The full list of screenings and events for the third edition of Doc’n’Roll Festival this November includes films on Parliament/Funkadelic, the Melvins, Frank Zappa, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, Bonnie Prince Billy, Bad Brains, Placebo, the Orb, Gregory Porter, satanic black metal, Norwegian disco, Burmese punk, jazz stars Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon and Bill Evans, plus legendary producer Bert Berns (starring Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and Van Morrison).
“This is an absolutely DIY project and the first step was to blag our way through actually and to pretend to be somebody we weren’t at the time,” says Colm Forde, co-director and programmer of Doc'n’Roll Festival.
Since they launched the festival in 2014, Forde and partner Vanessa Lobon have created a unique platform for independent filmmakers of music documentaries. “The festival really is a passion project that myself and Vanessa are doing, so as a start-up we are throwing all our life, energy and cash into it at the moment,” says Forde. “Most of the documentaries we find are crowdfunded films. So we have common ground with the filmmakers because they are also doing the same thing as us really. They are getting money from their own kind of people to make the films that nobody else wanted to make because they are too niche or whatever.”
So to what extent did they set out to provide an alternative to the more mainstream festivals? “Well the film programmers from all the indie cinemas and festivals could basically pick and choose what they wanted to show because there was no competition,” says Forde. “So it was good to hoist our flag up and say ‘bring us your films’. And since we’ve done that particularly in the past 12 months we’ve been inundated with a crazy amount of submissions from all over the world.”
I wonder how the whole crowdfunding phenomenon has changed the nature of the music documentary industry? “That really kicked the door open, for better or for worse,” says Forde. “People who never actually picked up a camera before are now able to make films. And the danger of that is that once someone has made a half-assed documentary it will put off someone else making a film about the same subject. But luckily the vast majority of the films that reach us are ones of merit. And if they do have a shaky camera or whatever we can turn a blind eye to that because they are generally good films.”
The explosion in music documentaries has meant there are far too many for mainstream festivals to cover. “That is the gap where we come in,” says Forde. “Film programmers are overloaded with emails and approaches so they just can’t answer them all. But they basically miss stuff that we can pick up. That is how we started and how we got successful.”
The inaugural festival in 2014 included London – The Modern Babylon, Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, and A Band Called Death about the cult black Detroit punk group. “That film totally went past film programmers here; they couldn’t give a damn,” says Forde. “So that was a good example of how we took a gamble on something that only a niche audience knew about. But we had a sell-out and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
As well as the annual London programme in the autumn, the Doc’n’Roll Festival has now spread out to include a UK regional cities tour as well as year round special programmes and screenings. This year has already seen screenings of such diverse films as Yangon Calling: Punk in Myanmarr to Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain.