Sheffield Doc/Fest announced the line-up of 180+ documentary features and shorts for its 26th edition, which runs from 6 to 11 June, 2019, under the tagline “Ways of Seeing” inspired by John Berger’s television series and book of the same name. The festival opens on Thursday June 6 with Diego Maradona, a wild and irreverent look at one of the world’s most iconic sportsmen, both on and off the pitch, during his infamous time in Naples.

FOR SAMA. Waad, Hamza and Sama look at graffiti they painted on a bombed-out building, protesting against the forced exile of the civilian population of east Aleppo by forces of the Syrian regime and their Russian and Iranian allies, December 2016. Courtesy of Channel 4, Copyright Waad al-Kateab.
FOR SAMA. Waad, Hamza and Sama look at graffiti they painted on a bombed-out building, protesting against the forced exile of the civilian population of east Aleppo by forces of the Syrian regime and their Russian and Iranian allies, December 2016. Courtesy of Channel 4, Copyright Waad al-Kateab.

A new addition to this year’s film program is Spotlight, highlighting screenings followed by extended conversations. Included within Spotlight are: acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with The Rest, a film about refugees who fled war and persecution and arrived in Europe and now live in limbo within a disintegrating humanitarian aid system; Werner Herzog with Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, a portrait of one of the 20th century’s most charismatic writers and a revealing personal insight into the imagination and obsessions of one of the world’s most visionary directors; Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts with For Sama, about the experience of war told as a message from a young Syrian mother, Jeanie Finlay and Freddy McConnell, with Seahorse: The Dad who Gave Birth which documents one trans man’s pioneering quest to fulfil the age-old desire to start his own family, Nick Broomfield with Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen, Ursula Macfarlane plus panel with Untouchable, the inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein, revealing how Weinstein acquired and deployed his formidable power over the course of decades, Seamus Murphy with A Dog Called Money which investigates the creative process behind British musician PJ Harvey’s album The Hope Six Demolition Project.

Also as part of Doc/Rhythm, Isaac Reeder’s Hype Master is dedicated to MC Stormin – one of the pioneers of Grime – and tells his rise to mainstream fame and his battle with cancer;  Imogen Putler and Monika Baran’s Cool Daddio: The Second Youth of R. Stevie Moore is a tragi-comic musical odyssey to discover the greatest unknown icon, and Lisbon Beat featuring DJ Nigga Fox.

A focus on LGBTQI+ communities at the festival includes: Deep in Vogue, a colorful perspective on the vogueing subculture in Manchester, including a live performance from House of Ghetto; a number of projects in the Alternate Realities program Another Dream, My Mother’s Kitchen, Through the Wardrobe, Panama Al Brown and Interactive Portraits: Trans People in Japan. In the Film program titles such as Joanna Reposi Garibaldi’s Teddy Award-winning Lemebel (UK premiere), Enrico Massi’s Shelter – Farewell to Eden (UK premiere), Theodore Collatos’ Queen of Lapa (International premiere), and in the Focus/Shapes That Move strand Flip the Script, a compilation screening.

XY CHELSEA. Chelsea Manning. Photo Credit: Tim Travers Hawkins.
XY CHELSEA. Chelsea Manning. Photo Credit: Tim Travers Hawkins.

The New/Hits strand will include Tim Travers Hawkins’ XY Chelsea, Jeanie Finlay’s Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, made with unprecedented access on the set of the ultimate season of Game of Thrones, and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11  featuring never-before-seen footage – sourced by Sheffield-based NASA archive expert Stephen Slater – which goes straight into the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission, as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin embark on a historic trip to the moon.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Film Program

Forty-two documentaries, 57% of which are directed by women will compete across the festival’s official competition categories including Grand, International, Tim Hetherington, Art, New Talent, Short and Youth Awards.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Grand Jury Award

Titles competing for the Grand Jury Award are: A Dog Called Money (UK premiere) in which award-winning photographer Seamus Murphy investigates the creative process behind British musician PJ Harvey’s album The Hope Six Demolition Project; For Sama (UK premiere), an intimate, visceral film about the female experience of war told as a message from a young Syrian mother Waad al-Kateab (co-directing with Edward Watts) to her daughter, documenting al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth; in Midnight Traveler (UK premiere) Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili, his wife and two daughters capture on mobile phones the dramatic journey they embark on after Hassan receives a Taliban death sentence; in Mike Wallace Is Here (European premiere) Avi Belkin offers an engaging look at the life and career of legendary CBS 60 Minutes newsman Mike Wallace, showing how he redefined broadcast journalism with his hard-hitting interview style; in Midnight Family (UK premiere) by Luke Lorentzen, a father and his sons spend almost every night operating their private ambulance in Mexico City, having their priorities as first responders compromised due to financial pressures.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 International Award

