Highlights from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2023

23 Jun 2023 BY Michael Prescott in Film Features

4 mins

Once again the city of Sheffield recently played host to Doc/Fest, one of the world's leading documentary film festivals, celebrating its 30th anniversary edition with an extensive programme of feature films, shorts, talks, VR, podcasts, television, and much more.

Across six days in June, public and industry attendees were invited to ‘Spark Curiosity' with dozens of films hailing from 52 countries playing in competition and across six strands - Debates, Journeys, Memories, People & Community, Rebellions, and Rhythms - each designed to encourage debate, to challenge audiences, and to inspire learning.

As in previous years, Into Film attended the festival to watch brand new film content for young people. Here are some of the titles which we're most looking forward to sharing with our audiences.


The Opening Night film for the 30th anniversary edition of Doc/Fest certainly lived up to its billing. Tish is a biographical film about social documentary photographer Tish Murtha who portrayed working-class communities throughout her work, predominantly throughout the 1980s. Highlighting life in working-class communities in the North East of England and beyond as someone with first-hand experience of such issues, Tish's story is told through her daughter - as she interviews many of her mother's contemporaries who speak of her artistry and passion - as well as narration by Maxine Peake, who recounts events using Tish's own words. This moving and cinematic documentary, punctuated by Tish's extraordinary photographs, aims to afford Tish Murtha the well overdue recognition she deserves. Engaging for ages 14+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in McQueen. This documentary explores the life and legacy of working-class fashion designer Alexander McQueen as he revolutionises the industry with new ideas, exploring further themes around mental health, sexuality, celebrity culture, and addiction.

Your Fat Friend

British filmmaker Jeanie Finlay (Seahorse) profiles the American blogger and activist Aubrey Gordon who become an online sensation posting articles under the pseudonym of Your Fat Friend. The blogs detailed her experiences as a self-described fat person - experiencing prejudice on airplanes, being lectured during medical appointments, or struggling to find clothes even in supposedly ‘plus-size' stores - as well as her views on how others can be allies to fat people. Encompassing everything from how Aubrey's relationship to her parents has developed over the years to the anonymous messages she receives - ranging from vile abuse to words of hope and support - and tracking her journey to reveal her identity as she gets ready to publish her first book. A rousing story of empathy and encouragement, Your Fat Friend clearly struck a chord with Sheffield cinemagoers as it picked up the coveted Audience Award at the festival. Engaging for ages 14+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in Inside Cinema: Fat and Female on Screen. This 6 minute video essay composed by BFI programmer Grace Barber-Plentie examines fatphobia while additionally celebrating diverse depictions of fat female bodies throughout cinema history.

Confessions of a Good Samaritan

Filmmaker Penny Lane places herself in front of the camera for her latest offering which documents her experience of kidney donation. As well as following her journey and getting her insights into why she has decided to embark upon it, the film also explores the concept of altruistic donation: that is, donating to a kidney to an unknown recipient rather than to a family member or friend who specifically needs it. The practice remains extremely rare and Lane wants to understand why, as well as interviewing those like her who have decided to go ahead with the procedure. Providing a brief history of transplants and probing the concept of altruism, this lively and playful documentary also has real substance to it. Engaging for ages 14+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in That Sugar Film. This documentary also sees a filmmaker investigating his own body as he embarks on a high-sugar diet to examine the changes in his health in response to it.

The Hearing

This fascinating social experiment-of-sorts interrogates the immigration process by staging a re-enactment involving four genuine asylum applicants. As it is illegal to film these interviews, the participants agree to stage a mock application alongside real individuals from the Swiss authorities who are responsible for making such decisions. The applicants are from Cameroon, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, and each have their own tale to tell involving persecution; all at risk for different reasons, be it abusive family members or for being transgender in a country where it is illegal to be so. As they are forced to recount traumatic events from their past in intimate detail, we witness the absurdity of the process and the bureaucracy involved before the tables are turned and the applicants are able to interview their adjudicators with interrogations of their own. A thought-provoking documentary which encourages empathy and understanding of those who have been forced to flee their home countries to seek refuge elsewhere. Engaging for ages 16+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. This three-part documentary series follows three individuals who film their own perilous journeys from Syria as they seek a safer life in Europe.

Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott, Curation Coordinator

Michael has an MA in Film Studies with Screenwriting from Sheffield Hallam University. He has previously worked at the British Council and on the BFI Film Academy, and has volunteered at organisations including Sheffield Doc/Fest and Cinema for All.

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