Laurels for Philo - and Emer, too: Doc’n Roll Film Festival has bestowed its top honours for 2020 on Dublin-based director Emer Reynolds’ “mesmeric portrait” of Phil Lynott, the charismatic poet, songwriter and Thin Lizzy frontman.

The Doc’n Roll jury’s decision to bestow the Best Doc 2020 award on Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away, said Doc’n Roll’s head of programming Colm Forde, points to Reynolds’ achievement in offering new insights into the man who is arguably still Ireland’s greatest rock star, some 34 years after his untimely death.

Forde said: “This year’s Best Doc 2020 shortlist was our strongest to date, featuring six music documentaries covering a wide range of genres from hard rock to experimental electronica. In what was a very close race, I'm glad to say that Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away won overall on the strength of its cinematic style, technique and attributes.”

Director Emer Reynolds said: “On behalf of my whole fabulous team, I am thrilled to receive this award. I would like to thank the Festival and the judges for this recognition, especially given the other fantastic films in the competition.”

Her aim in making the film, said Reynolds, was “to discover and reveal Phil the artist, behind Phil the rock star – and also the man behind the artist. We are so delighted it connected with the wonderful Doc’n Roll audience. As we'd say in Dublin, we are chuffed!”

The annual Doc’n Roll award, now in its sixth year, is voted on by a VIP panel of film and music industry professionals and music lovers. In addition to Reynolds’ winning entry, this year’s Best Doc 2020 shortlist included the films Sisters with Transistors; Other, Like Me: The Oral History of COUM and Throbbing Gristle; Sebastien Tellier: Many Lives; Don’t Go Gentle: A Film About IDLES; and Kelly Jones: Don’t Let the Devil Take Another Day.

All four Doc’n Roll 2020 jury members were vocal in their praise for Reynolds’ exploration of Lynott’s life. Mandy Chang, commissioning editor of BBC’s Storyville, called the documentary “beautiful and evocative”. She added: “Love the visuals. Strong portrait of an artist, musician, songwriter and man.”

Music journalist Susan Hansen (Clash, Mixmag, Gaffa) called it “a mesmeric portrait; Phil Lynott's story is told with detail and nuance”. Broadcaster John Kennedy (Radio X) called it “touching and powerful”, with “great insight into Phil Lynott with nice new angles from his family including daughters and ex-wife”.

Presenter, journalist, author and director Kylie Olsson said, “I thoroughly enjoyed this doc and really loved the way each interview was stylistically thought out. The soundtrack was incredible, as were the archive footage and pictures.”

Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away received its London – and Doc’n Roll – premiere in a gala screening at Alexandra Palace Theatre on 1 November 2020. A Globe Production in association with Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland, it was produced by Alan Maher and John Wallace for Cowtown Pictures and Peter Worsley for Eagle Rock Films.

Reynolds’ film was one of just two documentaries to receive a live screening during the originally scheduled period of Doc’n Roll’s seventh annual London festival. Planned as a hybrid online/in-cinema fortnight running from 1 to 15 November, the in-cinema portion of the festival was curtailed when further COVID-19 restrictions were imposed on 5 November and London's cinemas were forced to close their doors once again.

Live cinema screenings of all 14 documentaries originally scheduled for cinemas in the Doc’n Roll LDN 2020 programme, including the other five films on the jury shortlist, have been rescheduled for late January into mid-February 2021. 

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The Best Doc 2020 award is the sixth annual Doc’n Roll jury prize. Previous winners are:

2019: The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion, directed by Lisa Cortes and Farah Khalid
2018: Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records, directed by Nicholas Jack Davies
2017: Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, directed by Catherine Bainbridge
2016: Placebo: Alt-Russia, directed by Charlie Targett-Adams
2015: Morphine, Journey of Dreams, directed by Mark Shuman