Notes from the Field: Sheffield Doc/Fest Day Early Days

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 ‘notes from the field’ 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. 

DAY 1 (Thursday 6 June)

This was my first time at Sheffield Doc/Fest and what a feast of films, industry talks, pitches, drinks, interactive spaces, bright orange bag handles, interesting filmmakers, artists, producers and executives to meet, plus more films, free drinks and a surprising amount of queuing that was awaiting me. As I checked into the delegate centre I received a bright orange lanyard to wear for the duration of the event.  It screamed “I’M HERE FOR DOC/FEST”, which for some might seem like the fashionable de rigeur but for me felt more like a loose collar. I was though extremely grateful for the pass, which has a digital stamp in the top right corner allowing me – with one beep of a smartphone – to enter all manner of events, screenings and  happenings. I kicked things off with some great screenings…

XY Chelsea + Q&A (Director: Tim Travers Hawkins)
A striking film that illuminates the struggles of Chelsea Manning, a US military veteran famous for releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks back in 2010.  Tim was working on another project that prompted him to get in touch with Chelsea whilst she was held in solitary confinement.  This was prior to her unexpected release by Obama from a lifetime prison sentence in 2017 and follows her journey adjusting back to civilian life.

Honeyland (Directors: Kotevska Tamara, Ljubomir Stefanov)
An intimate portrait of a 50 year old woman, Hatidze, living in an abandoned rural town in Macedonia.  Her expertise in managing natural honeybee hives unfolds as a young family move in next door, with 7 kids, several goats and 150 cows – and not much experience in managing their livestock.  This was a moving film, powerfully cinematic, with light touches of relatable humorous scenes. It almost plays out as fiction due to the style and personalities of each of the contributors with what appears to be a small story, yet highlights the impact of others on Hatidze’s livelihood and the surrounding environment.

Opening Night film Diego Maradona (Director: Asif Kapadia) at Sheffield City Hall.
Asif Kapadia revealed during the Q&A after the film, that although this was a film where his main contributor is still alive (as opposed to SENNA & AMY),  he still had to make the film as if Maradona was not around.  It wasn’t always easy to schedule interviews with Diego. While the time the film was being made, he was living in Dubai and Asif managed to get about seven interviews with him over the course of a year or two.  The film itself took three years to make; one full year going through archive footage and two solid years in the edit with Chris King. The Whickers’ Artistic Director Jane Ray also had the privilege of meeting Asif himself at the afterparty – here’s the proof! 


IT WAS SUNNY ALL DAY! Perfect weather for relaxing at the outdoor cinema space.



In conversation with Paul Greengrass

Paul talked extensively about his documentary roots honed while working at World in Action throughout his 20s, and then honing his craft through directing and writing TV dramas in his 30s. Much of what he learnt and applied to his feature film career, including the ‘Bourne’ franchise, came from his documentary training days. He stressed the importance of not allowing a “filmmaking vacuum” to develop as the process of making films can often take place in a bubble. He reminded filmmakers in the audience to always “be eye level” to the audience and to never talk down to the viewer but to ensure “clear and crisp” storytelling.

The Rest + Q&A (Director Ai Wei Wei)
Following Ai Wei Wei’s 2017 feature documentary Human Flow, which follows people living in refugee camps bordering Europe, The Rest is titled for the remaining 900 hours of footage that were unused. Ai Wei Wei was initially prompted to make the film Human Flow, and subsequently The Rest, by a rare holiday he took to Lesbos with his family one summer. It was whilst at the Mediterranean beach resort that he saw a small boat with a bunch of orange jackets, old women and young children coming to shore.  The opening scenes of Human Flow are this very scene, filmed on his phone. In response to his take on the refugee crisis in this films, he emphasised that throughout history, we as humans were all refugees at some point.  He believes the current Syrian refugee crisis is a “betrayal of humanity, to not help those in danger.” Despite the seeming darker turn of where humanity has gone, he still has a sense of ‘beauty, truth, courage and hope.’

Other Highlights

  • FREE COFFEES all morning and into the afternoon at the OATLY stand.  I took a pledge to stave off cow products for 72 hours and scored a free t-shirt (which lucky for me, was easy, as I already only drink plant based milks…)
  • FREE DRINKS (Beer! Wine!) in the evening inside the Winter Garden.
  • Asif Kapadia liked my Tweet!


  • The pouring rain
  • Not being allowed into Asif Kapadia’s Masterclass session, and subsequently parking ourselves in the Crucible theatre to queue for the next event.