As the 30th edition of Sheffield DocFest 2023 comes to a close, this year’s winners were announced during the awards ceremony at Sheffield’s Crucible Playhouse this evening. Full winners and competition section titles below.
The festival, 14 – 19 June, saw international and UK delegate attendance rise by 17% compared to 2022. More than 2550 delegates from more than 60 countries attended the five-day festival – up from 2188 delegates attending in 2022.
This year saw 37 World Premieres, 20 International Premieres, 10 European Premieres, 47 UK Premieres and 8 retrospective films, from 52 countries of production. It was the festival’s most innovative documentary offering yet which, in addition to films, included a theatre production, live podcast events, premieres of TV series and virtual reality exhibitions.
More than 190 Industry Representatives from 93 companies and 19 countries took in-person meetings with selected projects and talents over the course of the festival market days.
The festival, in partnership with Showroom Cinema, will continue to engage with the documentary community in Sheffield with the monthly DocNights screening Programme, which is dedicated to championing the work of documentary filmmakers and bringing documentary cinema to audiences all year round. The festival is pleased to announce a new collaboration with Bertha Dochouse, supported by Bertha Foundation, to expand this programme for London audiences from July. More information and full listings will be available here.
2023 Award Winners:
International Competition (Grand Jury Award):
The Grand Jury Award for the International Competition was awarded to In the Rearview directed by Maciek Hamela (Poland, France, Ukraine, 2023). Honouring films that best display strong artistic vision and courageous storytelling. This Award is Academy Award® accredited.
The jury, Kim Longinotto, Rodrigo Reyes and Vinay Shukla said “As jurors, we are both deeply honored and keenly aware of our privileged position. We would like to take this moment to ask: what is the meaning of the art of non-fiction today? As we journeyed through this cohort of films, we found vulnerable, beautiful visions that hold both craft and story close, opening windows into the heart of our shared humanity. If documentaries matter, if they are to be relevant and important at all, they must connect us to the lives of others. Crafted with intimacy and delicate respect, we as a jury were stunned by the brilliant simplicity of this film which makes us yellow – passengers upon a universal odyssey of survival and exodus.”
Special mention was given to Stone Town directed by Jing Guo and Dingding KE (China, 2023).
The jury, Kim Longinotto, Rodrigo Reyes and Vinay Shukla said, “The jury wishes to recognise a film that draws an epic, beautifully rendered portrait, unfolding like a vast novel following the shared destiny’s of a man and his town, as they navigate the treacherous waters buffered by the winds of tradition, bureaucracy and longing for love.”
International First Feature Competition (supported by Netflix)
The Grand Jury Award for the International First Feature Competition is presented to Q by Jude Chehab (USA, Lebanon, 2023). This competition honours the future of non-fiction film and celebrates promising new talent and is supported by Netflix.
The jury, Sonja Henrici, Anna Higgs, and Rosa Ruth Boestensaid “From the first frame this story engrosses the viewer cinematically and emotionally, bringing with it the sense that we are witnessing the birth of a powerful new filmmaking voice. The audience is invited to become an intimate witness to a filmmaker’s – and a daughter’s – enquiry, as we see three generations of women coming to terms with the impact of their involvement with a secretive Islamic movement on their family. As a very specific story unravels the universal truths of love and loss, Chehab’s deft direction shows how an ultimately destructive devotion has entwined itself in the lines and legacy of her family. The Jury praises the filmmaker for her deeply personal and creative approach, creating a captivating experience. We’re excited to see what she does next.”
International Short Film Competition:
The Grand Jury Award for the International Short Film Competition was awarded to The Takeover by Anders Hammer(USA, Afghanistan, Norway, 2023). This Academy Award®, BAFTA and BIFA-accredited award honours the best creative approaches in documentaries under 40 minutes.
