Inspired by John Berger’s television series and influential book of the same title, Ways of Seeing is the tagline of this year’s most adventurous non-fiction festival in the UK. The 26th edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest, which runs from 6-11 June, will feature a programme of more than 180 international documentary features, 54% of which are made by women directors. While it continues its commitment to diverse documentary forms, this year the festival has a particular emphasis on new talent and images of youth: voices calling for a better world and to change our minds in a time of universal uncertainty.
Live music events showcasing artists including Kate Nash, Summer Camp and Bo Ningen will accompany a huge line-up of guests including Ai Weiwei, Werner Herzog, Waad Al-Kateab, Jeanie Finlay and Asif Kapadia, and an Alternate Realities summit celebrating powerful digital and interactive experiences. Featuring the best in broadcast and online films, the festival this year will also celebrate the work of television director Mike Dibb, director and co-creator of John Berger’s revolutionising 1972 series Ways of Seeing.
The festival opens with the UK premiere of Asif Kapadia’s highly anticipated feature documentary Diego Maradona, a wild look at one of the world’s iconic sportsmen on and off the pitch. Following three long years, the Academy and BAFTA-winning team behind Amy and Senna assembled the story of the celebrated football star from over 500 hours of never-seen-before footage from Maradona’s personal archive.
Here are 10 more hot tickets.
Strand: Spotlight / Doc/Expose / Grand Jury Award
Acclaimed war diary For Sama, in the newly added Spotlight programme section of screenings that are followed by extended conversations, is one of the five titles competing for this year’s Grand Jury Award. It is a rare study of the conflict in Syria and a personal testimony from young filmmaker and activist Waad Al-Kateab, who was a mere student when the conflict began to destroy Aleppo in 2012. Together with co-director Edward Watts, she completed their debut feature under difficult circumstances and the result is an astonishing letter to her first daughter. The Grand Jury Award will be considered by jury members artist Jeremy Deller, producer Charlotte Cook and rising filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, whose own film Black to Techno has its UK premiere at the festival and will also compete for the festival’s Short Award.
A Dog Called Money
Strand: Spotlight / Doc Rhythm / Grand Jury Award
Award-winning photojournalist Seamus Murphy’s PJ Harvey documentary follows the development process of the rock icon’s 2016 opus The Hope Six Demolition Project. Shortly after their first collaboration on her astonishing 2011 album Let England Shake, for which Murphy directed the videos for her songs, PJ Harvey decided to follow Murphy to the war-torn zones of Kabul and Kosovo as well as to the south-east of Washington DC during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. A Dog Called Money, also competing for the Grand Jury Award, is a performance-based documentary unlike any other. It captures with flare and compassion PJ Harvey’s unique music around a society fighting for decent living conditions against the backdrop of war.
Anthropocene: the Human Epoch
Strand: Doc/Think / International Award
Anthropocene: the Human Epoch, co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, is the final part of a trilogy. Like their Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013), this third film sets out to depict the catastrophic scale of humankind’s actions on our lives on Earth. Following the scientific argument that we are living in the epoch of Anthropocene, meaning an age in which humans constantly impact the Earth, Baichwal, de Pencier and Burtynsky show us the spectacular transformation of nature to a frightening effect.
Rushing Green with Horses
Strand: Doc/Vision / Art Award
Rushing Green with Horses is a subtle collection of private moments by filmmaker and 16mm devotee Ute Aurand. A central figure of Berlin’s experimental film scene since the 1980s, Aurand filmed her subjects over 20 years and edited her own sound recordings on to film as a response to an observation of her surroundings. Rushing Green with Horses is a filmic poem of social rituals at home, by the sea and in nature, with friends and family, and it is competing for the Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Art Award.
Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You
Strand: Doc/Vision / Art Award
Another work in the Art Award competition, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You, is a symbolic voyage in the sociopolitical spectrum of religion, identity and collective memory. Mosese’s adieu to his native South Africa, this black and white essay film of striking contrasts between ska music and church bells recorded on the streets of Lesotho is accompanied by a robust narration about modern-day slavery.
One of the most controversial figures of the 21st century, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in 2013 for leaking classified military information to WikiLeaks. She served seven years at a maximum-security US prison (dating from her arrest in 2010) before President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. Independent director and multimedia artist Tim Travers Hawkins’ debut feature, XY Chelsea, tells the intimate story of the American activist and whistleblower after her early release from jail in 2017. Currently held in solitary confinement for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks, the BFI and Dogwoof presented documentary follows the daily struggles of Manning’s transitioning to her new life.
Strand: Doc/Love / Youth Jury Award
Last month the Guardian published the rare story of Freddy McConnell, the dad who gave birth to a baby boy. For McConnell it was a life-changing experience but came with unique challenges. He felt that film and TV documentaries about trans people were often hostile towards their subjects so wanted to tell his story by giving unprecedented access to director Jeanie Finlay. In Seahorse, which will have its European premier at the festival, Finlay follows McConnell’s quest from preparation for conception to birth. The result is a warm documentary about love and the fundamental understanding of gender and parenthood. Finlay’s documentary Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, a chronicle of the show’s ultimate season, is also included in the festival’s New/Hits strand.
Over the past four years artist-filmmaker Lucy Parker has been working with blacklisted workers from the UK construction industry to research stories of thousands of workers who were denied employment for involvement in trade union activism. Parker’s debut film, Solidarity, features these workers — initially labelled as ‘conspiracy theorists’ — who experienced paranoia, poverty and relationship breakdown until 2009 when the Blacklist Support Group was formed to obtain justice. In Parker’s film a community is gradually built while her camera silently follows the group discussions to examine the case and the protection of our rights.
Toshio Matsumoto shorts
Key and rarely seen works by the pioneering Japanese filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto (1932-2017) will be presented as part of this year’s regional focus, New/Japan. A pioneer of Japanese experimental cinema in the 1960s, Matsumoto experimented with the avant-garde form in his documentary practice. His short films The Weavers of Nishijin (1961), For the Damaged Right Eye (1968), Everything Visible is Empty (1975), Atman (1975) and Engram (1987) will be accompanied by the Japanese four-piece psychedelic and alternative rock band Bo Ningen for a fiery live music event. An absolute festival highlight.
Lanre Malaolu’s Doc Society supported project The Circle is a compelling work that gives a bold insight into the lives of two black men growing up in London. The dance-based documentary portrays two young brothers, David and Sanchez, living on a Hackney council estate, whose challenges are epitomised through movement to mirror emotions, masculinity, mental health and stigmas. The Circle will be presented in the New/UK strand, showcasing a new wave of UK filmmakers and extraordinary contemporary British stories.
Full programme available at sheffdocfest.com