Documentary - Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest has announced the line-up for its 26th edition, which runs from 6-11 June...

Under the tagline Ways of Seeing, inspired by John Berger’s television series and book of the same name, this year Sheffield Doc/Fest proudly headlines a multitude of voices and perspectives and multiple ways of experiencing non-fiction, which together shape and question the narratives of our time.

The festival includes the Film programme of international documentary features and shorts which challenge world views, the Alternate Realities digital art programme of powerful interactive and immersive experiences which interrogate the documentary form, Live Events which showcase creativity in documentary across all artistic mediums, plus Talks, panels and parties.

Melanie Iredale, Interim Director, Sheffield Doc/Fest said “This year’s Doc/Fest is a celebration of internationalism, creativity and discovery; looking at the world with new eyes and giving a platform to a multitude of voices and ideas. I am so excited today to be unveiling a line-up of 180+ Films and 28 Alternate Realities projects - from over 50 countries around the world, and over 50% of which are made by women. Live Events will feature music to voguing to social experiment; guests ranging from Asif Kapadia to Ai Weiwei to The Slumflower to Werner Herzog to Tea Uglow. Artist Charlotte Jarvis will grow ‘female' sperm! Only at Doc/Fest”.

The festival opens on Thursday 6 June at City Hall with Diego Maradona, a wild and irreverent look at one of the world’s most iconic sportsmen, both on and off the pitch, during his infamous time in Naples. Made by the Academy and BAFTA-winning team behind Amy and Senna, the screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Asif Kapadia. Asif Kapadia will also give the BAFTA Masterclass the following day, when he will discuss his own career and inspirations, his filmmaking practise, and his personal connection to his work.

A new addition to this year’s film programme is Spotlight, featuring screenings followed by extended conversations. Highlights include Ai Weiwei with The Rest, a film about refugees who fled war and persecution and arrived in Europe and now live in limbo within a disintegrating humanitarian aid system; Werner Herzog with Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, hosted by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two, a portrait of one of the 20th century’s most charismatic writers and a revealing personal insight into the imagination and obsessions of one of the world’s most visionary directors; Nick Broomfield with Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen; Ursula Macfarlane plus panel with Untouchable, the inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein, revealing how Weinstein acquired and deployed his formidable power over the course of decades.

There are also 28 projects which will be exhibited at Alternate Realities, Sheffield Doc/Fest’s digital art programme, which runs throughout the festival, supported by Arts Council England. The programme challenges preconceptions of the documentary form and proposes a new way of seeing and experiencing non-fiction stories. The exhibition at Site Gallery features 15 immersive and interactive artworks that stimulate all the senses, including Algorithmic Perfumery which uses personal data to train an AI system to make an original scent for every visitor. The VR cinema at Sheffield Hallam’s Performance Lab brings together audiences to collectively experience twelve 360° narrative documentary experiences and includes this year the Alternate Realities festival commission, Spectre by Barnaby Francis (aka Bill Posters) and Dr. Daniel Howe , which engages audiences with a personalised journey that tells a cautionary tale of computational propaganda, technology and democracy, curated by an algorithm, and powered by visitor data. 

Also part of the Alternate Realities programme, The Smartphone Orchestra presents: The Social Sorting Experiment is an absurdist interactive performance using the digital data trail left behind after all our social media activity and The Justice Syndicate, a collaboration between fanSHEN, computational artist Joe McAlister and neuroscientist Dr Kris De Meyer. This Live Event is a piece of playable theatre drawing on a jury format, where a top surgeon is accused of a serious crime and asks twelve participants to fill in the gaps and deliver the ‘verdict’.

On Sunday 9 June The Alternate Realities Summit returns to examine the art and craft of digital storytelling. This year entitled Incomputable Sensibilities, the Summit will be a day-long event of provocative and artistic debate, with talks, presentations, panel discussions and performances from the world’s leading immersive and interactive storytellers. Tea Uglow, creative director at Google's Creative Lab in Sydney will open the day with a talk about designing stories for the brain. Other keynote speakers include artist Jepchumba talking about the latest African technological innovations in audio storytelling; bio artist Charlotte Jarvis who will present her project In Posse; and AI filmmaker Karen Palmer, who will share her insights into the intersection of AI and bias, gaming, art, neuroscience, behavioural psychology and consciousness.