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

Titles in competition for the International Award, which honors the best new international non-fiction film, challenging global perspectives and bringing audiences to the heart of the story, are: Kristof Bilsen’s MOTHER (World premiere) focusing on Pomm who takes care of Europeans with Alzheimer’s in Thailand while being separated from her own children; in The Amazing Johnathan Documentary (European premiere) filmmaker Ben Berman navigates the ‘smoke & mirrors’ world of the subversive magician John Edward Szeles AKA Amazing Johnathan, who in 2014 was given a year to live, but is still alive and kicking; in BLOCK (International premiere) by Victoria Alvares and Quentin Delaroche, Brazilian truckers on strike during a country-wide blockade in 2018 hope military intervention will bring a solution. But when the army finally arrives to end the crisis, nothing goes quite as expected; in The Black Tree (International premiere), co-directed by Máximo Ciambella and Damián Coluccio, the ancestral legends of the Argentine Qom community and their threatened present fuel the powerful, natural and austere images; in Earth (UK premiere), Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Homo Sapiens) observes people in mines, quarries and at large construction sites engaged in a constant struggle to take possession of the planet as several billion tons of earth are extracted annually; visually stunning Anthropocene: the Human Epoch (UK premiere), co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes), Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, traverses the globe showing the devastating impact of our lives on Earth as scientists argue we are in a new epoch, the Anthropocene.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Tim Hetherington Award

Titles in competition for the award which best reflects journalist Tim Hetherington’s legacy are: Raúl O. Paz Pastrana’s Border South (World premiere) showing two men who follow the migrant trail running from southern Mexico to the US border: Gustavo, a Nicaraguan in search of a better life, recovering from being shot by Mexican police, and anthropologist Jason who is examining the trail’s grisly remains; Colombian director Victoria Solano’s Sumercé (World premiere) follows agricultural educator Rosita, veteran activist Don Eduardo and rising political leader César Pachón as they fight their government over the country’s access to fresh water; Julien Elie’s Dark Suns (UK premiere) offers an exploration of the complex police and gangs network behind the disappearance of thousands of Mexican men and women since the 1970s; in Eliza Capai’s Your Turn (UK premiere), three students fight over the right to speak and to share their point of view regarding the largest student struggle of the century and the recent political context in Brazil; One Child Nation (UK premiere; Sundance 2019 U.S. Grand Jury Documentary Prize winner; former MeetMarket project), co-directed by a first-time mother Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow) and Jialing Zhang, breaks open decades of silence on China’s one-child policy through interviews with both victims and instigators.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Art Award

Titles in competition for the Art Award which champion bold new creative forms of non-fiction cinema and artist’s film are: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You (UK premiere), a symbolic social-political voyage of a society spiraling between religion, identity and collective memory; No Data Plan (UK Premiere), an unusual travelogue from filmmaker Miko Revereza, as an unnoticed passenger crossing America on an Amtrak train; filmed over 20 years, celebrated German experimental filmmaker Ute Aurand’s Rushing Green with Horses (UK premiere) is a collection of private moments, at home and at play with family and friends; The Hottest August (UK premiere), filmmaker Brett Story’s (The Prison in Twelve Landscapes) journey to all five boroughs of New York City in the blazing heat of August, 2017, asking people their thoughts and hopes for the future, following Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidential post; While We Are Here (UK premiere) exploring the relationship between two migrants in New York, Lebanese Lamis and Brazilian Wilson, delicately crafted by the filmmaking duo Clarissa Campolina and Luiz Pretti; and Fordlandia Malaise (UK premiere) from Susana de Sousa Dias, telling the past and the present of Fordlandia, the town founded by Henry Ford in the Amazon rainforest in 1928, through the stories of folklore and spirits told by the locals.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 New Talent Award

Titles in competition for the New Talent Award which discovers and honours the future of documentary film, celebrating new talent and fresh perspectives are: Imogen Putler and Monika Baran’s Cool Daddio: The Second Youth of R. Stevie Moore (World premiere) a tragi-comic musical odyssey to discover the greatest unknown icon, a man who recorded over 400 albums in his bedroom and influenced a generation of musicians; About Love (World premiere), Archana Atul Phadke’s loving observation of shifting household dynamics and the female status in South Bombay, through the eyes of of women in her own family; Talking About Adultery (World premiere), Bara Jichova Tyson’s exploration of what it means to be in a committed relationship; a group of friends from Bucaramanga, the home of Colombia’s most violent football supporters, make a risky journey to an away match in Andres Torres’ The Fortress (International premiere); Ezequiel Yanco’s La Vida En Común (UK premiere) shot in an indigenous community in the north of Argentina where hunting is a rite of passage; Mariam Ghani’s What We Left Unfinished (UK premiere), the incredible true story of five unfinished films from the communist era in Afghanistan (1978-1991).

