Doc/Fest: 5 To See

For the 24th time, Sheffield Doc/Fest brings the best documentaries in the world to South Yorkshire. Running 9-14 June, this year’s festival boasts a record number of films, including 182 features and shorts, and 35 World Premieres. Daisy Asquith’s Queerama kicks off the opening night proceedings in style with a collage of visuals from the BFI archive, capturing the relationships, desires and fears of gay men and women in the 20th century. Five days later the festival closes with Toby Paton’s Jo Cox: Death of an MP in recognition of the Yorkshire MP who suffered at the hands of a man with extreme political views. Out of the 182 films screened in between, these are the five we recommend:

Whitney “Can I Be Me”

Well known for his music documentaries Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac, Nick Broomfield returns with Whitney Houston biopic Whitney “Can I Be Me”. Launching onto the music scene in 1985 with her mesmerising voice, Whitney Houston took the music industry by storm. Although her vocal ability was spectacular, her private life was far from it and she all-too-publically fell from grace. This documentary captures the highs and the lows, and the lady behind the talent. The screening on 11 June is followed by an extended Q&A with the director.


Part of the Doc/Love programme, Dina is a ground breaking observational documentary that follows the lives of Dina and her fiancé Scott as they navigate moving in together ahead of their wedding. Already scooping up the grand jury prize at Sundance, Dina is a beautifully shot investigation of love and mental disability. Co-director Dan Sickles has known Dina all his life, which allows for a particularly intimate and personal portrayal of her new relationship – even permitting filming whilst the duo sleep.


Occasionally documentary filmmaking is durational, and this is certainly true of Laura Poitras’s Risk, which was filmed over the course of six years. Not a million miles away from the subject matter of her Academy Award-winning CITIZENFOUR, Risk is an exploration of the life of Julian Assange and those surrounding him. Nominated for the Doc/Fest Grand Jury Award, the insightful doc captures everything from Lady Gaga grilling the WikiLeaks founder to him donning a disguise to take a spin around town on a motorbike.

What’s Happening?

Celebrated Beat and pop artists come together in Antonello Branca’s 1967 documentary for a visual feast that is equal parts desperate and hopeful. Part of the Doc/Retro programme, What’s Happening? captures New York at a time when poets and painters were creating ground breaking new art that would echo throughout the following decades. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol and Roy  Lichtenstein were revolutionising pop culture and artistic practice.


Part of the Alternate Realities programme, DOOM ROOM invites participants into the depths of an abandoned department store and forget all they know of live performance. Once inside the department store, audience members are blindfolded before setting out on guided meditation where they are transported to the afterlife. A mixture of technical acrobatics and heart-stopping live performance, DOOM ROOM an entirely unique experience. The programme warns that the work “contains scenes of an extreme graphic nature that some viewers may find disturbing.”

Hannah Clugston

Sheffield Doc/Fest, 9-14 June, various venues across Sheffield, for more information:

1. Trailer for Dina. Courtesy of Vimeo.