Sheffield is ideal place for Doc/Fest

I joined Doc/Fest in November 2019. I come from Lisbon and immediately felt this corner of Yorkshire to be a home away from home.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 10:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 11:43 am
Melanie Iredale, interim director of Sheffield Doc/Fest. Picture: Dean Atkins

Sheffield is a unique city with a strong heritage forged by working people. It is also a city that has embraced culture and creativity with a population that challenges the status quo politically, economically and socially.

My view of Sheffield is therefore one of admiration: the dignity of a city and its populace that has retained an air of freedom and rebellion. The generosity of a city like Sheffield that welcomes so many migrants, students and artists is admirable. I feel thankful and inspired by this and it is these qualities of the city and the Sheffield people that make it the ideal home for Doc/Fest.

As a film programmer my passion is showing films and art to people that provoke encounters, discussions and (hopefully) result in meaningful experiences. I believe cinema can have a transformative experience and have a deep trust in the people as a collective force for change. My experience of the UK is of a country going through a critical moment and of a city with a strong history of resistance and a surprisingly resilient culture. A city that has six cinemas working with 35mm projectors says something about a population: many cities have thrown these to the wasteland in the pursuit of the new. Doc/Fest is a film and arts festival that gathers filmmakers, practitioners, artists, children, and people from diverse backgrounds into a common task: to imagine life and a view of the world through the lens, to critically discuss it and take ownership of it. A film and arts festival is an opportunity for change. It is not about judging one another or producing rules and norms, it is about questioning rules and norms and ourselves. It is about considering filmic art as a critical tool and taking responsibility for developing meaning through it. It is about listening and togetherness. A festival is also a place to celebrate our human capacity to welcome the unknown, create the unexpected - in collaboration.

Sheffield Doc Fest 2018 with the then Lord Mayor Magid Magid and director Liz McIntyre

It is with these values in mind that the Sheffield Doc/Fest’s team will programme the 2020 festival.

With a passion to share and discuss films and multi-disciplinary arts with our audiences. We will not programme to show a simplified world, but rather to welcome audiences join us in trying to make sense and understand it. We will not only show masterpieces and strong works of art, but welcome works and makers that highlight fragility, doubts, problems and fears. The bravest works are those which do not hide and defend - just like people. On the contrary, they take fears and fragility as the basis for creation, and generously open up a space for thinking, feeling and acting. No festival, as an artistic space, is neutral: Doc/Fest will make choices, and will stand for its core values of empathy and inclusiveness. Doc/Fest will prioritise free artistic ventures over the transformation of film into entertainment product for profit. We will prioritise education and internationalism over any kind of nationalism. We will prefer films and artworks made politically over political propaganda. We will prefer peripheries over centres. We will prefer the plurality of lives over the commodification of identities. We will be open to criticism and prepared to have difficult discussions.

Doc/Fest is now a registered charity, its aim is to be of service both in the interest of filmmakers, artists and the public. We are a festival committed to the values of freedom, social engagement and collective development of the arts. The Festival will work for the film and arts communities in the UK and internationally to offer access to everyone. Through these values, we have redrawn the film programme into the announced strands and soon will reshape the arts exhibition programme. Doc/Fest is a combination of future imaginations and possibilities for action, made by people who want to be part of an urgent conversation: about freedom and solidarity, about how to build bonds across the globe through culture, to create generous environments for co-existence.