Feedback from the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (October 16 to 22) indicates that the seven-year-old event is beginning to live up to its name. ‘Over the last three years, Sheffield has established itself as a major event in the calendar,’ says John Willis, chief executive of U.K.-based United Productions. ‘There was a very good turnout of key people in the U.K., but also internationally. One of the exciting things about it is you get to see films from other parts of the world.’
Acting festival director Caroline Cooper reveals the increase in international attendees is the result of a concerted effort. ‘One thing we were really pleased about this year was that we were able to bring over a lot more international filmmakers than we have in previous years,’ says Cooper. ‘I think the whole feel of the festival this year was much more international because of that.’
Willis says the festival is seen in the U.K. as an event to be attended, but admits it’s a good place to keep in touch rather than a major place to do business. Cooper explains that in the last two or three years, the focus of the festival moved towards the craft and politics of doc filmmaking rather than the business. ‘The thing people express that they like the most – and that’s what we try to reflect in our program – is that we give filmmakers a chance to talk about their work and share their experiences,’ she says.
For Canadian director Ron Mann, whose feature doc Grass screened at the festival, Sheffield was the first doc-specific event he had attended. ‘It was a very relaxed way to feel good about making documentaries,’ says Mann. ‘It was a young crowd and people were interested in the market and the issues. I walked away with a very global vision.’