Sheffield Doc/Fest

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Sheffield Doc/Fest
Sheffield DocFest Logo.jpg
Location Sheffield, England
Founded 1994
Awards Sheffield Doc/Fest Awards
Festival date June 10, 2016 (2016-06-10) to June 15, 2016 (2016-06-15)

Sheffield Doc/Fest, short for Sheffield International Documentary Festival (SIDF), is an international documentary festival and Marketplace held annually in Sheffield.

Since beginning in 1994,[1] Doc/Fest has become the UK's biggest documentary festival and the third largest in the world.[2][3] The BBC have called it "one of the leading showcases of documentary films".[4]

The festival includes film screenings, sessions, a marketplace for the funding and distribution of films, interactive and virtual reality exhibitions, and its own awards.

The festival has been voted one of the Top Five Coolest Documentary Film Festivals in the World.[5]

About Sheffield Doc/Fest[edit]

The Festival is held at the Showroom Workstation and over 20 other venues across Sheffield and the surrounding area. Fun is a key element, and the festival holds many parties.[6] The festival has grown steadily over recent years.[7] Doc/Fest screenings help many films to achieve a wider audience by attracting distribution and further screening opportunities for the films it shows.[8]

The marketplace, which is centred on an event called the MeetMarket, also helps films achieve funding and distribution. Interactive documentary is also a central element of the festival with interactive exhibitions and commissioned works scattered across the city, with the Interactive Summit taking place throughout an entire day of the festival.

It has the traditional film festival element in that it screens exciting new documentaries, but it’s also a place where buyers, film distributors and producers come to meet documentary makers and find the next big thing.

Sheffield Doc/Fest is the perfect platform for anyone with an interest in interactive, virtual reality and factual content. Doc/Fest prides itself in supporting and nurturing new talent: in addition to the Festival days in June, Sheffield Doc/Fest presents year round workshops, screenings, labs and mentoring opportunities both in the UK and internationally.


cIn 1990, Peter Symes of BBC TV Features Bristol had the idea of creating a forum for British documentary filmmakers to debate and discuss their craft. In 1993, he set up a festival board which included representatives from Channel 4, United Artists, Discovery Channel, Central Independent Television and Granada Television. They chose to hold the festival in Sheffield, an English industrial town which was just beginning to develop a media and cultural sector.[9]

The first Sheffield International Documentary Festival was held in 1994, formatted as an international film festival and conference for documentary professionals.[10] It included a film programme, one or two masterclasses, and a party.[11] It lasted two days and mainly attracted London-based filmmakers and producers, plus several international commissioners and distributors.

Over the next eight years, the festival continued with around 475-700 delegates attending, and total audiences reaching around 2000. The festival became an opportunity for London-based independent filmmakers to talk to commissioners at the BBC and Channel 4, who were otherwise difficult to reach. Success at the festival might mean landing a job for the coming year.[9]

In 2005 Doc/Fest was struggling to survive, with around 500 mostly-UK delegates and 2000 visitors. The chairman at the time, Steve Hewlett, visited the Australian International Documentary Conference where he met its director Heather Croall, who had a background in filmmaking and had founded the cross-platform storytelling event DigiDocs. He invited Croall to come and work for the festival, and two weeks later she moved to Sheffield, taking up position as Festival Director & CEO until early 2015.

The festival was in a moribund state by the time I arrived, but I didn’t know that. I didn’t know there were murmurs that Sheffield had lost its mojo and was a little bit flat. Once I analyzed it and realized what a tragic situation we were facing, I thought, OK, we need to create something so new and different.

— Heather Croall

The recent rise in international co-productions meant that British producers could no longer rely solely on one big broadcaster for their entire budget, and instead had to look abroad to piece together financing for their films. To internationalise the festival and help filmmakers achieve this financing, Croall introduced the MeetMarket pitching forum, where filmmakers pitch their ideas to funders in one-to-one meetings. She also introduced the digital-focused Summit and Crossover Market, now Alternate Realities Market, which – like the MeetMarket – pairs buyers and commissioners with game designers, technologists, producers, digital agencies and filmmakers, all looking to tell stories in the interactive realm.

Since 2006, Croall is credited with turning the fortunes of the festival around. It is now widely recognised as one of the top three documentary festivals in the world, and “the most significant documentary festival in Britain" .[12] Delegate numbers have risen fivefold since 2006.[7]

In 2007, Hussain Currimbhoy joined as programmer,.[13]

In 2011 the festival moved from November to June, to better fit into the industry calendar and ensure better weather and lighter evenings for visitors.

