Matter of fact - Documentaries at the EIFF

This article is from 2008

Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World

Edinburgh International Film Festival

EIFF programmer Jenny Leask talks Paul Dale through some of the many highlights from this year’s Document strand

When the Edinburgh International Film Festival opened its doors for the first time in 1947, documentary films were the only things on the menu. Much has changed since then, but the EIFF has continued its commitment to the feature documentary form. Every year a team of dedicated programmers pore over films from festivals as diverse as Amsterdam’s IDFA (the biggest documentary festival in the world), and Sundance to bring Scottish audiences a selection of the very best documentary films out there.

Reflecting on this year’s selection, EIFF documentary programmer Jenny Leask says, ‘Emmanuel Jal: War Child is of particular interest because Jal is one of the most charismatic, humbling and inspiring people I’ve come across in eight years of programming documentaries. A rising hip hop star who fought as a child soldier in the Sudanese Civil War, he has lived through some truly horrifying experiences, and now uses his music to spread understanding and tolerance. The film tells his story and accompanies him as he returns to Sudan for the first time in 18 years.’

Leask’s next pick is the most recent work of a true master of the form: ‘Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World is a stunningly beautiful, haunting, weird, hilarious, delightful film. His inimitable voiceover alone is worth the ticket price, and it also features the most poignant penguin on film.’

So what’s her favourite documentary at this year’s EIFF? She pauses as though in pain: ‘I’ve tried, but I can’t narrow it down to just one – it’s like asking someone which of their children is their favourite. So here’s three: Man on Wire [see page 25 for preview], for being spectacular and gripping and joyful; Three Miles North of Molkom, for making me laugh more than anything else I’ve seen this year; and To See If I’m Smiling, for providing insight into an aspect of the Middle Eastern conflict that hasn’t been covered before.’

Leask adds: ‘It’s great that documentaries are now finding their way into the Gala and British Gala sections of the programme as it means they’re eligible for the Michael Powell and Standard Life Audience awards as well as the Documentary prize. Last year the audience award went to We Are Together, a wonderful documentary which has since had a cinema release and raised money for the South African orphanage featured in the film.’

For more information and screening times, visit