Preview: Sheffield Doc|Fest @ The Showroom

By May 8, 2016



Sheffield’s annual documentary festival grows in size and stature with each year, establishing itself as one of the premier stop-offs for non-fics on the festival circuit. For its 23rd iteration, the festival’s organizers have brought to the city another daring and diverse programme which encompasses the playful, the profound and the ground-breaking. This year’s Doc/Fest delivers on the promise of ‘a world-leading programme of interactive media, virtual reality exhibitions and talks’, with an impressive slate of 160 screenings, seminars and special events; including 27 world, 15 international, 19 European and 52 UK premieres.

The celebrity quotient at this year’s Doc/Fest is high, with marquee attractions like Joanna Lumley, Freddie Flintoff, Reggie Yates and Ronnie O’ Sullivan. But the events bookmarking the festival represent a major coup: the UK premiere of Michael Moore’s latest, Where to Invade Next, followed by a Q&A with the man himself, and the Derek Jarman Lab’s study of art critic John Berger, The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger, co-directed by Bartek Dziadosz and Tilda Swinton, both of whom will be taking part in a Q&A.

As ever, the programme content is divided into strands dealing with specific issues; this year sees the return of old strands and the introduction of new ones. The festival has a strain of socially aware strands which shed light on the turbulent currents of an increasingly fragile global order. The issues surrounding mass migration are addressed in the No Place Like Home strand; the Instigators and Agitators strand encompasses the broad range of global resistance; and the Environmental Award aims to shed light on the precarious state of the planet. In keeping with the festival’s socially progressive credo, the festival has a particular emphasis this year on strong women of colour with offerings like Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, Miss Sharon Jones! and Serena. There is an impressive array of LGBTQ films in the Queer Screen strand; which also ties in with the Get up and Dance strand by exploring the resurgence in the ‘voguing’ phenomenon in films like Kiki and Strike a Pose. Doc/Fest seeks to have a global perspective, highlighting vibrant national movements like the one blossoming in Mexico, showcased with films like Tempestad and The Charro of Toluquilla.

The role that virtual and augmented reality will play in the telling of stories will be explored with Alternate Realities, a series of thought-provoking interactive exhibitions and talks which will offer the opportunity to have a ‘virtual conversation’ with a Holocaust survivor, experience life as an astronaut or a refugee, and find out what solitary confinement feels like. Another intriguing Alternate Realities event is an exclusive interview with Bina48, ‘the world’s most advanced social robot’. Seeking to cultivate the next wave of documentarians, Doc/Fest’s Youth Jury Shortlist will showcase work from a diverse range of filmmakers, while the winner of the Short Doc Award will qualify for consideration at the 2017 Academy Awards. The MeetMarket will also provide a ‘major funding, sales and distribution platform’ – 11 former MeetMarket pitches are screening at this year’s festival.

As well as looking to the future, Doc/Fest is also celebrating the past with a series of retrospectives honouring some of the form’s heavy-hitters. Documentary legend D.A. Pennebaker will discuss his latest film, Unlocking the Cage, with his partner Chris Hegedus, and there will be screenings of his Don’t Look Back and Monterey Pop. The legacy of the late Chantal Akerman will be celebrated with a selection of her work, including her final film, No Home Movie, and a screening of Marianne Lambert’s I Don’t Belong Anywhere – The Cinema of Chantal Akerman. The 50-year career of Ken Loach will also be the subject of a retrospective; Loach will be appearing for an extended Q&A following Louise Osmond’s new documentary about him, Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach, and there are screenings of his Spirit of ’45, Cathy Come Home and The Flickering Flame.

The 12 films competing for this year’s Grand Jury Prize are a provocative selection, dealing with everything from hunger striker Bobby Sands, YouTube celebrity, Jewish settlement of the West Bank and Islamic Extremism. But the Doc/Fest programme is carefully calibrated to give equal representation to the art and business of documentary: so while Lord Puttnam will be heading a panel to discuss the future of public broadcasting, Our BBC, Our Channel 4: A Future for Public Service Television?, charmingly louche Scottish singer/songwriter Aidan Moffat will be performing songs featured in his film, Where You’re Meant to Be. Whether you are an industry maven or a casual observer, Doc/Fest will appeal.

DocFest runs 10-15 June 2016. More info at

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