Sheffield Docfest Announces Packed Line Up For The 30th Edition: Film Programme, Alternate Realities And Talks

Sheffield Docfest Announces Packed Line Up For The 30th Edition: Film Programme, Alternate Realities And Talks

Sparking Curiosity’

  • 37 World Premieres, 20 International Premieres, 10 European Premieres47 UK Premieres and 8 retrospective filmsfrom 52 countries of production
  • The festival’s most innovative documentary offering yet which, in addition to films, includes an abridged verbatim play (Jews. In Their Own Words), live podcast events, premieres of TV series and virtual reality exhibitions
  • Stand-out music documentaries including the world premiere of Wham!, the international premiere of TLC Forever, the international premiere of the Cyndi Lauper portrait, Let The Canary Sing and the World Premiere of Kim Longinotto and Franky Murray Brown’s Dalton’s Dream, which was part of the Sheffield DocFest MeetMarket in 2022
  • Alternate Realities exhibition includes a five-part VR series with acclaimed filmmakers Abel Ferrara, Tsai Ming-Liang, Catherine Hardwicke, Lee Myung-Se and Naomi Kawase
  • Key Broadcaster talks include the BBC Interview: with actor, director, author and activist David Harewood to discuss his documentary workthe ITV Interview: with presenter Laura Whitmore to talk about her series Laura Whitmore Investigates; and the already announced Munya Chawawa talk, discussing his unique approach to integrating satire in documentary, as seen in BAFTA Nominated “How To Survive a Dictator” on Channel 4
  • Compelling public talks from actor and Strictly Come Dancing 2021 winner Rose Ayling-Ellis, TV historian and producer David Olusoga and director Chris Smith, and extended Q&As featuring the final winner of X-Factor UK, Dalton Harris and activist and competition swimmer Sara Mardini



Sheffield, Wednesday 10 May, 12 noon: Sheffield DocFest – the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects -today revealed its full Film programmeAlternate Realities exhibitions, and public Talks. The 30th edition of the Festival invites audiences and industry to ‘Spark Curiosity’ with documentary – and each other – in Sheffield, 14-19 June 2023. 

A further announcement to complete the industry programme will follow on 17 May.

Alex Cooke, Chair of the Board of Trustees, says: “We are delighted to celebrate our 30th edition with such a strong and varied line up.  From humble beginnings, Sheffield Docfest continues to grow, helping to forge lasting careers, develop new talent, and facilitate exciting new works to be funded, produced, and exhibited. We are very grateful to our dedicated partners and sponsors for helping us to inspire the next generation of filmmakers and audiences, and to be so instrumental in promoting the thriving documentary culture we are so proud of.”

As previously announced, Sheffield DocFest opens with the World premiere of Tish, on 14 June 2023, an intimate portrait of British documentary photographer Tish Murtha, and her daughter’s fight to preserve her legacy.  The film is also screening in the International Competition.

In Tish, Paul Sng celebrates the vision and profound humanism of this gifted artist. As the film questions the value placed on art and artists from working class roots, we follow Tish’s daughter Ella, as she fights to preserve her mother’s legacy. No less striking than the work of its subject, Tish is a powerful tribute to a vital artist, activist and social chronicler, and a rallying call to all whose engagement with art questions who gets seen and heard, who doesn’t, and why. This is a story of contemporary Britain, of the fight for culture, as well as the life of a mother and activist. 

Annabel Grundy, Sheffield DocFest Managing Director, says: “We are so happy to present a truly international, intersectional and innovative line-up of films and events as we celebrate our 30th edition.  Sheffield DocFest has a long history of bringing new perspectives into the documentary arena, inspiring industry and audiences to immerse themselves and discover something new.”

Film Programme

Sheffield DocFest 2023 film programme totals 122 films (86 features and 36 shorts), drawn from just under 2,500 entries, including 37 World Premieres, 20 International Premieres, 10 European Premieres, 47 UK Premieres and 8 retrospective films, from 52 countries of production.  54% of the films in the programme are directed by women.  Titles screen in three competition sections – International Competition, International First Feature Competition and International Short Film Competition. In special programmes, and in six strand sections: Rhythms, Debates, People & Community, Memories, Rebellions and Journeys.

Raul Niño Zambrano, Sheffield DocFest Creative Director, says“Covering the whole spectrum of documentary storytelling, from direct documentation of events to poetic experimental art works, and everything in between, the 2023 film programme is full of stories that will spark audience’s curiosity like never before. As a team we have selected the most thought provoking, cinematic and relevant works of recent non-fiction, and will proudly present them in June with the context and attention they deserve.”

Films in Competition & Awards

The festival will host an eclectic competition reflecting what is happening in the world of documentary in 2023.

