Highlights from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2024

20 Jun 2024 in Film Features

5 mins
Samuel a young man in a wheelchair wearing sunglasses smiling
Samuel a young man in a wheelchair wearing sunglasses smiling

Documentaries have the power to connect viewers with incredible true stories and real-life experiences, conveyed through creative, gripping and compassionate filmmaking. Every year, the city of Sheffield celebrates this artform with Doc/Fest, a documentary festival where filmmakers from all over the world convene to present their latest projects and draw attention to different topics and cultures.

This edition of the festival was aptly named ‘Reflections on Reality', inviting both musings on and a mirroring of reality, however filmmakers and audiences chose to interpret it. As in previous years, Into Film attended the festival to scope out some of the most relevant and engaging content suitable for young people. Here are some of our top picks out of over 100 films in the programme. Look out for some of these getting a wider release in UK cinemas later in the year.

Charlotte, Curation Officer

We Can Be Heroes

In upstate New York, there's a summer camp that welcomes teenagers for some wholesome outdoor fun - that is, some high-concept live action role-play (LARPing) fantasy fun, involving epic battles with foam swords, wizard and fairy banquets and lots of dressing up. This joyful documentary follows a group of neurodiverse and queer young people and self-proclaimed nerds as they explore the creativity and challenges of socialising in this context. It's a safe place to express feelings, talk about mental health and meet kindred spirits. With some great cinematic moments of pure fantasy, the film is a celebration of storytelling and the cathartic power of play. Because if we can be heroes in games, we can find confidence and growth in real life. Engaging for ages 11+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in Gaming and Me: Connections, Identity and Support, available to watch on Into Film+. This short documentary explores how video games and escapism can help boost one's mental health and develop social experiences.

Silent Men

Duncan is a young documentary filmmaker who wants to talk about men's mental health, but is not sure where to start, being a bit rubbish at expressing his own emotions. His greatest fear is losing his parents, but he can barely face the awkwardness of a hug, let alone tell them he loves them. He publishes an ad to find other ‘blokes to talk about feelings' and over several years he documents, with deadpan humour and respectful sensitivity in equal measures, an evolution of male relationships and self-awareness. This process highlights the therapeutic value of filmmaking: he can hide behind his camera, but it also provides a pathway to self-development, as well as opening up the conversation for other young people. Engaging for ages 14+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in Torn, available to watch on Into Film+ Premium. Also directed by a young man wishing to investigate his relationship with a parent through the medium of film, the documentary aims to open up a discussion about mental health, as well as adventure.

The Boy and the Suit of Lights

This intimate Spanish-language documentary follows the coming of age of Borjas, an aspiring bullfighter who lives in a small town in Spain. His family is poor, but there's a lot of glory in bullfighting, a dream that his grandfather would have liked to pursue but was not able to, so there's a lot of pressure on Borjas to uphold traditions and be successful. However, this comes with huge expenses and risks, and with the growing sense that bullfighting is losing popularity, the boy's childhood infatuation with the sport shifts, and the reality of supporting his family by more practical means becomes more pressing. This year's winner of Sheffield's International First Feature Competition, the documentary is borne out of a Scotland-based filmmaker's desire to reconnect with her homeland and observe its culture through a new lens. Engaging for ages 14+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in Boyhood, available to watch on Into Film+ Premium. A fiction film that nevertheless is very real in the way that it documents a boy maturing towards adulthood, the drama similarly looks at a young person's growing sense of identity and dealing with family struggles.

Michael, Curation Lead

The Ride Ahead

Expanding on their Emmy-winning short film My Disability Roadmap from a couple of years ago, father and son Dan and Samuel Habib set out on a new journey as Samuel transitions from adolescence into adulthood. As he graduates from high school and starts attending college, Samuel - who uses a wheelchair and primarily communicates via an electronic device - has plenty of questions about adult life that he's seeking to find the answers to. He interviews disability activists and public figures including Maysoon Zayid, Judy Heymann and Keith Jones to discuss the challenges of living in an unequal society, as well as seeking the confidence and independence to forge his own path. As he is told during one conversation, "disability does not reside in the person: it resides in the environment in which the person lives." While we are witness to the truth of the above quote on several occasions - being treated patronisingly by people he encounters; his wheelchair getting damaged on a flight, and more - this documentary is nonetheless a moving celebration of Samuel as a person, his support system, and the strides forward made by the disability movement. Engaging for ages 14+

If you like the sound of this, you may also be interested in My Feral Heart, available to watch on Into Film+. This British drama follows a young man with Down's syndrome who is forced to move into a care home after the death of his mother exploring similar themes around disability, independence, and community.

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