: Voices From Paradise are simply victims — of the 2010 British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Shot in the coastal resort of Grand Isle, Louisiana, the film tracks the devastating effects the ecological disaster has had on tourism, the fishing industry and local residents. Polluted beaches and tumorous fish are noted and locals complain of various health problems. 

But unfortunately the documentary fails to cite the kind of expert evidence that could provide much needed context and credibility to its claims. 

This year marks 30 years since the start of the miners’ strike, a crucial fault line in recent industrial relations. 

With one interviewee describing prime minister Margaret Thatcher as “going for the throat” of the National Union of Miners, Still The Enemy Within tells the story of those who resisted the government in the coalfields of England, Wales and Scotland. 

Director Owen Gower uses a great amount of archive footage, along with affecting interviews with miners and their families, to produce an astonishing slice of history that deserves to be mandatory viewing for anyone interested in post-war British society. 

With organised labour dealt a deadly body blow by the defeat of the miners, the government was able to move forward with its ruthless programme of corporate-dominated neoliberalism. 

Kids On The Breadline, directed by Jezza Neumann, focuses on some of the losers in this momentous societal shift, looking at three families living in food poverty today in Hull, Suffolk and outer London. 

It’s a heart-breaking film, especially when the children, burdened with adult concerns about money, discuss their pressured lives and hopes for the future. 

That the Trussell Trust, the largest food bank charity in Britain, has handed out close to one million food parcels in the past year — in the seventh-richest country in the world — is a shocking injustice that our political class is sickeningly comfortable about. 

As one of the kids asks: “What’s happened to this country?” 


Sheffield Doc/Fest runs from 7-12 June, details:


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