The line-up for this years’ International Competition comprises nine films, up for the Grand Jury Award for the International Competition, nine films in International First Feature Competition supported by Netflix, and  ten films in International Short Film Competition, Five documentaries will be considered for the Tim Hetherington Award,  presented in association with Dogwoof; seven  films will be considered by the Youth Jury, and the International Alternate Realities Competition will honour the best innovative non-fiction work. Winners will be revealed during an awards ceremony at Crucible Playhouse on 18 June.

Highlights here and the full programme listings can be found below.

  • International First Feature Competition – The Body Politic (World Premiere), directed by Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough, follows Brandon Scott during his leadership campaign and first year as Mayor of Baltimore. Scott is viewed by some as a contender for the national stage – those who have the audacity to dream that his commitment to healing a fractured yet resilient city is a hope they can believe in. Not A Bedtime Story (World Premiere) is directed by Lila Penagos and Tomás M Astudillo, and the film follows co-directer Lila who has fond childhood memories of her father telling her bedtime stories. She now asks him to tell her real stories about his past as a guerrilla fighter.
  • International Competition – The Price of Truth (World Premiere) is a powerful and often suspenseful portrait of Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Russia’s only independent newspaper. Muratov auctioned his Nobel Peace Prize and donated the proceeds to Ukranian refugees, and days later a masked attacker poured paint laced with acetone over him, permanently damaging Muratov’s sight. The director, Patrick Forbes, and special guests will be attendance. STEPHEN (World Premiere) is directed by Melanie Manchot and follows Stephen who is auditioning to play himself in an inventive, cinematic and moving exploration of addiction and mental health.
  • International Short Film Competition – Can I Hug You? (World Premiere) is an astoundingly intimate film which is directed by Iranian filmmaker Elahe Esmaili. It follows Hossein Behboudi Rad who brings his parents together to confront a difficult secret from his past. Valerija (World Premiere) follows filmmaker Sara Jurinčić  who travels to the island where her grandmother is buried. This experimental journey takes us back through her lineage of female ancestors.

Perspectives on Iran

The festival previously announced that this year will have a special focus on Iran, which includes a retrospective of Guest of Honour Rakhshan Banietemad. Playing in tandem with Rakhshan Banietemad ‘s films are a selection of new and vital documentaries. They range from female filmmakers surveying the limitations placed on their lives and work, a reassessment of the male gaze in cinema and an account of the insidiousness of censorship, to a dark portrait of political interrogation and a celebration of friendship across two continents. Together, they explore the challenges of everyday life in Iran, but also hope for changes and a brighter future.

Full details of the retrospective can be found below.


Rhythms focuses on music documentaries and performances; Debates features films on wide-ranging important topics which need to be discussed; People & Community includes stories that celebrates togetherness through family, friendship and communities; Journeys includes transformations and explorations. Memories explores how the past informs the present; and Rebellions focuses on stories of people striving for social change and fighting for what matters.

Highlights here and the full programme listings can be found below.

  • Rhythms highlights – Let The Canary Sing (International Premiere) explores the personal and public life of Cyndi Lauper in this probing yet hugely entertaining portraitIn TLC Forever (International Premiere) the biggest-selling American girl group of all time look back at their groundbreaking yet tumultuous career; Wham! (World Premiere) is an intimate celebration of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s enduring friendship.
  • Debates highlights – Every Body (International Premiere)is directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Julie Cohen who is focusing on the lives of three intersex people, in an heartfelt and urgent call for equality; All the Flowers (World Premiere) is a tender portrait of Tabaco y Ron, a small brothel in a Bogotá neighbourhood that’s home to many of the city’s trans sex workers; White Nanny Black Child (World Premiere) is a raw and heart wrenching documentary which follows a group of adults finding solace in sharing their experiences of growing up as children of Black Nigerian immigrants who were fostered  unofficially by white British families.
  • People  & Community highlights – The compelling Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story (World Premiere)follows Otto Baxter, a 35-year-old man with Down Syndrome who has always struggled to explain how he feels, while he writes and directs a comedy-horror-musical, to help him understand his life so far; Your Fat Friend (International Premiere)  is director Jeanie Finlay’s portrait of popular writer, blogger and activist Aubrey Gordon and it is a celebratory account of an individual who embraced their identity and challenged lazy stereotypes; 1001 Days (International Premiere), charts the work of a group of women – mothers and survivors of abuse – who take on the role of health workers in their local neighbourhood in the outskirts of Johannesburg. It’s an intimate, challenging and unflinching portrait of motherhood and change-making in modern-day South Africa.
  • Journeys highlights – Laura McGann’s The Deepest Breath (UK Premiere) tells the story of Italian freediving champion Alessia Zecchini who is determined to set a new record for the sport alongside his diving partner – descending to the greatest depth without the aid of scuba diving equipment.  A stunning film which captures the shredded nerves and suspense as they ready themselves for the dive; My Friend Lanre (World Premiere) sees director Leo Regan repurpose 25 years of footage to present a powerful collection of vignettes exploring his friendship with Lanre Fehintola and his addictions. It is charming, funny, devastating and, by its close, a bravely personal testament to this one person’s life and work.
  • Memories highlights – Donyale Luna: Supermodel (International Premiere) explores the remarkable life and career of Donyale Luna, one of the first Black supermodels who graced the covers of both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in Europe. Luna’s life is chronicled through a rich trove of archive footage and interviews with family and friends, who detail the obstacles Luna overcame to achieve worldwide fame before her untimely death aged 33; In the deeply personal and disarmingly honest documentary, Is There Anybody Out There? (UK Premiere), filmmaker Ella Glendining decides to go in search of people who can share their experience and feelings about having a body like hers. In doing so, she challenges lazy ableist assumptions, experiences a number of unexpected surprises and encounters people who look like her. With great warmth and an infectious joy for her body and life as it is, Glendining challenges us to question the way we see others, like and unlike ourselves.
  • Rebellions highlights – 20 Days in Mariupol (UK Premiere) is directed by Ukrainian filmmaker and journalist Mstyslav Chernov and presents an unsparing portrait of Mariupol under siege and the bravery of those struggling to survive in it; In Total Trust (UK Premiere) director Jialing Zhang’s highlights how surveillance reaches new levels of invasiveness in China, where advances in technology allow the state increasing control over public, private and political life; On The Line: The Richard Williams Story (UK Premiere) is a gripping story of determination and resilience against oppression, from the visionary man who raised Venus and Serena to change the course of tennis history.

