Music documentaries are center stage at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest with the launch of films including Neil Young-directed Milford Graves Full Mantis and Stuart Swezey’s Desolation Center, which opened with a live performance from Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore. It also emerged during the festival that The Fader’s Tyler The Creator-associated online music doc project Summer of ’17 is on the brink of becoming a linear series.
Vice UK’s Head of Music Alex Hoffman, who runs music channel Noisey, Rollo Jackson, the filmmaker behind Stormzy’s doc Gang Signs and Prayer, former Fader creative director Robert Semmer and Jacqui Edenbrow, Head of Video at arts organization Frieze, talked about the future of the format at Music Docs: New Forms and Platform at the Netflix Crucible Studio on Saturday afternoon.
Semmer, who is Head of Content at filmmaker agency Premier, said that platforms are starting to take more risks on experimental projects. He exec produced Summer of ’17, the Mikey Alfred-directed scripted doc series from Californian skateboard crew Illegal Civilization, which follows Jeffery, played by Ryder McLaughlin, as he tries to win over a summer crush and features cameos from rapper Tyler The Creator. Semmer said the project, which consists of five episodes of around 20 minutes, blurs the line between scripted and non-scripted in a “really interesting and weird way”. “I didn’t want to make a traditional documentary about skateboarding so I thought ‘what if we took their reality and put some shape around it,” he said. Semmer revealed that the team was now in negotiations to take the “abstract” project to a larger linear platform.
The panel highlighted that an increasing number of music documentaries are being commissioned and funded by record labels. They highlighted films such as Pulse Films and BMG’s forthcoming biopic of grime artist Wiley, directed by Trespass Against Us’ Adam Smith, and Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records (w/t), which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Toots and the Maytals record label.
However, Jackson said that following the success of HBO’s four-parter The Defiant Ones, which tells the story of Dr Dre and Interscope Records founder Jimmy Iovine, more and more platforms are searching for episodic documentaries rather than one-offs. In spite of this, Jackson just finished a one-off documentary about 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg producer Scott Scorch, who squandered around $30M in six months after a cocaine addiction, for music platform Vevo.
Hoffman, who recently commissioned Noisey Birmingham, fronted by The Streets’ Mike Skinner as he travels back to his hometown to talk to rising musicians, said it was a “golden age” for feature-length music documentaries.
This year’s festival includes a raft of premieres of music documentaries with some of the hot titles including Parallel Planes, about the U.S. DIY music scene featuring the likes of Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, Silvana, a doc about the eponymous Swedish rapper, Finnish doc about retired punks Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät and short film To The Front: Scenes From A Women’s Rock Camp.