The UK’s biggest documentary festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest, returns this year for its 25th edition. Running from 7-12 June at venues across the city, it offers up more than 200 documentary features and short films, alongside a host of special events, and interactive and immersive projects.
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Things get going with the opening night world premiere of A Northern Soul, the latest work from Sean McAllister (A Syrian Love Story), who returned to his hometown, Hull, to film the life of warehouse worker hip-hop artist Steve Arnott. Backed by the BFI, it’s part of a bumper first day, which also includes the premiere of Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s Alexander McQueen documentary, McQueen.
To help you navigate the festival’s huge programme, here are 10 more films to look out for.
The Silence of Others
One of the five titles up for this year’s Grand Jury Award, Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s The Silence of Others is an insightful inquiry into the long-standing struggle for justice for the victims of Franco’s 40-year dictatorship. Filming over six years, the filmmakers paint a portrait of a still-divided society that’s even now coming to terms with Spain’s past. The Grand Jury Award will be judged by a panel including Mark Cousins (whose own film The Eyes of Orson Welles also has its UK premiere at the festival), artist Liv Wynter and musician GAIKA.
Three years after her acclaimed debut Exotica, Erotica, Etc, Greek director Evangelia Kranioti returns with this striking new project following transgender narrator Luana Muniz through carnival queens and protestors on the streets of Rio de Janeiro to reflect on the beauty of transformation. The film’s poetic imagery and colourful visual universe won Kranioti the Teddy Award at this year’s Berlinale and Obscuro Barroco now competes for Doc/Fest’s Art Doc Award.
Also in competition for the Art Doc Award is self-taught photographer-filmmaker Khalik Allah’s Black Mother, a moving examination of Jamaican history and identity involving a tapestry of voices and haunting imagery. Warp Records artist GAIKA will perform the score live at Doc/Fest, while Allah will also be appearing on stage for a conversation with film critic and programmer Ashley Clark.
Screening as part of the festival’s focus on Lebanon this year, Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives follows groups of endangered seed distributors working between the Arctic Circle and Lebanon. Competing for Doc/Fest’s Environmental Award, it’s a study of resilience and dedication, benefiting from superb photography and a commitment towards greater understanding of our fragile natural world.
It’s been three years since we last saw the films of revered artist-filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky οn UK screens. So the international premiere of this collection of seven 16mm films, known as the Arboretum Cycle, is an exciting addition to the programme. Each of these silent works is an exploration of California’s nature, celebrating the qualities of spring light, energy, montage and rebirth.
Another sublime cinematic pastoral heading to the festival in the same Doc/Visions strand is British director Scott Barley’s eerie Sleep Has Her House, which hypnotically unfurls nature’s majesty.
Margaret Tait: A Century
Doc/Fest’s selection of projects from the past, also part of the Doc/Visions strand, includes a programme of pioneering British filmmaker Margaret Tait’s inspiring cinematic work. Her titles Tailpiece (1976), Colour Poems and Aerial (both 1974), Where I Am Is Here (1964) and A Portrait of Ga (1952) are all included in this mini retrospective to mark both the centenary of her birth and the 1918 suffrage act.
Following the acclaim for her 2016 documentary The Graduation, about the painstaking admissions process at a prestigious Parisian film school, Claire Simon returns to the corridors of education for Young Solitude. This time high-school students in Paris take centre stage for a project that consists entirely of their conversations while in class or on school benches, becoming a touching study of their diverse stories, passions and loneliness.
Over in the music-doc-heavy Rhythm strand, Doc/Fest will see the UK premiere of Stuart Swezey’s documentary about now legendary, mid-80s guerrilla music concerts in the Mojave desert that would eventually inspire Burning Man and Coachella festivals. Following the screening, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth will perform live at Sheffield’s historic Abbeydale Picture House.
Under the Wire
Under the Wire is a powerful account of war correspondent Marie Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy’s assignment on the frontline in the Syrian city of Homs during the Arab spring, during which Colvin was tragically killed and Conroy critically injured after an attack on the international media centre. Based on Conroy’s book Under the Wire, and presented by the BFI and HISTORY Films, Chris Martin’s film will have its world premiere at the festival.
With his latest work, Romanian master Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest) turns the absurd vision of his friend, civil servant Laurențiu Ginghină, into reality. That is, changing the rules of football to focus on the ball rather than the players. The result is a uniquely philosophical spin on the beautiful game, but also a series of wonderfully rich monologues on land ownership, infinity and one man’s quest for a utopian dream.
Full programme available at sheffdocfest.com