Podcast Stories

The festival is proud to support and celebrate all mediums of documentary and this year the programme includes presentations of two live podcast events.

Witch, the ambitious new series from India Rakusen, the creator and host of 28ish Days Later (BBC Radio 4), seeks to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be a witch’? From there, the audience journey deep into compelling stories of covens, spells, magic and misogyny, ranging from the historical to the contemporary. 

The multi award winning series Soul Music is one of BBC’s longest-running documentary audio shows. Sheffield DocFest is proud to host Soul Music’s first live event in Sheffield, offering audience members the opportunity to meet the creators behind the podcast and enjoy an exclusive preview of an upcoming episode, which includes some special guests.

TV Series premieres – First Impressions

The festival continues to evolve and this year and is thrilled to host 3 exclusive previews of the first episodes for new series . All events will include a conversation with the creators and special guests.

Previews include: Evacuation (World Premiere)a searing three-part series charts the 2021 evacuation of Kabul, which showcasesunparalleled access and previously unseen footage; The Good Fight Club (World Premiere) charts the fortunes of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes fighting to make it from their South London gym to Las Vegas and the world championship. The Greatest Show Never Made (World Premiere) follows six young people who agreed to appear on a radical new TV show, unaware of the reality of what was actually going on.

Full listings details can be found below.

Diana Buckley, Director of Economy, Skills and Culture, Sheffield City Council, adds: “After a successful return to an in-person event last year, we are delighted to see Sheffield DocFest back in venues across the city for 2023, including the Site Gallery, Crucible Theatre and Showroom Cinema.  We always look forward to seeing what surprises are in store for the city and the range of international visitors who join us from around the world, to celebrate this unique and world-leading cultural event.”

Alternate Realities

The Alternate Realities exhibition programme at Sheffield DocFest showcases innovative non-fiction and immersive documentaries in all forms, breaking the boundaries of traditional documentary practice and using cutting edge technology – including virtual reality, use of artificial intelligence, video gaming platforms, augmented reality, and interactive web documentaries. This year’s Festival will present 15 works at Site Gallery that are free and open to the public, and the return of the Alternate Realities summit on 18 June, supported by Arts Council England.

Verity Nalley, Alternate Realities Consultant says: “2023 is an exciting year for documentaries in alternative formats. As technologies such as virtual reality are becoming more mainstream, creators are truly starting to understand how to make the most of the transformative power they hold to bring the stories they are telling to life in ways we just haven’t experienced before.”

The Alternate Realities exhibition is an engaging and immersive medium for audiences to connect to documentaries. Festival-goers can experience tactile virtual reality pieces, interactive webdocs, meaningful video games, a 360 dome experience, and a 4 screen interactive work driven by AI .

There are a number of compelling female-led stories and projects within Alternate Realities. Behind the Dish is a virtual reality documentary series, which follows three of the world’s top chefs who are female and their journeys to excellence.  Mrs Benz offers audiences the chance to discover untold story of Bertha Benz, in her workshop in late 19th-century Germany, and witness the birth of the world’s first motorcar. Surfacing is a virtual reality documentary which takes the viewer on an immersive and fascinating 360° journey through the daily life of mothers and children living in Italian prisons and custodial institutions, due to the rule in Italy that if a woman is a mother, and she is incarcerated, then the children are able to live with them.

Missing Pictures is a five-part VR series where acclaimed filmmakers Abel Ferrara, Tsai Ming-Liang, Catherine Hardwicke, Lee Myung-Se and Naomi Kawase tell us about the film they didn’t get to make – users are transported to the locations of the films they discuss. Within Touching Distance is  a project which highlights the importance of physical touch  a tender, one-on-one mixed reality experience combines human touch and virtual reality, where each audience member is gently put to bed.

An immersive installation, Dancing with Dead Animals is a 360 dome from Animation artist Maarten Isaäk de Heer who 3D scans and reanimates all the dead creatures encountered over one spring and summer to create a surreal and non-malevolent environment.

Full details of the exhibition can be found below.

Alternate Realities Summit

The Alternate Realities Summit is a day of talks exploring where the world of immersive and interactive documentaries has ventured over the last few years. Open to both industry and public, the event takes place at Sheffield Town Hall on Sunday 18 June. Talks include Space Invaders – exploring post-colonial alternate realities and considering whether alternate reality spaces will be colonialist expansion or the rise of the disenfranchised, AI – Storytelling Friend or Foe where three creators discuss the use of AI in the creation process, the ethics and what they personally are most excited (and scared) about, and New Horizons: Audiences of the Future in which a panel of creators making work for distinctly different audiences share their experiences.


Sheffield DocFest will present nine public talks which will all be held at the Crucible Theatre.

Beccy Ashdown, Talks & Sessions Senior Producer says, “We’re honoured to welcome some of the leading voices in documentary, as well as emerging talent in person to Sheffield. This year we explore the art of docs from verbatim theatre to use of satire within documentary, to audio narratives; and the profound impact documentaries can have on the world. Our guest speakers are pushing the boundaries of storytelling, with their innovative approaches to documentary. Prepare to be inspired!”

Jews. In Their Own Words, created by Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland, is a special, one-hour abridged version of the 2022 verbatim play produced by the Royal Court Theatre. An incisive, provocative and necessary work, it is based on interviews conducted by Freedland with 12 British Jews, which combine to expose the roots and damning legacy of antisemitism throughout our society, often in places where we least expect it. The original stage production was produced by The Royal Court and from an idea by Tracy-Ann Oberman.

The Festival’s Guest of Honour, Rakhshan Banietemad, will discuss her career to date, reflecting on her critically acclaimed and award-winning body of work, as well as premiering a short film she created during the pandemic. As a key figure on the landscape of Iranian documentary filmmaking, Banietemad’s’s work has undoubtedly shaped and influenced the industry and its creatives in the region.

Broadcaster supported talks are the BBC Interview: with actor, director, author and activist David Harewood to discuss his documentary work; the ITV Interview: with presenter Laura Whitmore to talk about her television career to date; and the already announced Munya Chawawa will discuss his unique approach to integrating satire in documentary, supported by Channel 4.

Stand-out events include: Rose Ayling-Ellis in conversation to discuss her upcoming BBC documentary Signs For Change; a Chris Smith Masterclass following the World Premiere screening of his new documentary Wham!Dalton Harris, the final winner of X-Factor UK in conversation following the World Premiere screening of Dalton’s Dream and Sara Mardini, the Syrian swimmer who pulled the boat that carried her and another 18 refugees to Greece, to discuss how she copes with the consequences of becoming a famous activist.

Sheffield DocFest (14-19 June), celebrates its 30th year in 2023. As the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects, DocFest champions and presents the breadth of documentary form – film, television, immersive and art – in the vibrant city of Sheffield each June.  

Sheffield DocFest key venues for 2023 are – The Crucible Theatre, Showroom Cinema, Workstation, Curzon Sheffield, The Light, Sheffield City Hall and Town Hall, Channing Hall, Site Gallery, Site Studio, and Cutlers’ Hall.

Sheffield DocFest runs from Wednesday 14 – Monday 19 June and public tickets are on sale now.

The festival is committed to offering a number of Festival screenings and events with access options for people who are D/deaf and hard of hearing. All screenings at the Crucible Theatre will have open captions; and public talks with Rose Ayling Ellis and The Good Fight Club will include British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation.  Access details for the full programme are included in individual listings and also available in a dedicated access page on the website.  Complimentary tickets are available for Personal Assistants, Carers or sign language interpreters, and must be booked in advance. To view up to date details of our services, including BSL interpretation, relaxed screenings, subtitled and captioned films, please visit  For any questions or for more information please email 

The Festival Pass is available from £180 and provides access to the full festival programme of films, exhibitions, talks, panels, industry sessions and live pitches, networking events and parties.

Be the envy of documentary fans everywhere and become a DocLover at this year’s Sheffield DocFest. From only £30, you can see the best of the fest, for less. Available from the 10May.

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