The jury, Aboozar Amini, Tracie Holder and Rebecca Mark-Lawsonsaid: “The Takeover is an unflinching look at the many forces working against women trying to maintain their rights in the aftermath of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s seizure of power. The jury admired the film’s rawness, immediacy and ability to capture the life and death stakes for those women willing to confront the regime as they continue to demand their rights. Beyond the extreme violence of the Taliban, the film exposes the West’s ongoing complicity by maintaining negotiations with the Taliban as well as protests by Afghan women who stand in solidarity with the regime. Ultimately, The Takeover places viewers on front lines, urgently capturing the devastating consequences of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan on society as a whole and on women in particular.”
Special mention was given to A Maiden Sings directed byMax Torrés Altés (Spain, 2023). The jury, Aboozar Amini, Tracie Holder and Rebecca Mark-Lawsonsaid: “We admired the films passion and cinematic vision. A Maiden Sings is an intimate portrait of 87 year old Titi who has worked for the wealthy Torres family for the past 67 years. Titi’s candor reveals her longing to belong, her search for love and especially her vulnerability. A Maiden Sings shows how cinema can capture that which makes us human.”
Tim Hetherington Award (presented in association with Dogwoof):
The Tim Hetherington Award was presented to 20 Days in Mariupol by Mstyslav Chernov (Ukraine, 2023). The award recognises a film and filmmaker that best reflects the legacy of photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington and is presented in association with Dogwoof.
The jury, Julian Carrington, Bruno Jorge and Katayoon Shahabi, said “The winner of 2023 Tim Hetherington award, the film that most embodies the spirit and legacy of the journalist for which its named, is a work of astonishing courage and moral clarity, which brings moving context to familiar images in a way that only long-form documentary filmmaking can. For his unflinching, cogent, and deeply immersive reportage, the Tim Hetherington jury congratulates Mstyslav Chernov, director of 20 Days in Mariupol.”
Special mention was given to Total Trust directed by Jialing Zhang (Germany, Netherlands, 2023).
The jury, Julian Carrington, Bruno Jorge and Katayoon Shahabi, said: “A film of profound political bravery that draws the audience into a chilling dystopian reality, Total Trust honours those Chinese citizens valiantly standing against a totalitarian regime now supercharged by seemingly omniscient surveillance technology. We extend our congratulations to director Jialing Zhang.”
International Alternate Realities Competition:
The International Alternate Realities Competition honours the best innovative non-fiction work was presented to The Man Who Couldn’t Leave by Singing Chen. This programme combines advances in technology with creativity and imagination to find new ways of exploring non-fiction.
The jury, Emma Cooper, Derek Richards and Andres Juradosaid: “For the sheer level of craftsmanship in using the form to engender palpable empathy in its audience. We applaud the level of detail employed to support the audience in the challenging position in which they are necessarily located. We engage with the story not just because it is so devastating, but because the sheer poetry of its delivery leaves us with a seed of hope.”
Special mentions were given to Surfacing, by Rosa Rossella Schillaci (Italy, Portugal, 2022)and Within Touching Distance, produced by ZU-UK (UK, 2023).
The jury, Emma Cooper, Derek Richards and Andres Juradosaid: “Surfacing: As an examplar of the synergy between story and form to achieve a level of engagement that maximises impact. Within Touching Distance: For the courageous application of its innovative multidisciplinary approach to challenge audiences in a way that is specific to its form.”
Youth Jury Award:
The Youth Jury Award was presented to Anhell69 by Theo Montoya(Colombia, Romania, France, Germany, 2022) by five of the UK’s most passionate young documentary lovers to celebrate non-fiction cinema.
The jury, Alexandra Judkins, Amanda Daud, Annabel Bai Jackson, Jenny Luisa Barruol and Tymofii Donets,who curated a selection of seven films to be considered in a mentored deliberation said: “To us, The Youth Jury Award means the future of documentary filmmaking – films that push the boundary of the form, are inclusive and diverse, and champion voices left out of the conversation. We’re at a time in which documentary filmmakers are self-reflexive in their approach, and the films in our selection do just that. They interrogate the struggles for young filmmakers and the lack of representations of voices within our industry and show the future of documentary filmmaking as exciting and innovative. One film encompasses exactly what the award represents to us as a generation. It is boundary breaking, it is unique, it’s visually stunning and genre defying. The film is an act of resistance against documentary conventions and we are proud to give the award to Theo Montoya’s Annhell69!”
