Film Festival Preview: Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016

Now with Liz McIntyre at the helm, Sheffield Doc/Fest returns between 10-15 June with another marvellously diverse line-up. Once again there’s a brilliant and eclectic range of documentaries, including 27 World and 52 UK premières. There will be two outdoor screens, the Guardian Screen in Tudor Square and the Beijing Screen on Howard Street. Following her passing last year, there will also be a Chantal Akerman retrospective.

This year’s speakers include Joanna Lumley, Michael Moore, Reggie Yates, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Professor Green, Freddie Flintoff, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. Adam Buxton also returns with his Bowie BUG and Tilda Swinton and Louis Theroux will also be doing extended Q&As for their new films. The Alternative Realities programme includes two exhibitions and a day of special events including the world’s most sociable robot, Bina48.

On the film front, some of the highlights include:

Life, Animated

Life, Animated  is the real-life story of Owen Suskind, the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind and his wife, Cornelia. An autistic boy who couldn’t speak for years, Owen memorized dozens of Disney movies, turned them into a language to express love and loss, kinship, brotherhood. The family was forced to become animated characters, communicating with him in Disney dialogue and song. Until they all emerge, together, revealing how, in darkness, we all literally need stories to survive.


With unprecedented access to Anthony Weiner, his family, and his campaign team as they mount his New York City mayoral campaign, the film documents the impending political meltdown of epic proportions. What begins as an unexpected comeback from a disgraced ex-congressman takes a sharp turn once Weiner is forced to admit to new sexting allegations. As the media descends and rips apart his every move, Weiner tries desperately to forge ahead, but the increasing pressure and crippling 24-hour news coverage halts his political aspirations dead in their tracks.

Sour Grapes

Rudy Kurniawan was, it was rumoured, a wine savant, had an expert memory for taste, a generous host, offering rare wines from his huge cellar, who in 2006 made 35 million dollars in two wine auctions from the sale of his wine. Then in 2008 a French wine producer, Laurent Ponsot, realised that wine from his family’s domain was being sold from a year they hadn’t produced it. That day, he says, he took the first plane to New York, and thus begun his crusade.


18-year-old Sonita is an undocumented Afghan illegal immigrant living in the suburbs of Tehran. She fights to live the way she wants: As a rapper in spite of all her obstacles she confronts in Iran and her conservative family. In harsh contrast to her goal is the plan of her family – strongly advanced by her mother – to make her a bride and sell her to a new family for the price of $9,000.

Hooligan Sparrow

The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.

Strike a Pose

In 1990, seven young male dancers  – 6 gay, 1 straight – joined Madonna on her most controversial tour. On stage and in the iconic film Truth or Dare they showed the world how to express yourself. Now, 25 years later, they reveal the truth about life during and after the tour.  Strike a Pose is a dramatic tale about overcoming shame and finding the courage to be who you are.


Kirsten Johnson is one of the most notable cinematographers working in documentary cinema today. With her visually radical memoir Cameraperson, Johnson presents an extraordinary and deeply poetic film of her own, drawing on the remarkable and varied footage that she has shot and re-framing it in ways that illuminate moments and situations that have personally affected her. What emerges is an elegant meditation on the relationship between story-telling and the camera frame, as Johnson transforms scenes that have been presented in so many other directors’ films as one reflection of truth into another kind of story – one about personal journey, craft, and direct human connection. 

To enjoy a full array of industry and public events, you can buy a full festival pass for £358. However, if you’re just interested in the films, you can pick up the Doc/Lovers Wristband for £68 and individual tickets are available. Visit the festival website for further information and to find out more.

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