Sheffield documentary film festival generates millions as audiences increase

A Doc/Fest screening. Audience figures have risen.
A Doc/Fest screening. Audience figures have risen.

Film deals worth £10.5 million were struck at last month's Sheffield Doc/Fest as audience numbers rose in the event's 25th year.

Audiences watched over 200 documentaries at the annual festival in June, including a special preview of a feature about the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen and The Silence of Others, which won the Grand Jury prize and followed victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco.

Just under 26,000 physical public admissions were recorded, up by more than seven per cent from 2017, a report said. In addition, there were 3,444 individual industry delegates - drawn from 55 countries - compared with 3,397 last year.

An important part of the festival is the opportunity for attendees to unlock funding for new projects; 332 decision makers, among them top broadcasting commissioners from the BBC and Channel 4, came to the 2018 Doc/Fest, where the value of deals anticipated by delegates amounted to £10.5 million.

For every £1 invested in Doc/Fest, delegates spend £7 within Sheffield, organisers said - meaning the economic benefit of June's festival totalled £1.7 million.

Audiences were more diverse than before. A greater number of visitors identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and more were black, Asian or of other ethnic minorities. The majority of visitors were female, and a large proportion were aged under 30. An increase in audience members with disabilities was also recorded, and more than 10 per cent of public ticketholders considered themselves to be from a disadvantaged background. An initiative called From Door to Doc returned for a second year, allowing eligible people to visit for £1.

"We can't help but beam at the increased attendance, diversity and representation at this year's festival, reaffirming our commitment to new, inclusive and diverse audience engagement," a Doc/Fest spokeswoman said.

The Silence of Others could be considered for an Oscar, as the event has been added to the list of qualifying festivals for the Academy Awards. It is the only British programme of its kind to carry the distinction, which it shares with the likes of Cannes.

Sheffield's is the largest documentary festival in the UK, as well as being the city's biggest conference. A talk by Sir Trevor McDonald, who spoke about his work making crime documentaries for TV, proved popular last month, while two floors of Trafalgar Warehouse in the city centre were given over to Alternate Realities, a celebration of virtual reality, interactive art and gaming. Performance artist Richard DeDomenici shot a low-budget remake of the Sheffield-set nuclear war drama Threads, using original locations, which was shown at The Leadmill.

The next Doc/Fest will run from June 6 to 11, 2019.