Special mention was given to 1001 Days directed by Kethiwe Ngcobo & Chloe White (UK, South Africa, 2023).
The Jury, Alexandra Judkins, Amanda Daud, Annabel Bai Jackson, Jenny Luisa Barruol and Tymofii Donetsadded: “We would love to give a special mention to 1001 Days by Kethiwe Ngcobo and Chloe White. This film prioritized collaboration and intimacy and told the stories of these young women in a way that was non-exploitative and honest.”
Pitch Session Winners:
Four pitch sessions took place during the festival for selected emerging directors to pitch their non-fiction projects to panels of judges.
The Whickers Pitch,Film & TV Funding Award 2023 with a prize of £100,000 went to Women of My Life directed by Zahraa Ghandour (Karada Film, Iraq); the development prize of £20,000 went to I Want to Kill My Grandfather co-directed by Lilyana Torres & Carlos Morales (The Lift, Mexico). The award recognises original and innovative documentary – and uses the generous legacy of its namesake, pioneering broadcaster Alan Whicker, to support emerging, international directors working on their first feature-length documentaries.
Women of My Life: When Zahraa was nine years old, she witnessed her best friend Noor being dragged away by her family, never to be seen again. This powerful and compelling investigation into the ‘disappeared’ women and children of Iraq does not flinch from discussing the complicity of other women within the system.
Jo Lapping, Head of Factual Acquisitions at BBC and Whickers Judge, said about Women of My Life: “The combination of the Zahraa’s access and personal point of view will deliver a film giving profound insights into a world and a history that is seldom seen or told.”
Keisha Knight, Director of Fund and Enterprise Program at International Documentary Association and Whickers Judge, added: Zahraa’s description of the role of Baghdad was very convincing, this layered view of Iraqi society is something I’ve never seen before. The personal exploration of family trauma and the meta level of history and gender-based violence really come together powerfully.”
I Want to Kill My Grandfather: The directors’ approach using a detective and a film crew to uncover Lilyana’s family’s past is witty and compelling. But, beneath the conceit of her mission, she is deadly serious about uncovering Mexico’s criminal underworld and the effect it has on families. Here is a film that works on many levels and makes a difficult subject accessible.
Sam Soko, LBx Africa, Whickers Judge, said about I Want To Kill My Grandmother: “How Lilyana opened up about her healing process really swayed me. I want to see how she transforms and this story has all the ingredients for that. Lilyana is a really strong director who has great potential ahead with her very clear plan for the story she wants to tell.”
Channel 4 First Cut Pitch saw five short-listed directors present and discuss a 3-minute micro-documentary on the themed brief “Brave New World”. This was won by Catherine Harte, securing a commission from Channel 4 for their first 60-minute film, and one month of fully paid development with an indie to support the development of their idea.
Janine Thomas, Channel 4 Commissioning Editor, said “I’m immensely proud of our finalists, all of whom delivered crafted and thought-provoking films. Catherine is a worthy winner. Her film not only showed her flare for storytelling and keen directorial eye to the judges, but also enthralled the Sheffield audience. A huge congratulations to Catherine.”
Project synopsis: An anti-Natalist takes to his megaphone to publicly challenge people about why they want children. He believes that living brings about inevitable suffering and he encourages people to stop procreating. Despite all of this, he approaches people with humour and one massive contradiction emerges – he has 3 children of his own.
BBC Storyville Development Pitch saw filmmakers invited to pitch to be part of a new development programme at Sheffield DocFest. The selected finalists shared new ideas for consideration for the prize pot of £3000, which was won by With Woman by Mia Harvey and Ayo Akinwolere andKashpirovsky by Lukasz Konopa.
