Navigating Sheffield Doc/Fest

sheffield doc/festSheffield Doc/Fest is a major player on the documentary scene and this year, as it is celebrating its twentieth birthday, the party is said to be even bigger and better than ever. In this guide we aim to guide you through the festival, maximising networking opportunities and viewing pleasure.

Festivals can be daunting places to visit. Especially when you are there for the first time or when you are on your own. Most people have an agenda. Whether it is feedback on your film’s latest trailer, finding a buyer, or looking for partners to coproduce with.

In this guide we give you a few easy tips that will hopefully make your life at Sheffield a little less stressed and a little more pleasurable.

Prepare yourself for some hectic documentary days

As said, you have an agenda, what do you need to carry out your mission as best as possible? Think about bringing loads of business cards (everybody who is somebody will be there so be ready to catch them), make sure your film/trailer/website is ready to be presented at all times and if you need internet then perhaps a dongle is a wise thing to take with you.

I personally, as a journalist with a bad memory (alas) also recommend you have something to leave behind. For example a little postcard-sized flyer with the details of your crowdfunding campaign. This can be a good reminder for people once they are back in the office and unpack their bags.

Get settled and read the guides

As soon as you arrive at the train station Sheffield is a place of mayhem. You’ll probably already meet interesting people on your way to Doc/Fest. However, if you've never been before then it is advisable to get yourself properly set up first. Book into your hotel, get rid of your bag, wear comfortable shoes (you might not see your hotel room for the next 10 hours) and stick an umbrella in your bag. Then head over to the Showroom cinema where the delegate centre is situated. Pick up your bag, guide and pass and get yourself comfi to have a good look through it all. You’ll feel a lot more composed and will show off that confidence to everyone you meet.

Don’t know which films to go and see? Stick to the lists

It sounds a bit naff to just go and see all the documentaries which are up for an award, are interactive or which are having their world premiere at Sheffield. However, it can be really difficult to find the documentaries you like from a list of 200 at the time you are free in between meetings. Hence, stick with a specific strand or list if you can, it’s the easiest way and the Sheffield Doc/Fest programmers have a nose for finding top quality so you won’t be disappointed. And, watching these top docs you’ll never be short of an informed comment when they come up in conversation – making you look like the expert in the field.

Mingle mingle mingle

Sheffield is renowned for its parties. Every night you can find a party to dance at until at least 2pm and during the day many organisations such as film commissions, embassies and broadcasters are hosting network gatherings. Why not identify those get-togethers hosted by people that are most valuable to your cause (Doc Heads for short documentaries and the Swedish Embassy if your film’s subject is based in Stockholm for example) and visit these as a priority. Also make sure you talk to everyone you meet, in queues, in bars, in the seat next to you pre-screenings – you never know how valuable these contacts can prove to be.

Looking for feedback? Make sure you have your work ready at all times

Continuing from the point above, don’t forget why you are there. If you are looking for feedback on your trailer, your campaign, your idea or your full blown documentary then make sure your pitch, screener or trailer is ready for it. Can you pitch faultless in 30 seconds? Is your trailer uploaded on your phone and do you have your headphones with you?

Another point to make here is that with all the parties and gatherings you want to be reasonable fresh when you have a meeting and don’t speak to a really important producer while yawning and smelling of alcohol.

But don’t hassle people!

If now you are ready to show the whole world your work at Sheffield Doc/Fest then you have indeed been listening. However, you just need to make sure you don’t overdo it (yes there is such a thing – sorry for the confusion…)

Chances are that Nick Fraser will be sitting next to you in a restaurant, eating his noodles with a colleague. Is this a good time to shove your iPad with your trailer under his nose? No, probably it will work against you if anything. Commissioners, distributors and producers come to Sheffield to work, however, they don’t work 24/7 so show some respect and use your common sense.

Take some knowledge home with you

There are so many Q&A sessions, seminars and ‘in conversations’, you’ll be hard pushed not to see at least one acclaimed filmmaker speak about his work or hear a commissioner explain what he does or doesn’t want to see in his inbox. If you have time then do try to catch a few of these industry sessions. You’re never to experienced to learn something new.

And finally…

And my final tip is an easy one; relax and enjoy yourself. Make sure you don’t walk around with a face like a sour grape and enjoy the banter in all the festival’s hang-outs. And if you’re looking for a real good laugh – don’t miss Sheffield Doc/Fest’s infamous roller disco… Michael Palin on skates – who can resist?

Take a look at the festival film programmer’s top three films from this year’s line-up, as well as what docs have made him laugh, cry, and question his own existence…