×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sheffield Doc/Fest stresses quality

Program director Croall spurs innovation

Heather Croall has galvanized the Sheffield Intl. Documentary Festival with a jolt of Antipodean energy.

The Sheffield Doc/Fest, as it’s known for short, was already well established as a key confab for the British factual TV community when Croall arrived from Australia as director in 2006. But she has lifted it into the premier league of international doc events, joining the front rank alongside Amsterdam’s Intl. Documentary Film Festival and Toronto’s Hot Docs.

Her biggest innovation was to introduce the MeetMarket co-production forum, which she pioneered in her previous job as director of the Australian Intl. Documentary Conference in Adelaide.

She has aggressively courted overseas delegates and buyers to inject a stronger international flavor into both the festival and the conference. She has shaken up the screening program, and doggedly pursued fresh coin to fund this expansion.

The budget for Sheffield Doc/Fest has nearly tripled under her watch to $1.25 million, and delegate numbers have swollen from 500 in 2006 to 1,200 this year. This includes 120 buyers, more than half from outside the U.K. — compared with just three international buyers the year prior to her arrival.

Yet for Croall, size isn’t everything. One of her boldest moves was to chop the length of the event from seven days to five.

“We made a strategic decision to be short and fat,” she says. “We go for a boutique experience, very high-quality and intensive.”

Sheffield remains much smaller than Amsterdam or Hot Docs, which both enjoy $4 million budgets and last 12 days. And small is the way Croall wants it. Her goal is to achieve the maximum effectiveness for delegates, which means keeping the lid on.

“Our ratio is one buyer per nine delegates, and it’s important to keep control of that. I don’t want 3,000 delegates. I want to create a high chance of a filmmaker meeting the people they need to meet. Everyone just pours out of the cinema, straight into the bar, and you see some of the most aloof, arrogant buyers having a pint and a chat with people. We don’t allow any event that’s a bus ride away.”

This year, delegates will get 57 conference sessions with 250 speakers, and 140 films with 100 guest filmmakers. Last year the MeetMarket generated $8 million in deals, while the festival sparked $18 million worth of sales.

The MeetMarket grew out of buyer discontent with the random nature of pitching forums. Filmmakers submit their proposals, and the best 50 are selected and sent to commissioning editors, who pick what interests them. The Doc/Fest team draws up a grid of 500 meetings. “We try not to waste anybody’s time. That’s what makes people frustrated and cross, and that’s when they don’t do any deals,” Croall explains.

Evangelizing

She has also created more symbiosis between the conference, previously dominated by Brit TV debates, and the festival, which specialized in more international, cutting-edge fare. “I didn’t want to lose the fact that the festival was known for new talent and experimental work that wouldn’t get shown on TV, but we expanded it to include some TV stuff.”

She launched DigiDocs 360, bridging the conference and the festival, to help filmmakers learn what the digital revolution means for them.

Sheffield Doc/Fest is also a public event intended to evangelize documentaries to a wider audience. Croall has split the fest into strands — environmental docs, music docs, sports docs, etc. — to make it easier to navigate. This year, a section titled Regime Change focuses on political transitions, inspired by the fact that Doc/Fest starts a day after the U.S. presidential election.

The fest’s capacity means there’s a limit to increasing ticket sales in Sheffield, but Croall wants to set up live feeds to cinemas around the country, where audiences can participate in Q&As via satellite link. The Glasgow Film Theater will be joining in this year with D.A. Pennebaker’s “Return of the War Room.”

TIP SHEET

When: Nov. 5-9

Where: Sheffield, England

Web: sheffdocfest.com

More Film

  • Berlin Film 'The Ground Beneath My

    Berlin Competition Film 'The Ground Beneath My Feet' Sold to Germany's Salzgeber (EXCLUSIVE)

    Salzgeber has acquired the German rights for Berlin Film Festival competition title “The Ground Beneath My Feet” from sales agent Picture Tree International. Variety has been given exclusive access to the film’s trailer. Salzgeber will release the film, directed by Marie Kreutzer, mid-May. Trailer for Berlin Film Festival competition title “The Ground Beneath My Feet” [...]

  • Donald Glover'Atlanta' TV show premiere, Arrivals,

    Childish Gambino Surprises Beverly Hills Crowd With Reimagined 'Redbone'

    Donald Glover made an unexpected appearance at Film Independent’s “An Evening With…” series tonight (Jan. 15), held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills and presented by the HFPA. Joining “Black Panther” composer and Childish Gambino collaborator Ludwig Göransson, who was the subject of a Q&A conducted by “The Treatment” host Elvis [...]

  • 76th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS --

    Film News Roundup: Glenn Close Selected for Oscar Wilde Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Glenn Close gets an honor, AFI names its Directing Workshop for Women participants and Teri Polo gets cast in a Christmas drama. CLOSE HONOR Glenn Close will be honored on Feb. 21 by the US-Ireland Alliance at the 14th Annual Oscar Wilde Awards, held at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot in [...]

  • Jason Reitman Ghostbusters

    Jason Reitman to Direct Secret 'Ghostbusters' Movie

    Sony Pictures is getting the wheels in motion for the next installment in the “Ghostbusters” franchise, and it knows who it’s going to call to direct: Jason Reitman. Sources tell Variety that Reitman, whose father, Ivan, directed the first two “Ghostbusters” movies, will direct the latest pic in the famous franchise. Reitman has also co-written a [...]

  • L.A. Teachers' Strike: Hollywood Studios, Unions

    Hollywood Studios, Unions Support Parents and Educators as L.A. Teachers' Strike Rages

    Hollywood unions and entertainment companies have stepped up to support the 31,000 Los Angeles teachers in the second day of a massive strike that’s affected nearly half a million students. More than 50 SAG-AFTRA members picketed at a Tuesday afternoon rally in the driving rain next to the Hollywood & Highland Center with secretary-treasurer Jane [...]

  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON in Glass. M.

    ‘Glass’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Glass.” Ads placed for the superhero thriller had an estimated media value of $9.89 million through Sunday for 1,183 national [...]

  • Danny Glover

    Danny Glover Joins 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' Sequel

    Danny Glover has joined the cast of Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” sequel. His role is being kept under wraps, as is the storyline. Glover will star opposite Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, all of whom are set to return. Awkwafina is in final negotiations for a significant part in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content