Dubbed ‘the Cannes for documentary people’, this year’s Sheffield doc/fest has two special opening night events, a sign of how confident it’s become of its audience’s appetite for well-made, thought-provoking and entertaining documentaries. First off is Penny Woolcock’s From the Sea to the Land Beyond, a special commission using BFI National Archive Footage of Britain’s coast, which will be accompanied by British Sea Power performing a live score. Later, continuing the musical theme which is always strong at the festival, is Searching for Sugar Man, a personal journey from two South African filmmakers trying to track down the mysterious Mexican-American singer-songwriter Rodriguez.
Aside from the main competition Special Jury Award, which features films such as Call Me Kuchu, about homosexuality in Uganda, Off Label, about people who sell their bodies for medical science, and The Reluctant Revolutionary, where filmmaker Sean McAllister follows a Yemeni tour guide, the programme is divided into strands. This year includes ‘Resistance’, with films devoted to protest and activism, such as Not a Carwash, about Albania’s destruction of its film school, the popular Green strand, focusing on films devoted to the environment and ‘This Sporting Life’, which features Ping Pong, a film about eight players who travel to compete in the over 80s Table Tennis Championships in Inner Mongolia. A host of free outdoor screenings provide a chance to catch up with older titles including An Inconvenient Truth (2006), In the Shadow of the Moon (2006), The Buena Vista Social Club (1999), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) and Koyaanisqatsi (1982). And there’s also a Dziga Vertov retrospective and a chance to watch Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film (2011) in one sitting.
Whether you’re new to the documentary industry and looking to break in, or a more established filmmaker hoping to find funding for a specific project, there are also a host of informative industry sessions, including a ‘Who’s who’ where the commissioners introduce themselves and explain what kind of content they’re looking for. Filmmakers can also pitch to win a commission or money, or take part in the Meetmarket, which links directors and producers to funders, distributors, sales agents and exhibitors.
doc/fest runs from the 13th to the 17th June. For more information visit the festival website