Last week, after years of wanting to attend, I finally made it to the NFTS Show, the National Film and Television School’s showcase of films made by their Directing Documentary MA graduates. I took my documentary students to see the eight films at the BFI Southbank – an impressive venue which also played host to some outstanding fiction and games student projects.
There’s every reason to keep an eye out for NFTS documentary students: graduates include many of the UK’s top doc makers, including Nick Broomfield, Molly Dineen, Kim Longinotto and Sean McAllister. Kim Longinotto’s own NFTS graduation film, Pride of Place, about the boarding school she loathed as a student, was so successful at showing up the school’s shortcomings that it closed shortly afterwards.
Long after my own students filtered out, I sat mesmerized. Despite tiny budgets of £4,000, not one of the films was based in the UK – shooting locations included Cambodia, Thailand, California, and Brazil. A couple films followed a strong observational narrative, including a senior citizen on an overseas mission, and a drug addict on a Buddist detox. But as the NFTS’s head of documentaries Dick Fontaine noted whilst compering the afternoon, those students without a strong narrative worked intensively to develop a cinematic language of their own in these films. It showed. In an age of formatted television, where action is heavily narrated, and follows a predictable storyline, as a whole these stories were beautifully told without titles, narration, presenters or archive. Although made on a shoestring, the directors had the support of the abundant resources at the NFTS, and a sizeable crew of fellow students, introduced by the directors after each screening.
Here are my favourite films from the day:
This portrait of the Faroe Islands, as it struggles to hang on to its traditions in the modern world, is not for the squeamish. Following an unnamed character known in the credits as “the young man”, director Benjamin Huguet sketches the community through his daily life as a butcher, capturing him scratching the cows behind the ears, and in the next scene carving them up into steaks. Huguet was also along for the ride when the community turned out for a practice bringing them international condemnation: pilot whale hunting. By filming the blood drenched slaughtering of the whales, and the allocation of their parts to local families within minutes, Huguet’s immersive camerawork shows how close to nature the Faroese continue to live.
Director Lyttanya Shannon’s at times heartbreaking film shows child advocate Rita as she works to encourage a group of vulnerable young girls in rural Brazil to fight against a cycle which sees them all too often the victims of drugs and sexual abuse. Shannon’s cinematography places her in the center of these girls’ worlds, as they perch on the edge of a frightening adulthood.
Grace Harper takes us onto the streets of the eccentric Pioneertown – a former Hollywood film set now inhabited by a number of characters carrying abundant personal baggage. It’s a beautifully shot ensemble piece, which paints a portrait of a town as unique in its populace as its history.