EIFF 2011: Stranger Than Fiction

Documentaries make up a third of the features showing at this year's EIFF. The Skinny preview this strong doc line-up, which includes <i>Project Nim</i>, the new film from <i>Man on Wire</i>'s James Marsh, and <i>Hell and Back Again</i>, the startling war documentary that will close the festival's new Conflict | Reportage strand

Feature by Chris Buckle | 03 Jun 2011

With the 2011 Sheffield Doc/Fest shifted from November to June, Edinburgh found itself in potential competition for titles this year, prompting a partnership which will “give documentary filmmakers greater access to industry and audiences,” whilst easing “the sometimes difficult process of selecting one festival over another.” And what’s good for documentarians is evidently good for festival-goers, with a strong selection of joint premieres, including: Hell and Back Again, which details a US Marine’s experiences both at war and at home; Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye’s portrait of Genesis P-Orridge’s explorations in gender identity; and Project Nim, James Marsh’s first documentary since the Oscar-winning Man on Wire. Fresh from a triumphant opening night showing at Sundance, it presents an unorthodox biopic of the splendidly-named Nim Chimpsky, the ape at the centre of experiments in communication at Columbia University in the 1970s; think the forthcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes but with apocalyptic malice replaced by unexpected insights into the human condition.

Elsewhere in Edinburgh’s twin documentary strands, there’s Burning Ice, in which Jarvis Cocker, Martha Wainwright and famous friends witness the first-hand effects of climate change and sing some songs; Bobby Fischer Against the World’s study of the troubled chess prodigy; and warnings of impending doom in Countdown to Zero, Lucy Walker’s stark examination of the potential for global Armageddon due to too many nuclear weapons and not enough oversight – a warning supported by interviews with Pervez Musharraf and Jimmy Carter amongst others. Finally, terrifying in a somewhat more surreal way, Convento boasts one of the most arrestingly peculiar pitches in this year’s brochure: “a dreamlike documentary about an unusual family of artists who live in an old monastery with their robo-beast creations,” proving that life, as the cliché goes, really can be stranger than fiction.