Sheffield Doc/Fest 2021 Preview

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Sheffield Doc/Fest has taken a new direction under the curation of Director Cíntia Gil. Whether by intention or through necessity, given both editions under her curatorship have been during lockdown constraints, there has been a distinct move away from the previous English-language-centric and big film/event focus. Instead, the programme has undergone a transition to become a festival with a much more global vision. One which aims to start a conversation and not just merely showcase the biggest new films.

When normality resumes, it will be interesting to see how this approach goes down with the local audiences but they will at least get the chance to see the line-up in a cinema this year. The Showroom once again playing host whilst an online industry and film program remains, with a handful of films being beamed into screens across the UK. Taking place between June 4-13, there’s once again a rich and diverse selection on offer. Here are just a few of our highlights.

Summer of Soul

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.

Lift Like a Girl

On a busy, noisy high-traffic street corner in Alexandria, Egypt, a seemingly vacant corner lot surrounded by chain link fencing is the training site of Egypt’s most elite champions – female weightlifters. Zebiba (Arabic for “raisin”) has been training at the site for five years, since she was 9, following in the footsteps of Egypt’s most famous athletes of all time – including the first Arab, female, two-time Olympic medalist, Abeer Abdel Rahman, and World champion and Olympic athlete, Nahla Ramadan. Nahla’s father, the visionary Captain Ramadan, has bred champions, female champions, from his makeshift corner lot training site for over two decades – 4 Olympic, 9 World and 17 Pan African champions. Now it is Zebiba’s turn. But can Zebiba put aside her youthful instincts, and direct her focus to be the weightlifting champion the Captain is sure she is?

My Childhood, My Country – 20 Years in Afghanistan

In 2014 director Richard Linklater released the Oscar-winning Boyhood – his fictional saga of growing up, filmed with the same cast across twelve years. Now award-winning filmmakers Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi release a real-life epic of boyhood and manhood – filmed across twenty years in one of the most embattled corners of the globe.


On November 3rd, 1995, the emblematic industry of my hometown, Rio Tercero Military Munitions Factory exploded. Thousands of shells were fired against the city that had produced them. I was 12 years old, and while I was trying to escape from the explosions, I recorded the devastation of my hometown with a video camera. Twenty years later I found those tapes. The threat of the industrial and military sector is still persistent at the present time.

The Witches of the Orient

The Japanese volleyball players called the “Oriental Witches” are now in their seventies. From the formation of the team at the factory until their victory at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, memories and legends rise to the surface and blend inextricably.

My Dear Spies

An old suitcase of documents, a journey on a night train heading for Russia, searches for documents under a watchful eye, words full of heavy undertones: Vladimir Leon’s new film is clearly eying the espionage movie to elucidate whether or not his grandparents’ expulsion in 1948 by the French secret services or his grandmother’s appointments with the mysterious Dorian were all signs that these former tsarists curiously worked for the Soviet intelligence service.

Gallant Indies

This is a premiere for 30 dancers of hip-hop, krump, break, voguing… A first for the Director Clément Cogitore and for the choreographer Bintou Dembélé. And a first for the Paris’ Opera Bastille. By bringing together urban dance and opera singing, they reinvent Jean-Philippe Rameau’s baroque masterpiece, Les Indes Galantes. From rehearsals to public performances, it is a human adventure and a meeting of political realities that we follow: can a new generation of artists storm the Bastille today?

Sing, Freetown

Emmy winning filmmaker from Sierra Leone, Sorious Samura, has grown tired telling negative stories about Africa. He embarks on a journey with his best friend, Sierra Leone’s most famous playwright, Charlie Haffner, to create an epic work of national theatre – a play to reclaim their country from negative media narratives and the damaging legacy of colonial rule. It doesn’t go as planned.

Who We Were

Who We Were observes the current state of the world, accompanied by six intellectuals and scientists who reflect on the present and postulate about the future. Director Marc Bauder follows his interviewees into the depths of the ocean, to the top of the world, and out into the far reaches of space. Together, they explore the incredible capabilities of the human brain, a global economic summit, the legacy of colonisation, and the feelings of a robot.

Charm Circle

A deeply personal film that oscillates between present day and decades-old home videos, Charm Circle is a wry, cinéma vérité portrait of an eccentric New York family navigating the chaos that divides them. Filmmaker Nira Burstein welcomes us into her childhood home—now crumbling from the inside out—to explore the unpredictable nature of this family’s journey.

Along with a wide array of feature length and short/medium films, there are talks, sessions and an arts programme. To find out more and book tickets to take part in person or online, visit the Sheffield Doc/Fest website.

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