I have spent this week up and down from London to Suffolk. If I tried to write down what happens in a typical day it seems mad: last night a Wake for a friend who died, then a morning spent labelling pots of quince jelly I hastily had to make after five days of power cuts, with the fruit blown down in last week's gale. Then a quick makeover in my bathroom (plenty of mascara) in order to be photographed for the Festival's fringe art project at the South Lookout on Aldeburgh Beach... my eyes will be blinking out larger than life on the side of the building where Laurens van der Post once sat and wrote looking out to sea.
It is only a couple of days now to the next Aldeburgh Documentary Festival which I have been curating for the last few years. It has always managed to attract great speakers and guests to our half-timbered cinema, which somehow continues as an independent and has never closed its doors since its beginnings nearly a hundred years ago. Someone wrote that we punch above our weight at this festival, and I have spent much of today trying to make sure we keep up the standard. Between the jam and the photos, I've sent emails winging across to Simon Schama in New York and to Olly Lambert in Turkey, where they are busy with their current projects before coming down to the seaside on the opening night, Friday 15 November.
Simon has called his opening night 'Breaking Bread with the Dead' - that means how to make history come alive for a contemporary audience - and I am happy that it is almost completely full, but there are still a few places for what will be a brilliant masterclass on Friday afternoon with Olly. He is going to speak about the 'Art of the Interview' - how to get people to open up and talk to you so you can get the story you need to make the film you hope for.
After his films My Child the Rioter and hist most recent one, Syria: Across the Lines (which won the Grierson Award for best current affairs documentary earlier this month), we are so fortunate to have him come and run a workshop for us on the Friday afternoon. Thirty lucky people will get to hear him in this intimate space! There will be more of him on Sunday, after a screening of Dirty Wars prior to its UK release (29 November), when he will be discussing the wisdom - or not- of intervening in other countries' conflicts with the writer of the film and other experts.
Olly's Grierson award was presented to him by Nick Fraser who has been running BBC's Storyville programme since the 80s, and in Aldeburgh I plan to take full advantage of Nick. He unwisely said he would do whatever I wanted, so he has taken on the challenge of interrogating Simon Schama before being questioned himself by Mary Ann Sieghart about one of the out- standing films from his own strand, Rafea: Solar Mama. It tells the story of a Bedouin woman in Jordan, who leaves her four young daughters with their flaky father to go to a barefoot college in India which trains up older women as Solar Engineers in order literally to bring power back to their rural communities.
Her uncomprehending husband does his best to break her. The group of women studying alongside her are from the Masai, Burkino Faso and Columbia. They have no common language but bond through their shared passion to learn a skill and take it home. It is the kind of story that makes me love the documentary form - better than anything you could make up - I find working with this amazing material is a perfect complement to my regular job on the other side of the factual divide, in films and drama. On Sunday afternoon I will be in the chair, asking Nick in another masterclass session 'Why Documentaries Matter?', and how it is that people will sometimes now fill cinemas to see a true story - think of Senna, or Searching for Sugarman. Nick is eloquent on the subject and will bring our festival to a fitting end.
But there's more - a celebration of the hugely distinguished Norma Percy - the woman who gets presidents and PMs from Milosevic to Gorbachov, from Jimmy Carter to Tony Blair, to tell her what REALLY happened behind the closed doors of government - we ask her how she does it.
And on Saturday morning we have a film that questions how we live in cities and whether we should stop the drift from the countryside, with some truly distinguished experts to talk about it. I am so pleased with what we will be packing in to three days, and there'll still be time for fish and chips on the beach and the odd cocktail. We are already planning for our 20th anniversary festival next year... watch this space!
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