Doc/Fest was an early advocate of crowdfunding as a source of finance for documentary filmmakers, and in 2010 staged its first festival-based crowdfunding pitching event, which was also an industry first.[14][15]

In October 2012 Doc/Fest went on to launch its own crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $25k for the festival, to help stage special events.[16] They exceeded their target.[17]

From 2012, selected highlights from the festival have played at the BFI Southbank in London.[18] The festival began producing its own film projects, including From the Sea to the Land Beyond in 2012 and The Big Melt in 2013.

From 2014, the festival became recognised by the Academy Awards as an Oscar-qualifying festival in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category[19] with the Doc/Fest Short Doc Award Winner eligible to enter for consideration.

In 2014 Doc/Fest presented films including Beyond Clueless and Love Is All at Latitude Festival,[20] with Sigur Ros scored archive film The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses and Carnivals, Montage of Heck, Sounds of the Cosmos and a number of shorts also featured in 2015.

In 2014 there were some high level staff changes. Deputy director Charlie Phillips left to head up the documentary arm of The Guardian, with director of Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival Melanie Iredale taking up the position,[21] director of programming Hussain Currimbhoy left for Sundance Festival with former executive content adviser at Independent Television Service (ITVS) Claire Aguilar becoming head of programming & industry engagement,[22] and Croall returned to Australia to be closer to family and direct the Adelaide Fringe Festival.[23]

Following Heather's departure, Crossover Labs Director Mark Atkin stepped in as Acting Director for the 2015 festival, before Elizabeth McIntyre of Discovery Networks joined as CEO & Festival Director from 1 September 2015.[24]

The effect of the festival on Sheffield's economy is worth millions of pounds. Outside of the annual festival, there is now also a year-round programme providing training, educational and cultural activities across the UK, including a training initiative for aspiring feature documentary producers called Future Producer School launched in 2014.[25]


The festival's previous director of programming, Hussain Currimbhoy, spotted the film Searching for Sugar Man and ran it as the opening night feature with a surprise performance from the film's star, Sixto Rodriguez. It became the first music documentary to win an Oscar since 1991.[26]


2,657 delegates from 67 countries attended the festival, and general admissions were 20,079.

Notable screenings and events included:

Speakers included Gareth Malone and Tim Pool.[28]


2013 saw a record number of films and delegates.[29] Delegate numbers rose by 18% to 3,129.[30] There were a record 18 international delegations including representatives from Armenia, Canada, Jordan, Morocco, the Netherlands, the State of Palestine, Russia, South Africa, and South Sudan, attending the festival with a special focus on factual filmmaking in their regions.[31]

250 buyers and decision-makers from over 20 countries attended.[10]

Film submissions topped 2000 for the first time.[26] 120 films were shown, of which there were 77 feature length documentaries,[32] 33 shorts, 10 interactive projects and one art installation.[13] There were 18 world premieres,[12] 12 UK premieres, and 5 European premieres. A record 14 films screening at Doc/Fest were developed and funded through MeetMarket,[33] including Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing which went on to win the Audience Award.[7]

World premieres included Basically, Johnny Moped, Emptying The Skies, Everybody’s Child, A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power & Jayson Blair at the New York Times, Here Was Cuba, Mirage Men, Notes from the Inside with James Rhodes, Particle Fever, Plot for Peace, Project Wild Thing, Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, The Big Melt, Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, The Road to Fame, The Secret Life of Uri Geller – Psychic Spy?, Thin Ice, and To Let The World In.

European premieres included After Tiller, Dirty Wars, and Pandora's Promise.

UK premieres included The Act of Killing and The Crash Reel.[34] The Act of Killing went on to win a Bafta and was named best film of 2013 by The Guardian.[35]

Film strands included Behind the Beats, Best of British, Cross-Platform, Euro/Doc, First Cut, Global Encounters, New York Times Op-Docs, Queer Screen, Resistance, Shorts, The Habit of Art, and This Sporting Life.

