Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019: Our programme highlights

This Thursday (6 June) the seven hills of Sheffield will once again open up to the innovators and icons of documentary cinema as UK festival season gem Doc/Fest returns for 2019. From the sweeping to the specific, highlights among this year’s programme promise to open the lens on the world we live in and how we arrived here – through a diverse array of features, shorts and more.

Kicking off proceedings on Thursday 6 June in the most literal sense, director Asif Kapida will bring Diego Maradona – his wild and irreverent look at the world’s most famous footballer – straight from its Cannes premiere to Sheffield City Hall for opening night. Having produced his new feature with the same team as on his huge hits Senna and Amy, Kapida will also be hosting a BAFTA Masterclass on Friday to discuss his own career and the personal connections he makes to his work.

Personal connections thread themselves through much of the six-day lineup. Ben Mullinkoson’s Don’t Be A Dick About It digs into the complexities of brotherhood by focusing on the director’s own cousins; Norie sees director Yuki Kawamura and his father undergo an emotional journey to memorialise his late mother; and Archana Atul Phadke uses About Love to observe the shifting dynamics of three generations of her own family living in South Mumbai.

As our worlds shift both internally and externally, this year’s Doc/Fest presents plenty of opportunities to understand each other amid the morphing landscape. Preoccupations with our lives online recur across Liza Mandelup’s Jawline, Myles Painter’s Sunrise with Sea Monsters and Isa Willinger’s Hi, AI. Sexuality and gender play key roles, too, with a robust focus on LGBTQI+ communities among both the film lineup in the UK premieres of Joanna Reposi Garibaldi’s Lemebel, Erico Masai’s Shelter – Farewell to Eden and the Alternate Realities strand, which will host interactive experiences including Interactive Portraits: Trans People in Japan.

Among more than 180 films, the festival has confirmed that its roster boasts more than 50% films made by women, which will be spearheaded by an all-women lineup of key speakers in the Alternate Realities Summit including Google Creative Lab director Tea Uglow, African artist Jepchumba and storyteller Karen Palmer.

Big-hitters will be present in the form of both the screenings on offer and the guests appearing across the weekend. Coming in with Sundance buzz are Penny Lane’s Satanism doc Hail Satan?, Rachel Lears’ Knock Down the House and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 (complete with footage sourced by Sheffield-based NASA archive expert Stephen Slater), while Charles Ferguson’s monolithic three-hour opus Watergate dominates Saturday morning. Among the speakers sure to draw large crowds across the weekend will be Werner Herzog, Paul Greengrass and Stacey Dooley.

A thoroughly international festival in the beating heart of Yorkshire, Doc/Fest wears its domestic credentials proudly on its sleeve, with many of the more potent additions borne out of very British concerns and locales. Rob Coldstream’s Jade takes a hard stare at the tabloid trials of reality TV star Jade Goody, Tim Kirby and James Ross’ The Unwanted looks at the lives of three people caught up in the Windrush scandal, and Lucy Parker’s Solidarity shows the impact of blacklisting on construction workers depending on tenuous contracts.

With plenty of chances to look forward, there’s also a swathe of the programme dedicated to airing unseen, rediscovered and remastered treasures that allow a look to the past. Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill’s exploration of juvenile rehabilitation Tattooed Tears screens for its 40th anniversary, Jack Hazan’s 1974 David Hockney docudrama on A Bigger Splash returns with a new restoration, and Operate Heavy Machinery will showcase archive footage of the mobilised women of the North.

Sheffield Doc/Fest takes place from 6-11 June. To see the full programme and to buy tickets visit

Rhys Handley | @RhysHandley2113