×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Croall takes Sheffield to a new level

British fest celebrates creativity and independence

Few films sum up the can-do ethos of the Sheffield Intl. Documentary Festival better than “The English Surgeon,” the award-winning pic about a Brit neurosurgeon working in makeshift conditions in the Ukraine.

The film, helmed by Geoffrey Smith, was pitched at Doc/Fest — as the event likes to call itself — in 2005 where it successfully raised coin from the U.S., U.K. and mainland Europe.

A year later, “The English Surgeon” preemed at Sheffield, followed by a workshop on how the project was funded.

“One of my aims since taking over the festival has been to make the event as integrated as possible and to have three legs — finance, screenings and panel discussions,” explains festival director Heather Croall, an Australian documentary producer.

Most attendees agree that since Croall was recruited three years ago by Doc/Fest chairman and U.K. TV vet Steve Hewlett,the five-day, 15-year-old shindig has raised its game.

Doc/Fest, expected to attract around 1,200 delegates from 40 or so countries, opens Nov. 5 with a screening of John Dower’s “Thriller in Manila,” one of 30-odd preems.

Other highlights are master classes with docmaking team D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hedges; Nick Broomfield; and Michael Palin, the former “Monty Python” star now feted for his BBC travelogues.

Fest also features an interview with Brit documentarian Molly Dineen and a session spotlighting Channel 4’s new head of docs, Hamish Mykura, who some are speculating might run a British web in the future.

“Sheffield used to have this reputation of being a rather fusty, miserable affair,” opines Anthony Wall, editor of BBC arts strand “Arena” and a noted director in his own right.

“Arena’s” films are shown regularly at Sheffield. Last year, Wall provided a sneak preview of the series’ keenly anticipated film on controversial record producer Phil Spector.

“One of the great things about Sheffield is that it isn’t corporate. The emphasis remains on creative endeavor,” adds Wall. “It’s a place where filmmakers want to be.

“It’s a very democratic event, fun and modern without being in your face. Sheffield is a great city to hold a film festival. The geography of the place is easy to navigate, and the hotels and bars are great.”

In fact, Doc/Fest has played a part in the regeneration of this once-mighty blue-collar city, formerly famed for heavy industry. Today, Sheffield likes to plug its green credentials, yet remains a manufacturer of steel, and the quality of its cutlery is without peer.

Much of the festival’s after-hours socializing occurs in Sheffield’s historic buildings such as its City Hall, where some of the world’s best-known documentarians down their pints alongside wannabe helmers. Screenings are held late into the night.

“The great thing about Sheffield is that it’s actually a genuine festival because it celebrates the documentary,” observes John Archer, joint head of Glasgow-based Hopscotch Films.

He adds: “It attracts a good range of international commissioners. If you want to pitch an idea, Sheffield is ideal.”

In accord with this, the organizers have introduced the MeetMarket, a kind of speed dating service for documakers in need of a financial fix.

In fact, the beauty of these meetings is that they take place after both parties have made contact online — that way a producer of history films avoids trying to sell his idea to an exec who buys only factual entertainment.

“It’s important that we don’t mismatch,” says Croall.

Keen to retain Doc/Fest’s cozy, boutique vibe, Croall claims the event has gotten as big as it needs to be.

“We want the VIPs and the other delegates to be together in the same rooms as much as possible, so I have a ceiling of 1,300 participants,” she explains.

If this sounds like wishful thinking in these financially hard-pressed times, Croall claims the credit crunch has yet to impact Doc/Fest.

This may be because, compared with other comparable confabs, Sheffield is cheap — £188 ($329) for early-bird delegates and $376 for the rest.

More Film

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire' Star, Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. In addition to delivering one of the definitive cinematic portrayals of Hitler, [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor whose portrayal of Adolf Hitler in 2004’s “Downfall” made him an international star, has died. He was 77. Ganz died at home in Zurich on Friday, his management told various media outlets. Ganz was a familiar figure in German-language cinema, with a career spanning nearly 60 years. In addition to [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content