Thursday the 7th of May saw the official press launch of the 2015 Sheffield Doc/Fest at the BFI Southbank, London.

Doc/Fest is the UK’s, and increasingly the world’s, foremost documentary and factual digital media festival. There will be many world, EU and UK premieres from the finest creative documentary talents from the spheres of cinema, television and, more and more, online and interactive arenas. Last year the festival was attended by 3263 full pass holders and 26700 members of the public. This year the programme looks to be bigger and better in every possible way.

Presenting the launch was the acting director of Doc/Fest Mark Atkin.

From the 5th to the 10th of June Sheffield will play host to a festival that this year will screen 150 British and International award-winning films, most of which will be attended by the filmmakers who will take part in Q&A sessions after the screenings, along with an amazing array of free exhibitions, live music events, filmmaker masterclasses (always worth going for) and headline speakers.

The Look of Silence

The festival opens officially on the 5th June with two fantastic screenings. Firstly, at the Sheffield Showroom, Joshua Oppenheimer’s hotly anticipated The Look of Silence – his follow-up/companion to the startling The Act of Killing – in which a family that survived the genocide confronts the men responsible. Secondly, and certainly my pick of the festival, at the City Hall, Benedikt Erlingsson’s The Greatest Shows on Earth: A Century of Funfairs, Circuses and Carnivals, an archive film taking us from the beginning of film in 1895 to the present day, with a new score by two of Sigur Ros.

To close out the festival at The Crucible Theatre, on the 10th, will be a screening of Monty Python: The Meaning of Live, a film about the Python’s successful reunion and live show in 2014. This will be followed by a Q&A with the directors Roger Graef and James Rogan, along with Michael Palin.

The main body of the film programme is spilt, as seems to be popular in film festivals these days, into award categories and various strands, grouping films according to theme.

This year the awards categories are: Grand Jury; Sheffield Environmental Award; Doc/Fest Youth Jury; The Short Doc Award; The London Film Academy Student Doc Award; and the Interactive Award.

The films in competition for the Grand Jury Prize are: A Sinner in Mecca by Parvez Sharma, about a gay, devout Muslim on a Hajj pilgrimage; The Russian Woodpecker, by Chad Gracia follows Ukrainian artists searching for the reasons behind the Chernobyl incident; the Uk premiere of Portraits of a Search, directed by Alicia Calderon Torres is the heartbreaking story of Mexican mothers searching for their children in a warzone; Solvieg Melkaraaen’s deeply personal Good Girl, about her struggles with depression; Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution; Kirby Dick’s shocking expose of campus sexual assault in America, The Hunting Ground; Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, in which seemingly everybody becomes involved in the war against Mexico’s drug cartels; The Confessions of Thomas Quick, Brian Hill’s documentary about a Swedish man with mental problems who confessed to killing 39 people; Sean McAllistars A Syrian Love Story, about two revolutionaries in the fight for their homeland; A Young Patriot, a coming of age story told as an idealistic teenager comes of age in a changing society, directed by Haibin Du; award winning documentary from Chile, directed by Maite Alberdi, Tea Time, about a group of women who have been meeting for afternoon tea for sixty years; and finally Jeanie Finlay’s film Orion: The Man Who Would Be King, about an Elvis impersonator and his sudden fame.

There are eight films competing for the Sheffield Environmental Award. These are: the fantastically titled Addicted to Sheep, about a year in the life of a family of Geordie sheep farmers; Jerry Rothwell’s How To Change The World, the history of Green Peace; Rob Moss and Peter Galison’s experimental graphic novel/film Containment, about nuclear waste and what we do with it; a nice companion to Landfill Harmonic, a film by Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley about a Paraguayan orchestra who repurpose waste to create instruments; Mexican film Sunu, about maize farmers and their culture; Robert Kenner’s latest, Merchants of Doubt, a look at spin and punditry in the American science industry; Licence to Krill, about krill, directed by David Sington and finally Masaaki Miyazawa’s debut film In Between Mountains and Oceans, about Japan’s forests and their cultures.

In the three other Awards categories, the Doc/Fest Youth Jury is a selection of films about youth and teen issues and subjects voted for by a Jury of 18-22 year olds; the Short Doc Award is chosen from a field of fifteen short documentaries, with the winner qualifying for the 2016 Academy Awards; there are ten films shortlisted for The London Film Academy Student Doc Award and finally there is the Interactive Award, a selection of interactive web series, virtual reality pieces and computer games.

The rest of the festival will be made up of events that this year will be running programmes throughout the the 6 days of the festival, and form the majority of the films that Doc/Fest has to offer.
Ideas & Science, supported by the Wellcome Trust brings together films that explore the controversy, creativity and experimentation at the heart of Doc/Fest. There will be an incredible mix of filmmakers and thinkers that push boundaries across film and media, including the Virtual Reality Arcade at the Site Gallery and the Interactive Exhibition at the Millenium Gallery. Highlights of the strand are: Jon Snow on controversy in Making Waves, Courting Controversy; Robin Ince on the quirky and unthinkable in Final Frontiers; Phillipa Perry in conversation with Virginia Ironside in Sex, Lies and Love Bites. Other installments cover such topics as cancer, aphasia, drones, whaling and rope swings on the Oculus Rift.

The International Film Programme is where the bulk of the traditional documentaries are screened, and this year Director of Programming and Engagement Claire Aguilar has assembled an immense selection of films, including new work from Morgan Neville, Nino Kirtadze and Marc Silver, as well as the first big screen showing of Adam Curtis’ masterful Bitter Lake, and the BFI’s new 2k restoration of The March of Time. These films will all be split into themed strands including Best of British, Global Encounters, Euro Docs, Women in Docs, Instigators and Agitators, Behind the Beats and ArteFact.

Behind the Beats this year features great documentaries about Rodrigo y Gabriela, The Last Poet’s Lihtnin’ Rod, The Damned and a drum machine.

There is a John Akomfrah Retrospective, including the director himself in conversation with the BBC’s Rancine Stock and a tribute to the great Albert Maysles, who sadly died earlier this year, and which will consist of a screening of his final work, Iris, and the wonderful Grey Gardens.

This year’s special events include works from Michael Nyman, Sounds of the Cosmos presented by the University of Sheffield’s Music and Physics Departments at the Crucible Theatre and an extravagant showcase of archive film, live music and variety act from Professor Vanessa, Performing Wonders – An Evening of Film and Live Variety Entertainment.

Lastly, and usually the pick of the special events, we have the Filmmaker Masterclasses, this year with the BBC’s Danny Leigh. Doc/Fest welcomes Jeanie Finlay and Joshua Oppenheimer to discuss their latest works and Brett Morgen will talk about his acclaimed work, with Chris Wilson.
It seems insane to think that all of this is going to fit into the six days of the festival, but for that short time Sheffield is transformed into a documentary lover’s dream. With amazing films filling amazing venues, including outdoor screenings at the stunning Botanical Gardens, this year’s Doc/Fest is certainly shaping up to be the best yet, and is gradually becoming one of the main highlights of the British Film Festival calendar.

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