Preview: Sheffield DocFest

The 29th Sheffield DocFest gets underway this week. With a fantastic selection of non-fiction films, both in-person and online, as well as guest speakers and live events, it maintains its status as one of the world’s best documentary festivals. We pick out five must-attend events at this year’s edition.

Opening Film: Moonage Daydream

Opening this year’s festival is Brett Morgan’s David Bowie experiential, kaleidoscopic documentary Moonage Daydream, which gets its UK premiere here after a rapturous reception in Cannes last month. It’s the first time a filmmaker has been allowed to dig into the late musician’s personal archives, including rarely-seen performances, interviews and other footage. Best of all, the film is screening in Sheffield’s legendary City Hall, where Bowie played 50 years ago this June. It’s going to be an emotional night.

A Documentary Journey with Asif Kapadia

Oscar-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, one of ASFF 2021’s key speakers, is this year’s guest curator at Sheffield DocFest. He has pulled together a fascinating slate of influential films, including When We Were Kings, about the legendary ‘rumble in the jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman; Marc Singer’s Dark Days, a delve into the New York homeless community living in the subway system; and Martin Scorsese’s portrait of his parents Italianamerican. Kapadia will also be joined by his regular editor Chris King for ‘Cutting the ‘Fame’ Trilogy’, a unique look at scenes and sequences from their films Senna, Amy and Diego Maradona.

Alternate Realities

The Alternate Realities programme combines advances in technology with creativity and imagination to find new ways of exploring non-fiction. Amongst the films on show is Armenian artist Diana Markosian’s Santa Barbara. The work, which was previously featured in Aesthetica Magazine, reconstructs her own story, examining the sacrifice her mother made when arriving in America. Meanwhile, The Tell-Tale Rooms is a 360 VR experience that leads you into the world of neurodiverse artist Eden Kötting. The film is co-directed with her filmmaker father Andrew Kötting, who previously brought Klipperty Klöpp Split Screen to ASFF in 2017.

International Short Competition

DocFest’s International Short Competition gathers together 11 global shorts – all under 40 minutes. Highlights include Ani Mrelashvili’s 1 Kilo – 3 Euros, a look at a small Berlin shop which sends parcels back to loved ones in Georgia. Gloria Carrión’s animated Leaves of K. spirits viewers to Nicaragua for a true-story of repression and resilience. The piece is based on the drawings of K, a 17 year-old girl arrested by police during anti-government protests. Meanwhile, How To See The Night, from director Maria Casas Castillo, follows a group of rangers in Portugal’s Vale do Guadiana as they track a mysterious creature into its secret world.


A series of five thematic playlists have been curated by programmers, offering a helping hand to those navigating the vast online programme from home. The festival urges us to ReConnect – with explorations of technology, creativity, passion, nature and yourself. ‘Yourself’, for examples, is a seven-film selection which deals with issues around self-growth. Meanwhile, ‘Nature’ takes us into the animal world – including Jimmy Kets’ brilliantly titled New Pigs on the Block, which looks at the life of three little piggies.  

Sheffield DocFest runs from June 23 to June 28. For more details, click here.

James Mottram