A new strand, Films on Film, screened a notable film with a documentary about it, for example The Exorcist (Director's Cut) with The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist, and John WatersFemale Trouble with I Am Divine.[18] This strand aimed to attract a wider mix of people, and was supported by Lottery funding through the BFI’s Film Festival Fund which provides extra resources to help grow film festival audiences.[36]

The Doc/Fest Retrospective strand celebrated the work of Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura.[34]

More than 75 directors were present and took part in Q&A sessions.[37]

Notable screenings and events included:

There were 80 conference sessions and masterclasses,[33] and 300 speakers.[10] Notable speakers included Adam Buxton, Melvyn Bragg, Jonathan Franzen, Uri Geller, Ira Glass, Alex Graham, Janice Hadlow, Jay Hunt, Ross Kemp, Mark Kermode, Sir Trevor McDonald, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Walter Murch, Miranda Sawyer interviewing Michael Palin, Sue Perkins, Captain Sensible, and Alan Yentob.[12][48][49][50][51][52][53][54]


The festival expanded from five days to six and for the first time began on a Saturday. Screenings took place across a wider range of more unusual venues in Sheffield and the Peak District.[55] 130 films were shown, of which 21 were world premieres, 24 UK premieres, and 12 European premieres.[19][56][57]

World premieres included Martin Scorsese's documentary about The New York Review of Books, The 50 Year Argument; Alex Holmes' Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story; The Last Man On The Moon, about former astronaut Eugene Cernan who also attended the festival; One Rogue Reporter, written and directed by former 'Daily Star' reporter Rich Peppiatt;[4] and Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz.[58]

Notable screenings and events included:

Speakers included Peter Bazalgette, Jeremy Deller, Brian Eno, Sue Perkins, Grayson Perry, John Pilger, Jon Snow, and Ondi Timoner.[4][19][56][59]

There were 82 conference sessions and masterclasses,[19] and a record number of pitch opportunities for filmmakers worth £200,000.[25]


The 22nd festival ran for six days 5–10 June. Over 20 venues were used to host films, sessions, interactive exhibitions and networking events, with the full programme announced on the morning of the general election on 7 May.[65] A record number of audiences attended the festival, with 3,422 festival delegates and 27,917 members of the public.

148 films were shown, of which a record breaking 31 were world premieres, including Sean McAllister's hotly anticipated A Syrian Love Story, Brian Hill's The Confessions of Thomas Quick, and Jake Witzenfeld's Oriented, 41 UK premieres, 13 international premieres, and 19 European premieres.[66] Nearly 50% of the film programming was headed up by female filmmakers, with 73 of the films either produced or directed by women filmmakers.[67]

Notable screenings and events included:

There were 83 sessions, talks and masterclasses,[65] with speakers including Davina McCall, Nicky Campbell, Jon Snow, Lucy Worsley, Philippa Perry, Ian Katz, Charlotte Moore, and Robin Ince.[68]



MeetMarket is a documentary pitching event held at Sheffield Doc/Fest, where filmmakers pitch their project ideas one-on-one to UK and international broadcasters, funders and distributors.

Former Festival Director Heather Croall introduced MeetMarket to Doc/Fest in 2006 and developed it as an alternative to public pitching (where filmmakers pitch to a large audience).[71] Each meeting is match-made and scheduled. Each year there are over 1000 one-on-one meetings for 65+ projects across two days.[72] Each project team attends 15-20 meetings, which are all match-made with relevant decision-makers. In 2012 the event was attended by 250 decision-makers.[73]

Since its introduction, 7300 meetings have taken place, raising £30.5million for 433 documentary and digital projects (as of July 2015).

All meetings held at MeetMarket have been requested by both parties, meaning it's more likely for a deal to be made. While the focus is on achieving funding and distribution, participants also benefit from advice on production, distribution, exhibition, marketing and outreach. Filmmaker Guy Davidi said “Pitching in intimate round-table sessions was a big comfort. It reduces tension and competitiveness and makes the whole thing much more relaxed and fun. We have created important connections and in one case it led directly to an investment.”[74]

In 2013 MeetMarket attracted over 600 applications. Over 60 projects from 18 countries were chosen to participate. Filmmakers included Franny Armstrong, Marshall Curry, Jeanie Finlay, Alex Gibney, Phil Grabsky, Brian Hill, Victor Kossakovsky and Joshua Oppenheimer.[9] The selection also included six cross-platform projects.

