First-timer guide to Sheffield Doc/Fest

Earlier this month, Vanora Fung, a former student on our BFI/Whicker documentary course, attended her first ever Sheffield Doc/Fest. Read on for her top tips from a film festival newbie! Vanora Fung is a artist, writer and filmmaker hailing from Sydney, Australia. Based in London, she has a deep passion for creating thought provoking work at the intersections of identity, place and belonging.

What did I learn from attending the UK’s ‘spiritual home’ of documentary film festivals?  A heck of a lot! I hope this mini-guide helps.

1#- SECURE YOUR PASS: Secure a delegate pass to the festival, lock it in your calendar and make sure you’ve got the time off to make it up there. The festival lasts for 6 days straddling the weekend, although it seems many delegates come for a long weekend, depending on which parts of the festival they might be involved or interested in. This year it began on Thursday and ended on the following Tuesday.  If you’re lucky enough to score a pass (Thanks Whickers!) or if you’re super organised, then you could grab one of their cheaper ‘early bird’ tickets which are available 6+ months in advance. Other ways to score a festival pass include… MAKE AN AWESOME FILM that gets screened at the festival, or BECOME A FINALIST at the many amazing events such as THE WHICKERS PITCH!

2#  – BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION AND TRANSPORT: If you definitely know you’re going to Sheffield for Doc/Fest then be sure to book your Airbnb/hotel early as well as advance train tickets if you’re travelling from out of town. Rail travel in the UK can be very expensive, but if you book in advance of 30 days you can usually snag a deal that is almost 50% less than the price if you book the same week as your trip.

3# – RESERVE SCREENING/EVENT TICKETS: This year they offered a set of 5 earlybird film tickets to delegates about one month before the festival, along with the release of their full programme. Having missed this offer, I learnt the hard way and missed out on early allocation for For Sama, which turned out to be one of the festival’s most popular documentaries. I quickly realised that DocFest release more tickets for screenings and events the previous day from 1am (if you can stay awake that late). If you miss out on online tickets then the last resort is to join a standby queue at the venue. Be ready to stand for at least one hour prior to the screening (for popular films) to ensure that you get a seat. If you turn up later and you don’t have a ticket, then you’re probably not going to get in.

4# – PACK WET WEATHER GEAR: As it was sunny on the first day of the festival, I got foolishly optimistic about the weather for the whole weekend. However as the festival went on the weather became increasingly cold and very wet. Another tip is to bring good walking shoes. Sheffield is a hilly city and the festival venues are dotted around the city centre. One plus of watching films all day inside is that you don’t notice the rain as much.

5# – BRING YOUR OWN MUG: Depending on your schedule and the events, films, screenings and industry talks you wish to attend, it’s advisable to pack your own lunch/snacks to accompany you as you wait in queues for some (if not most) events.  This will save you money and time, as events can be scheduled back to back and you wouldn’t want to sacrifice your spot in the queue for sandwich, would you? If you bring your own mug you can get brownie points at the wonderful Oatly stand – where they offer free coffees and croissants throughout the festival – and reduce your impact on the environment.

6# – PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER: It’s possible that you’ll feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the whole Doc/Fest programme, add every event into your calendar wiht a highlighter… then give up on trying to understand the programme and feel upset that a film screening clashes with a Werner Herzog masterclass and a free drinks event. Abandon it. Then decide to pull yourself together and enjoy the festival one day at a time – but remember to reserve your tickets after 1am the day before!