Sheff Doc/Fest 2016 - Preview

8 June 2016

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This weekend the Sheffield International Documentary Festival rolls into Steel City until the 15th June. Beginning in 1994, the five day event has become one of the world's leading documentary festivals and the UK's biggest digital media festival. Not only is the film extravaganza an exclusive doc showcase, but with the introduction of MeetMarket in 2006 it has become a year-round service provider to the industry with training, educational and cultural activities taking place across the U.K. It's also revolutionised the pitching process for fledgling filmmakers, providing them with one-on-one meetings with buyers.

With over 20 venues including The Winter Garden, one of the largest temperate glasshouses to be built in the UK during the last hundred years, Sheffield Cathedral, and the Crucible Theatre, I can't wait to get cosy with the city, as well as witness some spectacular films and events.

This year we'll follow stray cats in Istanbul in Kedi (pictured above). We'll follow the story of a country in India In A Day, India's largest crowdsourced documentary produced by Ridley Scott. We'll follow the legend that is David Attenborough (!!!) as he recounts his incredible stories of trotting the globe... More on this later.

With so much to choose from, here are my top 10 picks:




1) My Scientology Movie
Beijing Showroom 1 Tue Jun 14 @ 17.30 / ITN Source Showroom 4 Sat Jun 11 @ 15.30 (with Q&A!)

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I am so unbelievably excited for this film (eee!). Louis Theroux investigating a bizarre, cult-like religion and taking on Scientology fanatics? What more could you want? Seriously. The bespectacled fountain of wit, charisma and compassion will also be doing a Q&A after the Saturday showing. The possibility of being in a room with the L.Man has me all flustered! With the release date of My Scientology Movie set for all the way in October, I can't wait to get a sneak peek of this.

2) 6x9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement 
Throughout the festival


In this 9 minute film by directors Francesca Panetta and Lindsay Poulton, part of the Alternate Realities segment of the Festival, you can truly entertain the claustrophobia of what it's like to be in solitary confinement. In the USA 80,000 people are incarcerated this way for 20-22 hours a day. Kristi Jacobson's Solitary (Odeon Screen 8 Sat June 11 12:45/ PBS America Showroom 3 Wed June 15 12:45) takes a further look into these segregated individuals' daily lives. Other immersive experiences in the A.R Arcade include Across the Line, in which you can see through the eyes of patients and bystanders in an American abortion clinic facing the wrath of protesters, and Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness which documents blind John Hull's journey into a world beyond sight.


3) Sir David Attenborough in Conversation
Crucible Theatre Monday 13 June @ 15:30

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  Who would miss a chance to see one of Britain's national treasures with their own human eyes? The man with the golden, syrupy voice. The man we all wish was our Grandad/ husband (just me?). As you probably know Sir David recently turned 90, and at Sheff Doc/Fest 2016 he'll be delving into his illustrious life on television.  The Public Talks all sound spectacular. In Our BBC, Our Channel 4: A Future for Public Service TV? producer and Labour Peer Lord David Puttnam, Ralph Lee from Channel 4, Hugh Harris from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, and Patrick Holland from the BBC will voice their opinions on the issues surrounding public service television. Reggie Yates, the Absolutely Adventurous Joanna Lumley, and Professor Green will also appear separately during the festival to discuss their own respective television and film careers. Yates is a personal favourite of mine, especially with his recent BBC3 documentaries, so I'm excited to see him discussing his future projects. 

4) Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise 
Vimeo Showroom 2 Sun Jun 12 @ 15:15/ Beijing Showroom 1 Tues Jun 14 @ 20:30


New York Magazine has declared that the world needs this Maya Angelou documentary. I won't lie to you. I don't know nearly enough about the subject. That's why this film, featuring in the Women in Docs strand of Sheffield Doc/Fest and directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack is one of my must-sees. Angelou was an American poet, memoirist and Civil Rights activist until her death in 2014, finding fame with the first of her seven autobiographies I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I'm looking forward to learn more about such an inspiring woman.

