Reveal to any devotee of the Sheffield International Documentary Festival that you haven’t yet attended the event and they insist you go, but on the condition you don’t tell others. This conspiratorial behavior is typical of any discovery on the cusp between known and well-known, and the ninth edition of the Sheffield fest (October 21 to 27, 2002) appeared to be at this very stage.
Long considered a U.K.-centric event, Sheffield has recently attracted a more international crowd, a fact reflected in the festival’s program. Veteran U.S. doc-makers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (Only the Strong Survive, The War Room) sat for the Channel 4 interview, Indian director Anand Patwardhan (War and Peace) hosted a master class, and a panel called ‘This Happy Life’ focused on the difficulties of international copros between East and West.
Given today’s global economy, the change is both positive and necessary. But, it will inevitably lead to higher attendance, which could endanger Sheffield’s still-cozy atmosphere. Currently, film queues are reasonable, young filmmakers can access commissioning editors, audiences are easily involved in panel discussions, and the crush at the bar is only three people deep. The challenge to festival organizers will be to maintain these attributes as the event grows.
All of this does not mean the U.K. was forgotten. BBC4 controller Roly Keating defended the role of BBC4 in British public broadcasting during a Q&A session. He acknowledged the digi overlaps BBC2, but contended that it also ‘increases the risk-taking gene’ of the Beeb. Award-winning U.K. editor Ted Roberts charmed attendees of the ‘Re-imagining Reality’ session when he compared editors to mushrooms. ‘They sit in a dark room and every once in a while, somebody opens the door and throws more crap at them,’ he announced.
Channel 4 also carried out a pitching session. Village Virgins, a program about looking for love in one’s country of heritage, was selected from 12 competing projects to win £30,000 (US$47,000) and a slot on the channel.