New programming head secured films by female filmmakers for close to 50% of the line-up.

Nearly 50% of the films in this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest line-up (73 out of 150) have been either directed or produced by women filmmakers, under its new head of programming and industry engagement Claire Aguilar.

“I wanted to address certain issues in the programming balance - to get films made by and about women,” said Aguilar.

“People said it would be difficult, but it wasn’t a hard goal to achieve, there are plenty of women filmmakers out there.”

Aguilar, who took up the post in January, has also introduced a special Women In Docs strand to this year’s festival (June 5-10) with films in the line-up including Kim Longinotto’s Dreamcatcher, Leslee Udwin’s India’s Daughter, Chloe Ruthven’s Jungle Sisters and Iiris Harma’s Leaving Africa.   

Other changes for this edition include the renaming of the Special Jury Prize to the Grand Jury Prize and the introduction of a new strand – Instigators and Agitators – to cater for the large number of films focusing on activism and advocacy.

“I want Sheffield to be an A-list international festival where people have the confidence to premiere their films here. We’re getting there,” said Aguilar, who joined the festival from US public broadcaster Independent Television Service (ITVS).

The line-up this year includes films from 35 countries, including Japan, China and Mexico. “We have people travelling here from all over the world and that will continue to be a goal,” said Aguilar.

Amongst the festival’s record 2,000 submissions, Aguilar points to a large number of political documentaries, as well as a “proliferation of environmental films - from films about sustainability on a farm in England to nuclear waste to recycling in Paraguay.”

“I’ve spent the last two months watching films on my iPad, so it’s beautiful to see them on the screen,” she added. “There is a lot of appreciation for the films, from both the industry and the local audiences.”

While the 2015 edition of Doc/Fest may end on Wednesday, Aguilar is very much focused on the festival’s year-round programme, which includes a series of touring events. There are also plans to create a mini-Doc/Fest in London.

Aguilar is also working with Skillset to create a student showcase as well as running a series of workshops over the summer as part of a training/pitching initiative.

One of Aguilar’s big aims going forward is to see more “cross pollination” between the various different strands of the festival. This year, for the first time, the festival’s masterclasses, which are usually only for delegates, are now open to the public.

Having come from a TV background, one of the best things about Aguilar’s first Doc/Fest has been having the freedom to “take more risks”.

“TV is very risk averse, ” she added. “I don’t need to worry about formats now, I can really think about audiences and I have room to experiment.

“If it doesn’t work out, we just won’t do it next year.”