5) Where To Invade Next, attended by Michael Moore
Vimeo Showroom 2 Fri Jun 10 @ 10.00/ Sheffield City Hall
Fri Jun 10 @ 18.30/ Bertha DocHouse Library Theatre Sun Jun 12 @ 14.45

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In his latest film, the confrontational Oscar-winning man behind Bowling for Columbine looks at European attitudes to everything from workers' rights to sex education, in order to analyse America in a worldly context. Has the rest of the globe got the right idea when it comes to freedom and liberties? The Independent has called the documentary "surprisingly charming." After the film on the Friday, Moore will chat to Ralph Lee, Deputy Chief Creative Officer at Channel 4, about Where To Invade Next, along with discussing his career as a whole. As an avid American culture buff, I think this is going to be very, very interesting.

6) Adam Buxton presents a BUG Special: David Bowie
Sheffield City Hall Wed Jun 15 @ 19.30



This year saw the untimely demise of the beloved David Bowie. In this film, which sold out at the BFI in London, the ever funny Buxton (been loving his podcast of late!) looks into the music video history of the icon and provides his own hilarious commentary. It went down a treat in London and in Manchester, so here's hoping this is a cheerful, dutiful, fitting ode for King Ziggy.

7) #MyEscape 
Beijing Showroom Mon Jun 13 @ 09.45

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In #MyEscape, we follow refugees through footage they have shot themselves on smartphones, as well as witnessing in-depth personal interviews with them. Despite being polar opposite films, this method of visual rawness reminds me of Sean S. Baker's docudrama Tangerine. Elke Sasse's documentary, then, seeks to truly humanise these migrants and allow us, the West with our hands over our eyes, to empathise and experience what the escape feels like. The fear, the pain, the everything. This film falls within the strand entitled No Place Like Home, which focuses on stories of migration, displacement, diaspora and homelessness that define the 21st century world on the move. There's also a number of short films in the Alternative Realities Arcade that allow us to immerse ourselves fully in the refugee plight, to wake ourselves up to the horrors and atrocities happening all over the world that are pushing people to flee - to escape by any means necessary.

8) Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
PBS America Showroom 3 Sun Jun 12 @ 21.00



I'm a huge fan of West of Memphis, Central Park Five and other documentaries that focus on wrongful incarcerations and subsequent justice. I've always been inherently repulsed and insanely interested by the American prison system, especially the cases of defendants that have a Satanic undercurrent -- evidence-less accusations that are essentially borne from racism, sexism, class-ism, or any other kind of discrimination.  In Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four we see this in the form of rampant homophobia. We walk through the story of Texan couple Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera, and their friends Kristie Mayhugh and Elizabeth Ramirez, who were wrongly accused of gang-raping Anna's young cousins and sentenced to decades behind bars. This film is part of the strand Queer Screen, which also features Kiki, a documentary akin to Paris is Burning that takes us inside Kiki's voguing ballroom clubs in New York City, and Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures in which Patti Smith's twin soul, the ever-controversial, beautifully talented, risque Robert Mapplethorpe is profiled.

9) Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach + Ext Q&A
ITN Source Showroom 4 Mon Jun 13 @ 17.30/ Throughout the Festival


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Okay, another shocker. I have never seen a Ken Loach film! How bad is that? Last month the filmmaker won the Palm d'Or at Cannes Film Festival -- the second of the 19 flicks he has debuted there to scoop the top prize -- for his social-realist drama I, Daniel Blake. The political film focuses on the welfare state through the eyes of a 59 year old joiner who suddenly falls ill and cannot work. It's meant to be immensely powerful. Sheff Doc/Fest will be playing Louise Osmond's documentary about the man behind the camera, along with a selection of his finest works to celebrate his 80th birthday. Time to educate myself, I think!


10) Presenting Princess Shaw
Bertha DocHouse Library Theatre Sat Jun 11 @ 21.00/ ITN Source Showroom 4 Tue Jun 14 @ 15.30


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Be prepared to be reminded of 2012's Searching for Sugarman in this documentary, with its tale of unknowing success. In Presenting Princess Shaw, we meet a struggling New Orleans care-worker by day/ singer by night who is discovered by an Israeli producer and turned into an internet sensation through his remixes of her vocals. The film meditates heavily on life in the digital age, and the power of sharing platforms such as YouTube. Princess Shaw herself will be performing for the audience after the movie. Her voice is INSANE.

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Here I've supplied you with only a glimmer of the glitter to be held on the screens of Sheff Doc/Fest. I'll be updating my blog over the course of the festival with reviews of what I've seen, so watch this space!

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