Notes from the Field: Doc/Fest End 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 5: (Monday 10 June)

Attending the BBC3 Pitch and Channel 4 First Cut Pitch back to back was an exciting opportunity to see projects up for a potential commission being presented by the filmmaking finalists. The BBC3 Pitch focused on stories from the North of England, with the winner Rebecca Southworth impressively also one of the five finalists to pitch for Channel 4’s First Cut. The winner of the C4 Pitch – Ashley Francis Roy – screened a very humorous teaser for his film about an English man outraged by the metric system and pushing for a return to the imperial measuring system, using public signage to make his argument.

On the top of my must see films list at the festival was One Child Nation, directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, and For Sama, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts. I saw these two films back to back and they both blew me away. As the youngest daughter of 6 children growing up in a Chinese family (I was the fourth girl in succession), One Child Nation‘s revelatory story about the treatment of families and particularly baby girls in China really struck a chord. I know what it’s like to feel as though you’re already a disappointment to your family because I was not born a boy.

After gathering myself after One Child Nation,  I went straight into the queue for For Sama, thankfully this time with a ticket. This was such a powerful film that left me, and seemingly the entire audience, speechless and in tears.  Director Waad al-Kateab received a standing ovation following the screening. During the discussion she stressed that it has been 8 years since the civil war began and that she stills strongly yearns to return to her homeland.  She believes she is alive only because of her purpose to show the world what has happened to her people, as her story is not unique amongst her fellow Syrians.

I decided to end the day of intense viewing with some ‘light relief’ by watching a series of psychedelic short films by Toshio Matsumoto, a Japanese filmmaker and video artist, at The Leadmill. I think it worked.


DAY 6: (Tuesday 11 June)

The Whickers Pitch
Feeling somewhat nervous for all of the 5 finalists, who had such incredible films lined up to pitch, this event would mark a great start to my final day at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Who was going to take home The Whickers £80,000 top award? Like a tense season finale of GBB Bakeoff, the winners announcement was made at the Awards Ceremony that very evening. What an exciting end to a full festival celebrating documentaries in all its many forms.

Further Highlights:

  • More drinks!
  • Meeting Amanda Mustard (The Whickers 2019 Funding Award Winner) and realising that her Story Producer, award-winning NYC-based journalist Luke Malone, is also a childhood friend of mine from Australia!

I would have loved to have been in five places at once during this festival, although until that invention comes to fruition (hello year 3000!) I managed to pack in an overwhelming programme of talks, sessions and screenings. It was a privilege to witness the level of talent, artistry and platform elevation as both new and established filmmakers convened in Sheffield, and to meet other documentary-lovers and makers with a passion to bring such important stories to our screens.