Director Jack Hazan will attend the screening of the European premiere of the 4K restoration of his David Hockney biopic A Bigger Splash which was shot over three years in early 1970. Jenn Nkiru one of the UK’s most exciting rising directors, will discuss her new work and upcoming projects in a Filmmaker Masterclass. Her new short BLACK TO TECHNO will have its UK premiere at the festival. Also in the Talks programme, speakers such as British writer and vlogger Chidera Eggerue (aka The Slumflower) cycling legend Sir Bradley Wiggins, documentarian and journalist Stacey Dooley and acknowledged godfather of British hip hop Rodney P. This year’s Desert Island Docs will feature Nick Hornby, bestselling author and Academy-nominated screenwriter.

The festival will also welcome acclaimed director and screenwriter Paul Greengrass to talk about his journey from TV documentaries to Hollywood features and his thoughts on the need to open up the film industry to less privileged and working class talent, a conversation continued in Breaking The Class Ceiling with acclaimed filmmakers Carol Morley and Paul Sng alongside BAFTA-nominated creative producer Mia Bays and BBC Three Controller Fiona Campbell will explore the continued lack of working class representation across the film and TV industry and the wider programme of over 40 industry sessions will continue to explore a range of timely industry-related issues.

Luke W. Moody, Director of Film Programming, Sheffield Doc/Fest, said “On the big screen we take and show risk that inspires, share difference that connects, exhibit possibilities that propel. These true stories leak sweetness, brood on injustice and thump with rhythm of the present. Alongside celebrating masters of non-fiction cinema we place particular emphasis on new talent and images of youth: spirited energies, hearts and voices calling for change, for inclusion, for a better world that is theirs to inherit.”

The film programme this year lists 180+ documentary features and shorts including 33 World, 92 UK, 11 International, 10 European premieres from 47 countries. Festival competition winners across the Film and Alternate Realities programme will be announced at the Sheffield Doc/Fest Awards Ceremony at Crucible Studio on Tuesday 11 June 2019.

Forty-two documentaries will compete across the festival’s official competition categories including Grand, International, Tim Hetherington, Art, New Talent, Short and Youth Awards.

Highlights include:

A Dog Called Money (UK premiere) in which award-winning photographer Seamus Murphy investigates the creative process behind British musician PJ Harvey’s album The Hope Six Demolition Project;

Mike Wallace Is Here (European premiere) Avi Belkin offers an engaging look at the life and career of legendary CBS 60 Minutes newsman Mike Wallace, showing how he redefined broadcast journalism with his hard-hitting interview style;

Anthropocene: the Human Epoch (UK premiere), co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes), Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, traverses the globe showing the devastating impact of our lives on Earth as scientists argue we are in a new epoch, the Anthropocene;

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You (UK premiere), a symbolic social-political voyage of a society spiralling between religion, identity and collective memory;

No Data Plan (UK Premiere), an unusual travelogue from filmmaker Miko Revereza, as an unnoticed passenger crossing America on an Amtrak train;

The Hottest August (UK premiere), filmmaker Brett Story’s (The Prison in Twelve Landscapes) journey to all five boroughs of New York City in the blazing heat of August, 2017, asking people their thoughts and hopes for the future, following Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidential post;

Imogen Putler and Monika Baran’s Cool Daddio: The Second Youth of R. Stevie Moore (World premiere) a tragi-comic musical odyssey to discover the greatest unknown icon, a man who recorded over 400 albums in his bedroom and influenced a generation of musicians;

Andres Torres’ The Fortress (International premiere) where a group of friends from Bucaramanga, the home of Colombia’s most violent football supporters, make a risky journey to an away match;

Bettina Perut and Ivan Osnovikoff’s Los Reyes (UK premiere) zooms in on the eponymous skatepark in Santiago de Chile through the eyes of two dogs;

Pia Hellenthal’s boundary pushing performative documentary Searching Eva (UK premiere), looking for the real Eva behind the young Italian’s online-built life.

Some of the other world premieres playing outside Doc/Fest’s official competition include:

Danny, co-directed by Canadian artist Aaron Zeghers and Lewis Bennett, is a hilarious and heartbreaking found-footage film about disease, mental illness and the meaning of life based on videos made by Danny who started filming after being diagnosed with leukemia in 1993.

Jamie Taylor’s The Campaigners which takes its audience inside the changing room of the local Woodseats Working Men's Football Club to meet the bleary-eyed, battle-weary football men on a Sunday morning;

Jaak Kilmi and Gints Grube’s My Father the Spy, the personal spy story of the Cold War investigated by Leva, a CIA and KGB double agent's daughter;

Myles Painter’s Sunrise with Sea Monsters which follows a wandering desktop hard drive in a quest to explore the new methods and technologies being developed to store and preserve human knowledge for the future.

