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Preview: Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013

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Pussy Riot, steel, songbird cuisine and Japanese prostitutes: The 2013 Sheffield Doc/Fest promises something for everyone.

Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year over five days in June, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the UK’s premier documentary festival (and third largest in the world) would want to kick things off in style.

Following last year’s opening double-whammy of Rodriguez and British Sea Power-led festivities, which showcased the Oscar winning Searching For Sugar Man alongside Penny Woolcock’s acclaimed archival mash-up, From the Sea to the Land Beyond, festival director Heather Croall and team clearly had their work cut out if they hoped to make this year's opening night programme even better.

They’ve definitely risen to the challenge. With 120 films playing over the course of the festival, for opening night celebrations it seems that this year three is the magic number.

First up, following hot on the heels of last year’s live-accompanied opener, comes the World Premiere of The Big Melt. Directed by Pulp music promo director Martin Wallace, the live score comes courtesy of his former employer’s frontman and lately Faber Editor-at-Large, Jarvis Cocker, who promises “a new kind of heavy metal” as the backing track to an archival montage paying tribute to Britain’s steel-producing past.

Straight afterwards, Doc/Fest moves away from its central base to a Peak District cave known locally as The Devil’s Arse for a 500-seater screening of Nick Ryan’s The Summit, a film charting the disastrous attempt to reach the peak of K2 back in 2008.

The official opening night film itself arrives fresh from Sundance in the form of Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer, followed by a live Skype interview with Katia Samutsevich, the sole member of the famously incarcerated band to have been released thus far. From the footage shown at the launch last week, it promises to be an incendiary, Kafkaesque exploration of injustice and political censorship.

There are over 80 sessions and masterclasses programmed over the five days, including interviews with the likes of Michael Palin, Alan Yentob, Kim Longinotto and BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow. Many of the screenings will be followed by on-stage Q&As, of which we’re especially looking forward to the appearance of master novelist (and keen ornithologist) Jonathan Franzen, who’ll be arriving with the film Emptying The Skies, on the killing of songbirds for use as a dinner delicacy in Cyprus.

While This American Life producer Ira Glass will be making his first UK appearance to talk about his extraordinary career in radio-documentary, the biggest draw has to be legendary film editor Walter Murch, who’ll be bringing his most recent picture Particle Fever, as well as delivering a masterclass and introduction to a special screening of Apocalypse Now.

We say biggest draw, but if there’s anyone else in attendance at Doc/Fest who stands a chance of upstaging the editor of I Love Trouble, it’s bender of spoons and minds himself, Uri Geller, there to talk about his little known work for the US military as a psychic spy. If a live re-enactment of the head exploding scene from Scanners takes place, we can promise you’ll be first to know.

Other highlights include the UK premiere of the director’s cut of Joshua Oppenheimer’s acclaimed film The Act of Killing, which challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to re-enact their atrocities for the camera in whichever cinematic genre they choose, from classic Hollywood crime thriller to lavish musical numbers, as well as new Richard Pryor doc, Omit the Logic

New strand, Films On Film, pairs classic movies with documentaries on their making, including the aforementioned Apocalypse Now with Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper's Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, John Waters’ Female Trouble with I Am Divine and The Exorcist with Mark Kermode’s The Fear of God, introduced by the critic.

We’re especially excited about this year’s retrospective, which charts the documentary career of the magnificent Shohei Imamura. One of the leading figures in post-war Japanese cinema, it’ll be an incredible opportunity to see some of his rarely screened works on the big screen, a programme which includes A Man Vanishes; Karayuki-san, the making of a Prostitute; In Search of Returned Soldiers, Malaysia and In Search of Returned Soldiers, Thailand.

Little White Lies will be reporting back from Sheffield over the course of what promises to be a stellar year at Doc/Fest, but in the meantime check out the programme in its entirety over at www.sheffdocfest.com

Sheffield Doc/Fest 20 runs from June 12th – June 16th

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