In 2014, 64 projects were chosen to participate in MeetMarket,[56] including new films from Franny Armstrong, William Karel, and Stanley Nelson Jr.. 290 investors, commissioners and production partners took part including commissioners from Netflix, Dazed, Vice, Vimeo and Nowness and distributors Oscilloscope Laboratories, Dogwoof and PBS.[19]

In 2015, 64 projects from 19 countries were chosen to participate in MeetMarket from 600 submissions,[56] including new films from John Akomfrah, Lindsey Dryden and Maheen Zia. 300 executives, distributors, commissioners, funders, advisors and buyers across documentary and digital media took part in the MeetMarket and Marketplace activity including The Guardian, BBC, ARTE, Dogwoof and Channel 4.

MeetMarket projects have gone on to win awards at Sundance, Tribeca, IDFA, Hot Docs and Doc/Fest.[74]

Notable films to achieve funding through MeetMarket include Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing[7] and The Look of Silence (due for release in summer 2014),[75] Searching for Sugarman, Jeanie Finlay's The Great Hip Hop Hoax,[76] Ping Pong, 5 Broken Cameras, and God Loves Uganda.[77]

Digital and interactive[edit]

Sheffield Doc/Fest runs a number of programmes focussed on new media development in interactive and virtual reality.

This digital and interactive programme includes:

  • The Alternative Realities Summit, which is a full day of sessions exploring the digital revolution in broadcasting.[12] Delegates can network with representatives from the film and TV industry, which have included keynote speakers such as BBC North’s Richard Deverell, Frank Rose, Steven Johnson and Katerina Cizek from Highrise. The day includes breakout sessions and round table discussions. The 2013 summit focussed on ‘Transformers’, people who want to change the world and have moved from one platform to another to do so. It was aimed at filmmakers creating apps, documentary producers moving to social platforms, app designers making hardware, and video game developers making physical objects.[18][40]
  • The Alternative Realities Market, which is a pitching event for interactive and digital projects[33] run in a similar way to the festival's MeetMarket. It took place for the first time in 2013, when 27 project teams pitched to 85 cross-platform decision makers.[78]
  • A strand of Alternative Realities panels during the main festival conference programme, which includes sessions, commissioning editor panels, workshops, project showcasing, and cross-platform pitching competitions.
  • The Alternative Realities Exhibition, which shows and hosts digital projects including those commissioned especially for the festival. This is also a space where delegates can meet and network.[34]
  • The Virtual Reality Exhibition showcasing a number of VR focused interactive projects housed in a Sheffield city art gallery.[70]


The Sheffield Doc/Fest Awards honour the best documentaries from the Doc/Fest programme, and are judged by industry professionals.

Current categories[edit]

  • Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award voted for by audiences.
  • Grand Jury Prize for excellence in style, substance and approach. The jury is made up of UK and international documentary specialists.
  • Interactive Award for a project that exhibits originality in approach to form, storytelling and delivery. The jury is made up of international film and interactive industry experts.
  • Environmental Award given to the documentary that best addresses or raises awareness of the environmental challenges faces by the world.
  • Youth Jury Award for the film that is most engaging for young audiences. The winner is chosen by a jury of five young people aged 18–22, who take part in a series of workshops and screenings with industry professionals ahead of the festival.[79]
  • Short Doc Award, introduced in 2013,[54] these films are made by new and established filmmakers from around the world and automatically qualifies the winner for consideration for the Academy Awards.
  • Student Doc Award for films made as part of tertiary course work at UK and international universities, judged by a panel of industry experts.
  • Tim Hetherington Award presented by Dogwoof. This was introduced in 2013 to honour war photographer Tim Hetherington. It includes a cash prize and is decided by a jury including Tim’s mother, Judith Hetherington.
  • Inspiration Award, introduced in 2009, which celebrates a figure in the industry who has championed documentary and helped get great work into the public eye.[33]
  • The In The Dark Sheffield International Audio Award introduced in 2014 to highlight the best in audio documentaries.[80]



Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award Junior
Special Jury Prize Videocracy
Sheffield Innovation Award LoopLoop

Special mention: The Big Issue

Sheffield Green Award Blood of the Rose
Sheffield Youth Jury Award Sons of Cuba
Student Doc Award Arsey Versey
Inspiration Award Adam Curtis


Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award Joint winners: Father, Son and the Holy War and Scenes from a Teenage Killing
Special Jury Prize Pink Saris

Special mention: Nostalgia for the Light

Sheffield Innovation Award The Arbor

Special mention: Prison Valley

Sheffield Green Award Rainmakers

Special mention: Into Eternity

Sheffield Youth Jury Award The Battle for Barking

Special mention: Marathon Boy

Student Doc Award No Easy Time
Inspiration Award Kim Longinotto


Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award Give Up Tomorrow
Special Jury Prize The Interrupters
Sheffield Innovation Award sponsored by BT Vision Welcome to Pine Point
Sheffield Green Award You've Been Trumped
Sheffield Youth Jury Award We Are Poets
Student Doc Award Eighty Eight
Inspiration Award Nick Broomfield

A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Albert Maysles.


