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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If tattoos could talk: Glen Campbell's life in music

The late singer made a trade of music, and made it look easy.

There was a rudimentary tattoo on his left upper arm, which he’d given himself at the age of nine: a small cartoon dagger, scratched with a needle and filled with ink, 72 years ago, in the yard of the house he shared with 11 brothers and sisters in Bills­town, Arkansas. In his last years, doing interviews about Alzheimer’s in his final home of Nashville, he’d wear T-shirts and you could just make out the tip of the dagger emerging from his sleeve. But for decades you wouldn’t have seen it, beneath flower-power shirts on his late-1960s TV show, or the fitted tuxedos of the 1970s, as he played the “William Tell Overture” on his guitar with the philharmonics of the world.

His accent came and went, too, as he adapted his vowels and crossed his Ts for the sophisticated compositions of his regular musical partner Jimmy Webb, another southerner making his way in LA. Campbell was the son of a sharecropper but he didn’t like getting his hands dirty. When he left home at 14 to become a musician, it was a practical move for the family – the money was good, and without him there was more room in the house.

As the first-call guitarist in the elite LA session group the Wrecking Crew, he played on 500 tracks in one year. Carole Kaye, who later delivered the bass line on his most famous song, “Wichita Lineman”, told me they all went out to buy big diamond signet rings with their wages one day. Glen peered into his: “Hey, look, I can see Russia,” he said.

Dirt poor, down-home, authentic – he may have been those things, but it was not his business to claim to be. He wasn’t a songwriter; he was an interpreter of other people’s material – a concept almost alien in a modern musical climate that expects songs to be a reflection of an artist’s inner life. He would take the most urbane track and throw it back at his audience with an incandescent ordinariness. “It is like a bird flying, it’s like somebody breathing, it is easy for him,” his musical director TJ Kuenster said.

Exactly how he achieved it was more mysterious. He had a habit of speeding things up, injecting light and energy into songs and turning them into something kinetic and fresh. His vocal entries often lagged a fraction of a second behind the beat, making each one sound like a spontaneous thought.

On his prime-time TV show, with his hair sprayed into a high wave, he’d awkwardly navigate the light comedy of the day: the Smothers Brothers riding hippos through the studio, or the skits with Sonny and Cher. His talking voice was chirpy; then he’d sit down to play Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and it was as if a switch had been flicked. His face fell into a state of instant clarity, intense but faraway, with sometimes a hint of pain – though you knew the pain wasn’t his.

He never sang about himself, which made the private self a separate entity. There was the lost Glen of the late 1970s, blank of eye and huge of beard, free­basing cocaine in a Vegas hotel room, having fisticuffs with his girlfriend. There was the middle-aged golf-playing Republican, baptised in a freezing creek under the watch of his younger wife; then tanned and born again, happily doing his Donald Duck impressions on stage. There was the lapsed Glen who hit the whiskey again as a pensioner, drove drunk, attempted to knee a policeman in the genitals, ran down a freeway, got snapped for a famously bad mugshot and spent ten days in prison, where he still managed to perform an impromptu set on a couple of hay bales.

But at any point in the 55-year ride, amid the personal dramas and lapses of musical taste, he’d open his mouth and what came out was deeply serious. You couldn’t imagine him writing a shopping list but he had an ear for poetry – teeing up particular lines in Webb’s songs for his audience, asking how someone so young could write “Asleep on the Wind”, an impressionistic portrait of a legendary bird that spends its whole life in the air. He’d take Webb’s tracks away and arrange them for his guitar, playing them back at their composer in his trance-like state. When the song was over, he’d snap out of it and laugh. “Those chords! If I start thinkin’ about them I miss ’em! I love it! Write me another one like that!”

When I noticed the tattoo sticking out of his T-shirt, faded like a biro scrawl, it struck me as strange that the same piece of skin had passed through so much of 20th-century music, with its changing notions of what it means to be “authentic”. The arm had travelled from sacred harp singing in Steinbeck’s south to Bob Wills’s hayseed country shows in the golden age of 1950s TV; from Vietnam protest songs to the stifling world of residencies in Las Vegas – and finally to the life of a “country legend”, via the theatres of Missouri and the golf courses of Arizona. In middle age, he recorded religious albums that sounded as pure as “Wichita Lineman”. Once again, he was acting as a funnel, for a different kind of light.

He was the real deal not because he turned his personal experience into a marketable commodity but because he made a trade of music, and made it look easy. He followed the gold rush, sold himself, got himself back just in time – yet in his playing, and the very touch of his tongue on his teeth, he was astonishingly truthful. It was the ultimate life in music, and in that sense, too, he is a piece of time lost. 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear