Sheffield DocFest board of trustees apologizes to former programmers

Sheffield DocFest has apologized days after several former programmers released a letter stating they were “silently” let go following the departure of festival director Cíntia Gil. The signatories — Juliano Gomes, Qila ...
August 31, 2021

Sheffield DocFest has apologized days after several former programmers released a letter stating they were “silently” let go following the departure of festival director Cíntia Gil.

The signatories  Juliano Gomes, Qila Gill, Carlos Pereira, Christopher Small, Rabz Lansiquot, Soukaina Aboulaoula and Herb Shellenberger  worked on the programming team from 2019 to 2021.

Earlier this month, Sheffield DocFest announced Gil had left her position, citing “artistic differences.” Sylvia Bednarz was appointed the interim managing director. Within a few days, the programmers said they were locked out of their email accounts.

“All traces of our presence at the festival  names, photos, information about our work  were scrubbed from the website,” the statement, released Aug. 27, said.

“We received no note of termination, no thanks for our work, no acknowledgement that we had played any role in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the festival, both of which took place in a pandemic. We wrote to the board and, after receiving tepid thanks, we were told that we could reapply for our jobs when the positions were advertised again.”

In a statement released today (Aug. 31), the festival’s board of trustees  Alex Cooke, Brian Woods, Jo Clinton-Davis, Madonna Benjamin, Helen Scott, Derren Lawford, Peter Armstrong and Shirani Sabaratnam  responded: “We apologise to the signatories for not communicating better. We very much appreciate their contribution to the festival. Their fixed-term contracts ended in June 2021, after this year’s festival but we welcome their candidacy for future programming roles.”

In their letter, the former programmers had questioned, “What is a film festival even for?”

“Sheffield DocFest’s purpose is to advance the art of film, education and training in documentary filmmaking, to showcase an outstanding selection of national and international non-fiction storytelling, and to celebrate documentary in all its many and evolving forms,” Sheffield DocFest said in its statement. “We agree with the signatories of the letter, What is a film festival even for?, that it is an important question to be asking. And it’s also important to ask, how does an artistic programme balance its subjects and perspectives, while simultaneously championing its filmmakers, growing its audiences and engaging its partners. These are questions we are currently addressing as we consolidate DocFest following recent leadership changes.

“We remain enthusiastic about the future of the festival and are currently working on our strategy with a view to the new leadership playing a role, with the board, in determining how Sheffield DocFest develops.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.