Preview: London International Documentary Festival 2011

Seven highlights, as recommended by us.

Taking place at numerous venues in London from 13-28 May, the London International Documentary Film Festival 2011 (LIDF) will show over 130 films from 44 countries, and host several workshops and debates. Covering a number of themes including recent changes to the Arab Middle East, explorations of the city and the nature of privacy, the LIDF not only features the work of new film makers but also premieres of documentaries crafted by Academy Award winners Steven Soderberrgh, Martin Scorsese and Brigitte Berman. Here are some of the highlights coming up over the next few weeks:


Directed by Asif Kapadia, this biopic of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna eschews the traditional voiceover documentary style in favour of a more visual approach. Not just a film for sports racing fans, the film uses vast amounts of unseen footage to depict the physical and spiritual life of this sporting icon.

LIDF Visions

A workshop aimed at new filmmakers, the LIDF has teamed up with Abingdon Film Unit to create training opportunities for up-and-coming documentarists. A chance to learn new skills from industry professionals and develop films to be presented at a pitching session, three successful projects will get the chance to be assisted in their productions for the next 12 months.

Our Generation

Exploring an unresolved and complex issue, this film investigates the Australian government's continued policies of assimilation and paternalism towards the Aborigines. Hoping the film will not only open a dialogue on a long ignored issue but also give a voice to the Indigenous peoples of Australia and their culture, the makers have included many interviews with the Yonglu alongside civil rights leaders in the documentary.

Focus on Pakistan: Filmmaking for social change

A collection of shorts exploring various themes including faith, the effects of terrorism, struggle and the counter-culture, these films aim to show the hidden complexities and often ignored elements of life in contemporary Pakistan. Given Pakistan's recent ubiquity on the stage of world news, these documentaries should provide a timely insight into a multifaceted country and its people.

Invisible City

Structured around a variety of topics including squatting, the journey of Christmas trees and street sweeping, this collection of short documentaries on London surveys the stories behind people, spaces, communities and objects that make up the capital.

California is a Place & Fragments of Different Everyday Life

Drea Cooper, director of California is a Place, says he placed huge emphasis on the "aesthetic and the visual" depictions in the film. Via such methods, both documentaries aim to emphasise the effects of globalisation and state economic policies on California and its many citizens.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Oscar-winner Brigitte Berman's film promises to give an intimate portrait of Hugh Heffner, the infamous owner of Playboy. With interviews featuring Hefner and many 20th-century cultural icons as well as archive footage, Berman says she hopes the film will challenge people's preconceptions of Hefner, moving beyond the sexual escapades and reveal him to be a complex and politically motivated character.

Ticket and program information for the LIDF can be found at

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Man alive! Why the flaws of Inside No 9 only emphasise its brilliance

A man we’d thought destined for certain death reappeared, alive and kicking.​ ​Even as my brain raced, I was grinning.

At the risk of sounding like some awful, jargon-bound media studies lecturer – precisely the kind of person those I’m writing about might devote themselves to sending up – it seems to me that even the dissatisfactions of Inside No 9 (Tuesdays, 10pm) are, well, deeply satisfying. What I mean is that the occasional flaws in Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s cultish series, those unlooked-for moments when nothing quite makes sense, only serve to emphasise its surpassing brilliance.

At the end of the final episode of series three, for instance, there came a discombobulating twist. A man we’d thought destined for certain death reappeared, alive and kicking. How had this happened? Were the preceding 28 minutes only a dream? Even as my brain raced, I was grinning. That line about Ron Mueck! In a piece that seemed mostly to be paying topsy-turvy homage to the camp 1973 horror flick Theatre of Blood.

Pemberton and Shearsmith are all about homage: a bit of Doctor Who here, a touch of Seventies B-movie there. Inside No 9’s format of twisty one-offs is a direct descendant of ITV’s Tales of the Unexpected. And yet it is so absolutely its own thing. Only they could have written it; only they could ever do this much (stretch your arms as wide as they’ll go) in so little time (half an hour).

In the episode Private View, guests were invited to the Nine Gallery in somewhere Hoxtonish. This motley crew, handpicked to represent several of the more unedifying aspects of 21st-century Britain, comprised Carrie (Morgana Robinson), a reality-TV star; Patricia (Felicity Kendal), a smutty novelist; Kenneth (Pemberton), a health and safety nut; and Maurice (Shearsmith), an art critic. Hard on their heels came Jean (Fiona Shaw), a wittering Irishwoman with gimlet eyes. However, given that they were about to be bloodily picked off one by one, at least one of them was not what she seemed. “I’m due at Edwina Currie’s perfume launch later,” Carrie yelped, as it dawned on her that the pages of Grazia might soon be devoting a sidebar to what Towie’s Mark Wright wore to her funeral.

Private View satirised a certain kind of contemporary art, all bashed up mannequins and blindingly obvious metaphors. Admittedly, this isn’t hard to do. But at least Pemberton and Shearsmith take for granted the sophistication of their audience. “A bit derivative of Ron Mueck,” said Maurice, gazing coolly at one of the installations. “But I like the idea of a blood mirror.” The duo’s determination to transform themselves from episode to episode – new accent, new hair, new crazy mannerisms – calls Dick Emery to mind. They’re better actors than he was, of course; they’re fantastic actors. But in the context of Inside No 9, even as they disappear, they stick out like sore thumbs, just as he used to. They’re the suns around which their impressive guest stars orbit. They may not always have the biggest parts, but they nearly always get the best lines. You need to watch them. For clues. For signs. For the beady, unsettling way they reflect the world back at you.

What astonishes about this series, as with the two before it, is its ability to manage dramatic shifts in tone. Plotting is one thing, and they do that as beautifully as Roald Dahl (the third episode, The Riddle of the Sphinx, which revolved around a crossword setter, was a masterclass in structure). But to move from funny to plangent and back again is some trick, given the limitations of time and the confined spaces in which they set the stories. In Diddle Diddle Dumpling, Shearsmith’s character found a size-nine shoe in the street and became obsessed with finding its owner, which was very droll. But the real engine of the piece, slowly revealed, was grief, not madness (“Diddle-diddle-dumpling, my son John”). You felt, in the end, bad for having sniggered at him.

If you missed it, proceed immediately to iPlayer, offering a thousand thanks for the usually lumbering and risk-averse BBC, which has commissioned a fourth series. One day people will write learned papers about these shows, at which point, jargon permitting, I might discover just how Maurice managed to live to fight another day.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution