When Heather Croall took the reins at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2006, the UK documentary festival was struggling. Attendance was stagnant, having ranged from 475-700 attendees over the previous eight years, and the festival was considered a niche, particularly Anglo-centric affair, in need of a fresh direction.
In her first five years in charge, Croall and her team have revitalized the event, bringing in international delegates and glitzy stars, and swelling overall attendance numbers: to 1,236 in 2007, 1,885 in 2009 and 2,310 in 2011. Doc/Fest is now considered a major date on the festival calendar.
Aside from an audacious move that saw the event relocating from November to June, carried out with aplomb in just six months last year, a large part of the event’s success has been Croall’s implementation of the MeetMarket – a forum event which couples filmmakers with commissioners and funders for personalized one-on-one meetings.
The 2011 MeetMarket generated some £5.6 million (US$8.7 million) worth of business for producers, according to its organizers, and the event has become a key fixture for fundraising, alongside the more traditional forums at IDFA in Holland and Hot Docs in Canada.
What was Doc/Fest like when you took over?
It was in a bit of a state in 2005. And from 2006, the first year I was in charge, up until about 2008, we felt as if we were running at 100 miles per hour, just desperately trying to put the thing back on the road. It really needed to embrace documentary in the broad sense of the industry – both people who are in telly and in film.
What has been the key challenge to date?
Turning it from being a British event into being an international event. I talked to buyers and asked them what they wanted, and they said, “I don’t want to sit in another public pitching forum.” So we focused on the idea that if we built something really specific in the MeetMarket, it would look like something that didn’t exist anywhere else.
What is your key aim for the future?
We now want to push for a much more international mixture and get Sheffield to be a place that can help filmmakers from non-Western dominated territories increase their presence – Latin America, the Middle East, et cetera.