Now in its 23rd year, Sheffield Doc Fest has long set a precedent in UK documentary as being at the forefront of the industry, pitching and innovating new developments being implemented across the genre. A mix of screenings, special events, public talks and masterclasses ensure audiences experience the full range of pioneering talent as well as key industry topics currently impacting on UK documentaries.
The curators have brought in some huge names for their series of talks and events this year, including some relative documentary newbies, such as presenter Reggie Yates on his career to date and musician Professor Green on his future film work for BBC Three.
At the other end of the scale, there are numerous documentary legends too. Michael Moore will be looking back on his career as well as premièring his latest work Where to Invade Next; Joanna Lumley will be in attendance to talk past and future factual exploits; documentary giant Sir David Attenborough will no doubt entertain a rapturous audience with tales of his natural history adventures and achievements.
With over 160 films scheduled during the festivals run, we’re bound to miss some belting choices in our look forward, as well as during the festival itself – there’s only so much coffee we can consume! With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s a glimpse of some of the films already circled in our festival diary.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
In 2000, the publication of Sarah, a raw exploration of prostitution, gender, sexual violence and poverty, was lauded by critics as a debut novel worth talking about. With the press eager to get their hands on the author and a film adaptation planned, no one could have foreseen the reveal that supposed author JT LeRoy was in fact an alternative persona invented by writer/musician Laura Albert. Billed as ‘the strangest story about story ever told,’ Author: The JT LeRoy Story promises mystery, intrigue and a look inside the mind of a magnificent fantasist.
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have a bit of a thing for Disney movies; the Buzzfeed quizzes confirm the world’s passion for all things Walt. But how many of us can say that Disney changed our lives, allowed us a way to see the world and communicate with others when it seemed impossible? Owen Suskind, the subject of Life, Animated, can certainly make that claim. Diagnosed with Autism at just three years old, Owen learnt to use the dialogue in Disney movies, which he memorized from sound alone, to reconnect with language and the world around him. Based on the book by his Pulitzer Prize–winning father, Ron Suskind, the documentary won a directing award at Sundance for its unique storytelling and evocative exploration of an inspiring family.
Receiving its’ International Premiere at Sheffield Doc Fest, it will be interesting to see just how much access Director Ryan White has had to the global sports superstar Serena Williams in his latest venture. Of particular interest is her relationship and rivalry with her sister Venus, dealing with her half-sisters’ murder in 2003 and life on and off the court with her parents as her coaches. A tennis player not without her controversies, Williams is currently the No.1 female tennis player and is 5th on the all-time list of most titles won. Will we learn more about the powerhouse than her press conferences can provide or will this be a documentary looking on from the side lines?
Shifting the focus from being behind the camera to being front and centre is not something cinematographer Kirsten Johnson ever planned for, building a career working on a parade of groundbreaking documentaries including Darfur Now, The Invisible War and CitizenFour. In Cameraperson, Johnson dons the director’s hat to compile pieces of her greatest work into an insightful look at how a career where the concentration was always on someone else shaped her life and the way she fits into that world.
Encompassing venues the length and breadth of Sheffield, tickets are still on sale for the festival which kicks off Friday 10th June. Visit Sheffield Doc Fest for booking information and schedules.