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Youth Jury Award

STILL FROM SEAHORSE. A British trans man, pregnant with his son walks on the beach.

Films competing for the Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Youth Jury Award are: Baracoa (UK premiere), a closely observed blend of doc and fiction from Pablo Briones and The Moving Picture Boys, following two Cuban boys, timid Lionel and volatile Antuan, roaming through their dying industrial town in the final, lazy days of summer; in Jawline (UK premiere) Liza Mandelup charts 16-year old Austin’s strive for social media stardom with adolescent hopes to change the world; Bettina Perut and Ivan Osnovikoff’s Los Reyes (UK premiere) zooms in on the eponymous skatepark in Santiago de Chile through the eyes of two dogs; Elizabeth Sankey’s Romantic Comedy (UK premiere) examines how Hollywood dictates what love looks like and who deserves it, considering the rules of the game and how the formula has transformed over time; Jeanie Finlay’s Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (European premiere) documents one trans man’s pioneering quest to fulfill the age-old desire to start his own family; Pia Hellenthal’s boundary pushing performative documentary Searching Eva (UK premiere), looking for the real Eva behind the young Italian’s online-built life.   

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 Short Award

Films competing are: Garrett Bradley’s America (UK premiere); Jenn Nkiru’s BLACK TO TECHNO (UK premiere), Bassam Tariq’s Ghosts of Sugarland (European premiere), Stroma Cairns’ If You Knew (World premiere); Xavier Marrades’ Misericordia (European premiere); Wild Berries (International premiere) directed by Marianna Vas, Hedda Bednarszky and Romulus Balazs.    

Notable world premieres playing outside Doc/Fest’s official competition include: Solidarity, British artist and filmmaker Lucy Parker’s debut feature (presented as Blacklist at the 2018 Sheffield Doc/Fest Rough/Ready program) about blacklisting in the UK construction industry where thousands of workers were denied employment for involvement in trade union activism; Arthur Cary’s War in the Blood, following two British patients through ground-breaking ‘first-in-human’ trials for a treatment described as the beginning of the end of cancer, and asking how much hope can the doctors give their patients when they are effectively going into these trials as human guinea pigs; Olivier Magis’ Another Paradise which documents the struggle of a small community expelled from the Chagos Islands by the British authorities fifty years ago to return home; Claudia Marschal’s In our Paradise is a family saga recounting the trials and tribulations of two determined sisters as they battle between France and Bosnia towards their fantasized paradise; Danny, co-directed by Canadian artist Aaron Zeghers and Lewis Bennett, is a hilarious and heartbreaking found-footage film about disease, mental illness and the meaning of life based on videos made by Danny who started filming after being diagnosed with leukemia in 1993.

Additional world premieres include: Sheffield-based filmmaker Jamie Taylor’s The Campaigners which takes its audience inside the changing room of the local Woodseats Working Men’s Football Club to meet the bleary-eyed, battle-weary football men on a Sunday morning; Jaak Kilmi and Gints Grube’s My Father the Spy, the personal spy story of the Cold War investigated by Leva, a CIA and KGB double agent’s daughter; Myles Painter’s Sunrise with Sea Monsters which follows a wandering desktop hard drive in a quest to explore the new methods and technologies being developed to store and preserve human knowledge for the future.

The Big House by by Kazuhiro Soda, Markus Nornes and Terri Sarris
The Big House by by Kazuhiro Soda, Markus Nornes and Terri Sarris

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 country focus strand, New/Japan, showcases a new wave of stories and images from Japanese filmmakers, from the intimate and familial lens to the abstract and subversive. In artist-filmmaker Makino Takashi’s practice the abstract is drawn out of the real through the layering of images, flickers of light and the perpetual movement of dots and grains, as shown in Memento Stella (UK premiere), which combines up to 200 layers at any one time, redefining screen space and feels deeper the closer audiences focus their eyes. Shot by Kazuhiro Soda, Markus Nornes and Terri Sarris against the backdrop of the 2016 election and the rise of Donald Trump, The Big House (UK premiere) presents a microcosm of America at this Michigan stadium, by showing everything but the game. In Norie (UK premiere) artist-filmmaker Yuki Kawamura embarks on a road-trip with his father to talk to the people who knew his late mother. Science fiction and desire collide when an American researcher meets a Japanese translator in A Tiny Place Is Hard to Touch (UK premiere) directed by artist-filmmaker Shelly Silver.

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