The awards were held on 17 June 2012.

Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award 5 Broken Cameras
Special Jury Prize Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present
Sheffield Innovation Award sponsored by BT Vision Bear 71
Sheffield Green Award Law of the Jungle
Sheffield Shorts Award The Globe Collector
Sheffield Youth Jury Award Photographic Memory
Student Doc Award The Betrayal – Nerakhoon
EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film Going Up The Stairs
Inspiration Award Penny Woolcock


The awards were held on 16 June 2013, and presented by Jeremy Hardy.

Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award Joint winners: The Act of Killing and Particle Fever
Special Jury Prize The Act of Killing

Special mention: Mothers

Sheffield Innovation Award sponsored by BT Vision Alma, a Tale of Violence
Sheffield Green Award Pandora's Promise
Sheffield Shorts Award Slomo
Sheffield Youth Jury Award God Loves Uganda
Student Doc Award Boys
Tim Hetherington Award The Square
EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film Rafea Solar Mama
Inspiration Award Nick Fraser, editor of the BBC's Storyville

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists also presented a Special EDA Award to Sheffield Doc/Fest's Festival Director, Heather Croall, naming her 2013's Ambassador of Women's Films.[81][82]


The awards were held on 12 June 2014. For the first time, the award-winning documentary short automatically qualifies for consideration for the Academy Awards.[19]

Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award Still The Enemy Within
Special Jury Prize Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime

Special mention: Night Will Fall

Sheffield Innovation Award sponsored by BT Vision Highrise (documentary)
Sheffield Green Award Unearthed
Sheffield Shorts Award Amanda F***ing Palmer on the Rocks
The Wintonick Award Vessel
Sheffield Youth Jury Award The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Student Doc Award Our Curse
Tim Hetherington Award Profession: Documentarist
Inspiration Award Laura Poitras

A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Roger Graef.[83]


The awards were held on 10 June 2015 at the Crucible Theatre.[19]

Award Winner
Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award The Look of Silence (feature doc), Dear Araucaria (short doc), Disney Animated (interactive project)
Grand Jury Award A Syrian Love Story
Interactive Award Clouds Over Sidra

Special mention: Do Not Track

Environmental Award How to Change the World

Special mention: Landfill Harmonic

Short Doc Award Starting Point
Youth Jury Award 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets
Student Doc Award sponsored by London Film Academy The Archipelago
Tim Hetherington Award Cartel Land
Inspiration Award Heather Croall
In The Dark Audio Award The Woman on Ice

Year round programme[edit]

Doc/Fest activities outside of the five-day festival include:

  • Screenings, for example the BFI Doc/Fest tour which takes a selection of the festival's film programme around the UK, and screenings at Latitude Festival 2013.[84]
  • An ongoing mentoring programme for filmmakers.
  • Training, workshops and networking events for filmmakers.[28]
  • A structured internship and volunteer programme for young people.

Festival directors[edit]

  • Midge MacKenzie, 1994[11]
  • Paula Shirley, 1995
  • Kathy Loizou, 1996–2001[85]
  • Brent Woods, 2002–2005[86]
  • Heather Croall, 2006–2014[23]
  • Elizabeth McIntyre, 2015–present[24]

Festival chairpersons[edit]

  • Peter Symes, 1994–1995
  • Marian Bowan, 1996
  • Roger James, 1997–2000[87]
  • Christo Hird, 2000–2004[88]
  • Steve Hewlett, 2005–2011[89]
  • Alex Graham, 2011–present[6]


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  87. ^ Andy Fry, Sheffield hits its stride,, 1 December 1999
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  89. ^ Adam Benzine, Wall To Wall’s Graham to chair Sheffield Doc/Fest,, 20 June 2011

External links[edit]