The internationally renowned documentary festival Doc/Fest comes to Sheffield between the 12th-16thof June. Neil Mannix tracked down the festival’s curator Hussain Currimbhoy.
Hussain Currimbhoy, Doc/Fest’s Canadian curator, breezes through double doors that lead to thefestival’s offices in Sheffield. He is dressed casually in a plain white t-shirt and black jacket. His dark blue jeans are tucked neatly into light brown desert boots. His dark eyes scan the room before he approaches and offers a firm hand-shake. After introductions are made he gives Steel a tour of the Showrooms cinema. Steel’s photographer sits him down in front of a movie poster promoting The Place Beyond the Pines, and Currimbhoy bristles. “I hate Ryan Gosling. The dude is so overrated” he drawls in his native Canadian accent. “I mean, the guy was the Young Hercules. Now look at him. It’s crazy…” He trails off and asks the photographer if he should look dead centre into the camera or off to the side, kinda like Ryan Gosling does in so many of his movies. They agree a pose and he gets back on topic. “It’s a good film though: you should check it out”. He turns once again to the photographer: “Should I take off my jacket?”
Hussain has been the festival’s curator since 2007. He is affable and laid back, personality traits one might assume a film enthusiast has. Born in 1973 in Toronto, Canada his family relocated to a small town outside Toronto near Niagara Falls when Hussain was 15. He first got into filmmaking through an unusual source. “When I was a kid I used to watch baseball, which was weird for me because I hate sports, especially baseball, but it was the movement of the camera – the way the camera would track the ball then cut back to the crowd – it was really engaging and I thought, hold on here, this is really interesting. Then I found Star Wars and lost my shit. I knew this was what I wanted to do”.
When he was old enough to travel without his parents he took off to Australia and commuted between the two countries over the next five years. He enrolled in Perth’s Curtain University and studied filmmaking. “In the beginning I really wanted to be a sketch writer and concentrated all my efforts into making comedies, shorts, skits and short one acts. As I got more and more into the course I needed to expand my portfolio so I tried my hand at personal movies, about religion and myself and they were very dry and boring”.
After his stint in Perth, Hussain moved to Melbourne and entered the prestigious Victorian College of Arts to undertake an MA in filmmaking. It was around this time that he came into contact with underground filmmakers. “At first yeah, I was into Scorsese and Coppola but then I started to see all these different movies and got really hooked into the more obscure scene”. By chance, Hussain walked into a documentary festival and was approached by Heather Croall, who was the festival’s director at the time, and offered him a job in Sheffield. Hussian had made some shorts in university in Australia but nothing that he’s particular proud of or thought that showcased his filmmaking talent. “I made some shorts and one about religion, it was pretty out there and not at all accessible to a mainstream audience, but she offered me a job. Who knows why, maybe she saw something in me. And Sheffield, I mean Sheffield?! Of all the places in the world to be offered a job in movie-making I never imagined it would be here. It was a six month stint and that was six years ago. I love the place. It’s so political and intimate.”
Hussain credits Sheffield’s open mindedness and location as the prime reason for why Doc/Fest is so popular. “London is far too big. Things get lost down there, Sheffield acts as a hub for filmmakers and the press to get together and talk. I mean there’s like, what, two bars and a restaurant? It’s easy to form bonds and forge a working relationship that will be very beneficial.”
The festival originated more than 20 years ago and when it first began it mostly had English directors producing English films. As time moved on so did the diversity of the festival line-up. “This year we have Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian director who’s been censored in Iran but still manages to make pictures. He uses ancient poetry and art as a code to voice his discontent at the current regime. A really far out guy. I’m really looking forward to people watching his film.” Like Someone In Love previews in the Showroom cinema and was screened on Monday the 24th of June 2014.
As well as indulging in art house type documentaries that he made in university, Hussain is also responsible for curating the final pictures that will appear in the festival’s line-up. “I generally tend to lean more toward docs that are unique and different and emotionally engaging, like ‘Ten’ by Abbas Kiarostami. He’s amazing. The audience has to relate to the story in some way or they’re lost. You live in someone else’s eyes for an hour so it should be a unique experience.”