Doc/Fest 2017: What’s On?

Self-confessed ‘dochead’ Mark Perkins takes us through the plethora of insights on offer at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Now firmly established as one of the world’s major film festivals, Sheffield Doc/Fest is almost a quarter of a century old this year. Last year’s event welcomed over 32,700 festival goers, including around 3,500 industry delegates from 60+ countries, and this year the organisers are staging more opportunities than ever for the folk of Sheffield to join in the fun and celebrate all aspects of non-fiction story telling.

Doc/Fest likes to kick off with a big event, to the point where the opening night at the City Hall has become one of the festival highlights. This year it’s the world premiere of Daisy Asquith’s ‘Queerama’, which marks 50 years since the government decided that being homosexual was no longer a criminal offence. Through footage taken from the BFI National Archive, the film explores the world of gay men and women in the 20th Century. The film is set against a backdrop of music by John Grant, Goldfrapp, Hercules and Love Affair, and will be followed with a live performance by none other than John Grant himself.

Doc Fest

Talks and interviews with some high profile speakers are always worth seeking out during the festival, and this year there are several not to be missed. Ian Hislop will be talking about the fundamental role that satire plays in documenting our world and searching for the truth. Sir Lenny Henry will be in conversation with June Sarpong to talk about the campaign for change through humour and his passion for blues music. Documentary film maker Perter Greenaway will be talking about his new film on German theologian Martin Luthor and predictions on how we will tell stories in the future. To top all this, there’s free public access to the Doc/Fest Exchange in Tudor Square, where all manner of talks and interviews will be held throughout the six days.

Lest we forget, there will of course be almost 200 films on offer, screened at various venues across the city. The festival’s long-time home is the Showroom, but there’s a brand new venue on the Moor, The Light Cinema, and two free outdoor screens in Tudor Square and on Howard Street. There are also films showing at the Abbeydale Picture House and, for the very first time, The Leadmill.

Closing the festival will be another world premiere, a film honouring the Yorkshire MP Jo Cox. Toby Paton’s ‘Jo Cox; Death of an MP’ will be followed by a discussion about the legacy she’s left behind. To celebrate Jo’s life, Sheffield residents and communities will also be invited to join a lunchtime picnic street party at Doc/Fest Exchange.

Experiencing the real world through Virtual Reality has been a growing feature of Doc/Fest, and this year’s free Alternate Realities Programme of events will allow audiences to touch, swipe and play their way through ground-breaking sensory storyworlds. This immersive strand of the festival continues to grow and this year, in addition to the Millennium Gallery, it will spill out into two new interactive VR domes on Tudor Square and Upper Chapel Street. And they’re all free!

And of course Doc/Fest wouldn’t be the same without those ‘special events’ which seem to fit vaguely into the increasingly fluid definition of what constitutes a documentary. This year there are two installations/events worth a special mention, both of them in iconic Sheffield spaces which were at one time in danger of disappearing, but have now been reclaimed. The first of these is in the Abbeydale Picture House, where they’ll be screening Florian Habicht’s, ‘Spookers’. The film is about people who adopt zombie roles in a ‘scream park’, and the 1920s cinema will mirror this by becoming the venue for Sheffield’s very own zombie world, as the historic building becomes a ‘cavern of thrills’ for one night only.

The other is in good old Woolies on the Moor, where the Theatre Delicatessen will host the premiere of ‘Doom Room’. Members of the audience will be blindfolded and transported to the afterlife by becoming the main character in a Virtual Reality experience.

There are various ticket options, so for individual films and talks or a full pass to see whatever takes your fancy, you can visit Tickets are also available from the Festival box office which will be returning to Tudor Square.

The Best of the Rest

Whitney: Can I Be Me
A film exploring the career and complicated personal life of Whitney Houston.

First Impressions
A VR experience which allows the user to experience and interact with the world from a baby’s point of view.

Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With a Soul
This one’s at the Leadmill, it will be preceded by an acoustic live performance and attended by his brother Vic and former band mate Phil Crookes.

City of Ghosts
Matthew Heineman shows how a citizen journalists group, armed only with cameras, phones and laptops, disseminate the real horrors of life in the ISIS stronghold Raqqa

Timothy George Kelly’s film reveals the broad and conflicting ideas of what it means to be British.

Elijah Quashie aka ‘The Chicken Connoisseur’
If you’ve seen him on YouTube, you’ll know what to expect, along with his over half a million subscribers. He may even let us in on his latest fried chicken restaurant opinions first-hand.

See the full programme below

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