The Doc/Fest film programme features several programme strands, highlights from which include Watergate, from Academy-winning director Charles Ferguson, which gives the full story of the conspiracy led by President Nixon and his White House staff and how they were brought to justice; Jobie Nam’s Fast Talk tells the story of Steve Woodmore from Kent, offering a fascinating look at the strange phenomenon of competitive fast-talking in the late 1980s; Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s The Masses, produced by Aleksandra Bilic, is a visceral and empathetic portrayal of three neighbours' devotion to their respective religions: Islam, Christianity and football. 

The New/Hits strand will include Tim Travers Hawkins’ XY Chelsea, Jeanie Finlay’s Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, made with unprecedented access on the set of the ultimate season of Game of Thrones, and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 featuring never-before-seen footage - sourced by Sheffield-based NASA archive expert Stephen Slater - which goes straight into the heart of NASA's most celebrated mission, as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin embark on a historic trip to the moon.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 country focus strand, New/Japan, supported by Daiwa Foundation and Sasakawa Foundation showcases a new wave of stories and images from Japanese filmmakers, from the intimate and familial lens to the abstract and subversive. In artist-filmmaker Makino Takashi’s practice the abstract is drawn out of the real through the layering of images, flickers of light and the perpetual movement of dots and grains, as shown in Memento Stella (UK premiere), which combines up to 200 layers at any one time, redefining screen space and feels deeper the closer audiences focus their eyes. Shot by Kazuhiro Soda, Markus Nornes and Terri Sarris against the backdrop of the 2016 election and the rise of Donald Trump, The Big House (UK premiere) presents a microcosm of America at this Michigan stadium, by showing everything but the game. In Norie (UK premiere) artist-filmmaker Yuki Kawamura embarks on a road-trip with his father to talk to the people who knew his late mother. Rei Hayama’s The Pearl of Tailorbird (World premiere), originally a multi sound and visual installation, these short-form videos are anchored by a haunting soundscape in which Hayama imitates the speech of various local birds in her own voice.

Alternate Realities Programme

At Site Gallery, the eight projects competing for the Alternate Realities Best Digital Experience Award, which recognises the best experiential use of digital technology to create a participatory, immersive, or interactive journey through a non-fiction story or societal commentary will be exhibited. Highlights include interactive installation Echo from Georgie Pinn and Kendyl Rossi inviting audiences to step into the shoes of another through a virtual mirror, select a shared story and discover layers of yourself echoed in another; Forest, created by Kelsey Boncato and Daniel Oldham, a VR installation offering meditative experience in a hand-drawn landscape of ancient bristlecone pine trees, sculpted organic matter and transmuted earthy-electro music.

Other highlights of the exhibit at Site Gallery include Algorithmic Perfumery, created by Frederik Duerinck, using personal data to train an AI system that adapts and learns from every exchange, this installation makes an original scent for every visitor; and Apparatum created by Krzysztof Cybulski, Krzysztof Goliński and Jakub Koźniewski, an audio installation inspired by the Polish radio experimental studio employing analogue sound generators, based on magnetic tape and optical components, to create a unique score for visitors who play with its digital interface.

At the VR Cinema at Hallam Performance Lab exhibition highlights include music and documentary collide in John Lynch’s Crackle Pop, an immersive representation of the perceptual phenomenon of synaesthesia, based on the real life experience of synesthetes listening to the music of Paul Russell's post-punk orchestra, Human Pyramids; Bauhaus in Bavaria created by Andrea Zimmermann and Stefan Goeppel, spotlights the Rosenthal factory buildings, the last architectural masterpieces of the Bauhaus icon Walter Gropius; in The Dreams of Henri Rousseau Nicolas Autheman transforms the surreal and sublime greenhouse of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris to reveal the secrets of the painter Henri Rousseau.

Dan Tucker, the Alternate Realities Curator for the festival said “This year the Alternate Realities programme returns with a focus on our sensibilities; our ability to interpret, understand and appreciate the world of the aesthetic and the experiential. New ways of seeing, new ways of hearing and new ways of participating await audiences in the unique immersive and interactive experiences within our exhibition.”.

The six-day festival Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 will take place from 6-11 June. Find out more, see the full programme and book tickets on their website at

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