THE BLOG
23/09/2015 12:40 BST | Updated 23/09/2016 06:12 BST

It's Only Doc'n'Roll But They Like It

It's in the documentary where a story's telling can be straighter, clearer and where new money can be made, as evinced by Doc'n'Roll, a new film festival that is helping to repopulate the world of the independent film-maker. All, thankfully, is not lost.

Cinemas - those filmic temples in which we have all inhaled the popcorny incense of celluloidal faith - are slowly disappearing from the landscape, leaving dereliction where once we dreamed in unity before the silver screen. And with nowhere else to go, visual narratives are migrating to the smaller, meagre, flatter screen, yet it would seem that the public has decided that tales of real interest can be found elsewhere; chiefly, in documentary form. It's in the documentary where a story's telling can be straighter, clearer and where new money can be made, as evinced by Doc'n'Roll, a new film festival that is helping to repopulate the world of the independent film-maker. All, thankfully, is not lost.

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From out of the shadows, and with no funding, come passion players of old who are making films from the heart, and recognising this creative upsurge are Colm Forde and Vanessa Lobon, the festival's directors.

"We're dedicated to discovering, supporting, distributing and exhibiting compelling music stories," says Forde, "and we're providing a platform for these guys and girls who are making films and who're not getting any other response, despite the fact they have large followings on social media."

Lest we forget, the film industry is risk averse, failing to capitalise on the acumen of DIY film-makers who have been busy creating a market that has achieved an undeniable ripeness. It's a moment that Forde and Lobon are keen to seize: "We started from scratch two years ago," says Forde, "so it's taken us that long to get recognition." The duo have seen the wisdom in digging up films that have come about through crowd-funded platforms and "which have just come out or are about to be released". Such films, they say, are off the radar of regular film programmers.

"No other company is dedicated to what we are doing," says Lobon of this month's Doc'n'Roll Music Documentary Festival which will feature gems like Joe Strummer: the Future Is Unwritten and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. It's a niche angle they're working, and their plan is simple: "Some films, like the recent Amy, get a London premiere but then disappear. So what we want to do is take programming risks. We chase niche films that have a fan base. So that means new films and ones that have been resurrected from 15 to 20 years ago."

Films like Amy (2015) or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) by DA Pennebaker will always have loyal audiences, but it is docs like Invisible Britain: Sleaford Mods (pictured) - a new documentary directed by Nathan Hannawin and Paul Sng - that require the exposure that a Doc'n'Roll screening can provide.

"There's been an explosion of new films because of crowd-funding platforms," says Forde, "but we have to take strategic marketing decisions and be able to spot an established interest in a film through social media that might suddenly spark. So we're not prepared to take on films that have no profile whatsoever. But, of course, there are exceptions.

"According to the BFI, there are 242 film festivals in the UK [according to statistics from five years ago], and none of them are dedicated to music documentaries. Programmers, in general, do not have the time to consider every film, so there's a churn. Which is good for us because it leaves the market open."

Because of constricted financing and an absence of "marketing push", Lobon and Forde are having to focus on a core set of films to screen. "We're the only film exhibitor and distributor that is dedicated to music documentaries in the UK," says Forde. "They're all passion projects, but we need capital to capitalise on this idea." In short, solid sponsorship.

Lobon says that a lot of companies are looking at what they are doing, so they have to be careful about who they partner with. "We want to stay independent," she says, "so we have to be commercially minded."

But surely social media popularity is by no means a completely accurate method by which to gauge a doc's potential success? Forde agrees, and so by backing certain projects he is taking a calculated risk. "But overall, social media is a good barometer of a project's popularity," he adds.

With plans to franchise Doc'n'Roll outside London, Lobon and Forde are keen to build their own brand by acquiring as many premieres as possible for screening, all of which will make for healthy viewing if, like so many of us, one is tired of hackneyed film-making and, instead, thirsts for the truly novel.

Doc'n'Roll Music Documentary Festival in London runs from 25 September to 4 October

Photo still from Invisible Britain: Sleaford Mods courtesy of www.docnrollfestival.com