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Every June, Sheffield is overrun with TV and Film Industry professionals and eager documentary enthusiasts, all vying to watch the hottest new documentary films as the city hosts its annual Doc/Fest. One of the world's largest documentary film festivals - and one of the leading UK film festivals open to the public as well as film industry insiders - Doc/Fest is the place to catch the best new feature length and short documentary films, and is a key event in our Film Curation Team's calendar.
With an extensive programme and many of the filmmakers in attendance - in addition to lots of talks, panels and workshops and even a Virtual Reality strand - the festival is a hotbed of exciting ideas, thought-provoking issues and passionate opinion. In a year of extraordinary global events, it is no surprise that this year's Doc/Fest was host to a great number of films voicing concerns and raising debates around politics and protest. However, it also offered up just as many inspirational true stories, celebrating diversity, creativity and, overwhelmingly, the importance of community.
With our Curation Team on a mission to source the best new documentaries that will particularly engage young audiences, here are our top picks from this year's Sheffield Doc/Fest.
This sweet and charming film is set in a rural Irish primary-age boarding school, as we observe the lives of the developing schoolchildren - as well as their educators - over a single year. The documentary focuses on husband-and-wife duo John and Amanda Leyden, who started working at the school within weeks of one another, and have remained teachers there for 46 years since. School Life encompasses all that the title suggests - the hardship, as well as the joy - but ultimately is a gentle and sincere tale of optimism and belief in the future.
Winner of the Youth Jury award at Doc/Fest, this is a remarkable child's-eye view of immigration. Filmed from the point-of-view of 3-year-old Lean, the camera follows her exhaustive journey from Syria, through Germany, to Sweden, with the only dialogue being the conversation and noises that go on around her on this journey. Travelling with her family and many others in the same situation, Lean is at times lost amongst the legs of adults as they run to catch a train, or queue for a place in a tent to rest overnight. Offering a window into a terrifying ordeal that many children and young people face today, the film reveals how Lean's family protect her from the reality of the situation through their love, affection and play.
A highly-charged account of the protest and riots that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of a young man called Michael Brown by the local police. Embedded in the community affected by the shooting, the film tells the story of the young activists standing on the frontline, campaigning for justice. A growing movement alongside #BlackLivesMatter, the film suggests that we are living in a time that's bearing witness to a new civil rights movement. With their rallying cry of "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" ringing throughout, the film forces you to take note of those taking charge of their own futures, and using their voices to fight injustice.
What makes a Geek Girl? Filmmaker Gina Hara, a self-identified Geek, asks this and many other questions in her very personal film about what it is to be a nerd or geek in today's society. Gina observes, but also immerses herself in, the world of female pro-gamers, cosplayers, zine writers, podcasters and scientists, and in doing so, uncovers a thriving community that's marred by a shocking undercurrent of online abuse, rejection and misogyny. Gina examines the impact of #gamergate on video game culture and meets some incredible young women who've embraced and felt empowered by their Geek status to overcome depression and anxiety, to have fun, and to feel free to explore their own identities.
Meet Charlie Siem: a world class violinist and male model for Armani and Hugo Boss; a man who travels the world performing, owns supercars, lives in Florence, wears handmade suits and wants for nothing - but who also admits to having no friends and being lonely. Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad films Charlie both on tour and with his family, and is there to capture his rare moments of self-doubt and vulnerability, as he questions whether his pursuit of fame and recognition is really worth it. Charlie openly admits to being selfish in life - rejecting friendships and relationships in favour of reaching the top of his game as quickly as he can. But can his ardent fan base, the 'Charlie's Angels' really fill the void?
Baltimore, 2015, and the protests following Freddie Gray's death in police custody have led to a state of emergency being declared and a night curfew placed on the city. Across town is the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, where Step class [a style of dance] is an everyday activity and a lifeline for a group of senior students trying to overcome the odds, get through school and make it to college. The teachers at the school genuinely care about the girls' futures and go out of their way to support them, and their dance coach is totally dedicated to helping them reach the finals of the State Step competition. In turn, the girls themselves are incredibly inspirational, motivating themselves and each other to power through what life throws at them. Fantastically uplifting and positive, Step packs a real emotional punch that'll have you rooting for the girls all the way!
Our film curation team were joined by young reporter Ceyda at this year's Sundance London to speak to filmmakers and highlight some great films to look out for.
Reading time 8 mins
As part of BAFTA's 70th anniversary celebrations, we spoke with 'Amy' director Asif Kapadia, a recipient of BAFTA's Outstanding Debut Award in 2002.
Reading time 10 mins
We met with director Jeff Orlowski at Sundance London to talk about his startling new documentary 'Chasing Coral' and the shocking impacts of climate change.
Viewing time 5 mins
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