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  • Jack Starr

Sheffield DocFest 2022 – A Return to Form

Photography by David Chang

Since 1994, Sheffield International Documentary Festival – or DocFest – has been held annually in the city, establishing itself as the UK’s largest documentary film festival, and the third largest globally. Attracting guests from around the world – filmmakers, producers, journalists, and lovers of documentary film, the festival sees an influx of activity to the city's local cinemas. Previous festivals have featured high-profile guests from the world of documentary film, including David Attenborough, Werner Herzog, Louis Theroux, Michael Moore, Paul Greengrass, Stacey Dooley, and Jon Snow.

This year’s festival, which was held from June 23-28, was a welcome return to form. Like all festivals and cultural events, the festival has been hit hard by the pandemic – 2020’s festival was entirely online, and in 2021, the festival happened while travel restrictions were still in place, resulting in a dialled-back festival with no foreign guests and severely reduced capacity. This was the first ‘normal’ festival in three years – and it felt fantastic to have the crowds back.

The opening night film, Moonage Daydream, was screened at City Hall. An immersive, convention-bending look into the life of David Bowie via unseen archival footage. The soundscape was mixed in-person by director Brett Morgen – who really aimed to make the film as loud and electrifying as a rock concert.

Top prize for the international competition went to Sanson and Me, a Mexican film in which director Rodrigo Reyes reconnects with a migrant sentenced to life in prison. The jury lauded the film for its handling of heavy subject matter – the often-ignored plight of migrants in the American justice system.

The audience award was a more light-hearted pick: A Bunch of Amateurs, an affectionate tribute to a group of ageing Bradford filmmakers trying to keep their hobby alive. These filmmakers were seen around the Showroom themselves, filming the crowds with their cameras. This film’s optimistic, inspiring escapism was a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

The Tim Hetherington award was presented to Lyra, a film about Irish journalist Lyra McKee and her murder in 2019. The premiere screening was presented by a special guest, Line of Duty actor Adrian Dunbar, along with family and friends of the titular journalist. An emotional and harrowing look into Irish sectarian violence, there was hardly a dry eye in the room by the end of the film.

A special mention was given to One Day in Ukraine, a mesmerising examination of a single day during the lives of Ukrainian civilians during the Russian invasion earlier this year, and how everyday life has been radically changed for them.

Legendary director Werner Herzog joined the festival once again, appearing via video link to present his latest documentary: The Fire Within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft, an examination of the film archives of two volcanologists who were killed in an eruption in 1991. Surreal and chilling.

Another highlight was the winner of the International First Feature Award, Master of Light by Rosa Ruth Boesten. This American film follows an artist, George Anthony, as he reconnects with his family through art after serving a ten-year prison sentence for drugs-related offences. An excellent exploration of family and reconciliation through art.

DocFest isn’t just about screenings of films – it has many events and exhibitions. This year’s Alternate Realities exhibition took place in the Site Gallery on Paternoster Row, and featured all kinds of interactive non-fiction experiences. On the Morning You Wake was a virtual reality documentary, showing the devastating events of the false missile alert in Hawaii in 2018 through the eyes of those it affected, and discussing the horrifying threat that nuclear weapons still pose in the modern day. Ravi and Emma teaches Australian sign language through the lens of an Australian couple, using a motion-sensing webcam.

Between the unforgettable films, the special guests, the virtual experiences, and the countless parties, DocFest was not to be missed. It will return again next summer, and hopefully will continue to supply Sheffield with its greatest cultural offering.

All imagery provided by DocFest. Photography by: Chijia Hua, David Chang and Nick Hardy.


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