UPDATED: Heather Croall, festival director of Sheffield Doc/Fest, talks about what to expect over the coming week and chooses five highlights.
Since taking over as festival director of Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2006, Heather Croall has overseen an almost total tranformation of the documentary showcase.
“The growth we’ve experienced in the last few years is nothing short of ridiculous - but in some ways, that’s what we needed to have,” Croall tells Screen.
“Sheffield focused on a very specific type of documentary and part of the documentary world. What we needed to do in order to make Sheffield one of the most important documentary film festivals in the world, which is what it is now, is to expand what we did.”
Croall has transformed Doc/Fest from a two-day event attracting 500 delegates and 2,000 public attendees to a six-day festival with 3,500 delegates, which hopes to top the 20,000 tickets sold in 2013.
“This is the first year that I feel we can just stop the mental growth and actually just consolidate all our amazing efforts of creating a new creative marketplace that’s unlike any other in the world,” says Croall.
The festival exec, who was raised in Sheffield until the age of five when her family emigrated to Australia, also oversaw a major expansion of the industry side of the event, introducing interactive, digital elements as well as the MeetMarket pitching forum.
“We want to offer a personal experience and take that very seriously,” says Croall. “You can talk to thousands of delegates over the years who will tell you that they called us or emailed us and we actually replied and set up a meeting.
“It’s true that when I first got this job I used to say to commissioners, funders and distributors around the world, ‘Come to Sheffield.’ And they would say, ‘Sheffield? Why would I come to Sheffield?’ Now, I don’t have that battle anymore.”
Doc/Fest’s second Crossover Market will now offer one winner a €3,000 cash award for the first Ramillas Sheffield Interactive Fund.
“We are expanding the interactive and embracing digital media - we just love all the platforms,” adds Croall.
Croall continues to champion fresh talent through Doc/Fest.
“We genuinely want to help new talent be born,” she says.
Pointing to a recent survey conducted by the festival, Croall explains: “The big execs of the documentary world all say that their number one reason for coming to Sheffield is to meet new directors and new talent.
“They want to find new, exciting people, and we spend all year training new talent and helping them understand how to make a break in Sheffield.”
Introducing year-round training and events alongside the festival was another of Croall’s additions.
“We help them in their training, we get them in the market and we match-make them. They might meet someone like John Battsek or a big producer and then suddenly, they raise the funding and the film can go on to win the Oscar. Searching for Sugar Man was in the MeetMarket.
“So [Doc/Fest] is not just about launching films, it’s about finding finance for films. It’s about finding the new collaborator.
“The statistics of how many people drop out of the industry after their first film are really staggering. What we’re trying to do is help people stay in the industry they love. We’re trying to help people understand how you can make working in documentary a sustainable existence.
“That’s why we try and bring in more than 300 buyers from all over the world, because you can email those people until you’re blue, they’ll never write back because they’re just so busy.
“But in Sheffield, we make such a creative, accessible environment that you will be able to meet the most inaccessible buyer, and you’ll meet them five times over three days.”
Croall adds that the close proximity with which buyers and filmmakers find themselves over the week leads to significant amounts of business being secured - helping documentary makers to continue their work.
“We are committed to helping filmmakers stay in the industry,” she says. “Each year, there’s tens of millions in deals signed at Sheffield. Those deals, a lot of them would not have happened because those people would have never met.
“So it’s kind of our mission…and it’s always so rewarding when you hear about the outcomes.”
This year’s Doc/Fest (June 7-12) opened with Florian Habicht’s documentary Pulp: A Film About Life Death and Supermarkets.
The film tells the story of the Sheffield act’s final concert in the city in 2012.
Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker provided the live soundtrack to The Big Melt, a documentary by Martin Wallace made to celebrate 100 years of stainless steel in Sheffield, which screened at last year’s Doc/Fest and was co-produced by Croall.
The festival also includes 20 world premieres such as Martin Scorsese’s documentary about The New York Review of Books and Kim Longinotto’s film Love Is All, due to be screened at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Asked for some viewing tips from the 130 features programmed this year, Croall said: “There are so many! I can’t stand to pick favourites, but here goes for some tips…”
- The Case Against 8, Ryan White, Ben Cotner
- Regarding Susan Sontag, Nancy Kates
- Beyond Clueless, Charlie Lyne
- Alfred and Jakobine, Jonathan Howells, Tom Roberts
- Vessel, Diana Whitten