Emma Hindley and Lucie Kon, Storyville commissioners, said: “It was very difficult to decide between the projects. They were all so different and inspiring. We were really delighted with the atmosphere in the room. Everyone was so enthusiastic and supportive. In the end, we decided we couldn’t just give development funding to just one project because the two that won were so great. We are looking forward to working with these up-and-coming filmmakers to help them to develop their projects”.
With Woman: In Georgia, United States of America practicing as a home-birth midwife is illegal. However, Jasmine, a Black home-birth midwife, is determined to help Black women give birth at home by working underground. Her motivation stems from the alarmingly high maternal mortality rates for Black women in hospitals. Using the ancestral knowledge passed down from the Grand Midwives who worked in the South during slavery. Jasmine guides her client through her third trimester and the high-risk work, if mother or baby dies during the home birth Jasmine will face imprisonment.
Kashpirovsky: This is the incredible story of Dr. Kashpirovsky, who sedated 3 women with the power of his hypnosis so they could undergo major surgical operations, live on television. He also convinced a notorious Chechnyan rebel leader to release 1500 Russian hostages held by his rebel group. And at the end of the 80s, he conducted TV healing sessions to audiences of 290 millions throughout the Soviet bloc. Adored by his followers, feared and loathed by his critics, his groundbreaking ideas about innate powers of the subconscious mind have turned him into a figure of mythical status. This film is a quirky journey into the world of this master of persuasion, by some people called a Saint, by most – a Satan.
The Podcast Pitch first prize (£5000) went to Time, Paper, Bone by Catherine Boulle and Bongani Konaand the second prize (£2000) went to Breathing Lyrically by Taqwa Sadiq. The winners were chosen for being the most creative and promising pitches, and the prizes were funded by the Whickers foundation.
The Podcast Pitch 2023 jurors, Leanne Alie, Hugh Levinson and Lucy Taylor said:“Time, Paper, Bone was our unanimous and well-deserved winner. Catherine and Bongani presented a powerful story, with both an intimate focus and wider significance. There were clear reasons why this should be covered now and this series promised the twists and turns of a real-life thriller, while reflecting the context of a tragic history.”
The Podcast Pitch 2023 jurors, Leanne Alie, Hugh Levinson and Lucy Taylor added: “Breathing Lyrically was a beautifully original and creative proposal. Taqwa gave a compelling pitch that convinced all three judges she has the storytelling talent to lead audiences through the blend of art, science and social issues she imagines. We were impressed by how expansive her proposal is, with episodes focused around race, climate change and personal relationships, all with her own personal journey at its heart.”
Time, Paper, Bone: Time, Paper, Bone is a seven-part investigative podcast about the closure of a cold case – one of the thousands of state-inflicted deaths by South Africa’s apartheid government. The story is told through the eyes of two women, Nombulelo Booi and Madeleine Fullard, one black, one white, who are brought together in a common quest – to find the remains of Nombulelo’s father. Nombulelo was 16 when she saw her father, anti-apartheid activist James Booi, being dragged into an armoured police vehicle, half-naked, in the early hours of the morning. More than half a century later, Madeleine, the head of an investigative unit that locates the remains of apartheid’s disappeared, teams up with Nombulelo to finally bring her father home to the burial he deserves.
Breathing Lyrically: How strange that something we do constantly is the last thing we think about, until it threatens to stop. Breathing Lyrical is a six-part exploration of ‘breath’ and ‘breathing’ – what does this unifying constant of the human condition tell us about ourselves and the poetry of being alive? This series’ multi-disciplinary approach brings together art, science, culture and society, health and wellness, through powerful, compelling personal stories for broad, diverse audiences. The rhythmic nature of breathing is echoed in this podcast’s poetic tone, immersive aural landscape, and the intertwining of each episode’s story with a relevant poem. By foregrounding non-European poems, and augmenting them through enthralling, rich sound design, this series amplifies marginalised perspectives on timely, poignant stories relevant to all of us who breathe.
Sheffield DocFest is the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects, celebrated its 30th year in 2023, taking place 14-19 June. Key venues for 2023 were 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.