While Sheffield Doc/Fest commences with John Dower’s film about the 1975 fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, Thriller in Manila, two other films may be the talk of delegates and public attendees of the festival. Those films are Joe Bullman’s The Enemy Within and Rachel Landers’ A Northern Town.
Bullman’s drama doc, which is screening as a work in progress, juxtaposes the story of a campaign of anarchist terrorists in Victorian London to put present day terrorist acts, such as the 2005 bombing of the London Underground and 9/11, into context. The doc unconventionally uses its interview subjects – Muslims in Britain today – to tell the story of the 1892 uprising which attempted to undertake a number of terrorist acts, including the bombing of the London Undergroung. While the interview subjects talk about their feelings about being Muslim in England today, they also act out many speeches from the 19th Century anarchists, drawing a parallel between the two. So much so, it is often hard to figure out which words are from 130 years ago and which refer to today.
One sentiment that surely came straight from the hearts of the Muslim’s interviewed is the confusion and anger about Western society’s public and never ending grief surrounding events such as 9/11 and 7/7 while the people who are killed daily in Iraq and Afghanistan are referred to as ‘collateral damage.’ One interview subject in The Enemy Within tells his story of being recruited into a Jihad and how he willingly joined, not because he’s evil, but because he’s angry about the treatment of his people. Though he eventually left because he didn’t trust the intentions of some of the members of Jihad, he still stands behind his choice to join.
Both The Enemy Within and A Northern Town are films about what happens when people are repressed by the societies they live in. Rachel Landers’ A Northern Town is the story of Kempsey, a small town in New South Wales, Australia that has a sad history of racism which includes the massacre of hundreds of Aboriginal people. The doc takes an interesting approach to this story, telling the history of the land through the mouths of both white and indigenous elderly people who live in an Aboriginal-run old-folks home. The film tells both happy and incredibly sad stories of the region, and while the subjects of The Enemy Within sometimes use their anger to justify violence, the indigenous people who run the old folks home in A Northern Town let white people live there, to the surprise and gratitude of some of the white inhabitants.
The Sheffield Doc/Fest begins this Wednesday, November 5.