A northern soul

Sheffield Doc/Fest is proud to announce the Opening Night Film for the 25th edition, taking place from 7 – 12 June. Winner of the 2015 Grand Jury Prize with A Syrian Love Story, internationally renowned, Yorkshire-born director Sean McAllister brings the BBC Two/BFI World Premiere of A Northern Soul to Sheffield’s City Hall on Thursday 7 June, plus Q&A.


In the film, McAllister returns to his Yorkshire hometown of Hull as creative director of the opening ceremony of the City of Culture celebrations: living back with his 90 year-old parents, McAllister reflects on the changes to a city hit by cuts in public spending and divided by Brexit and where more than 1 in 3 children are living in poverty. Drawn to the fringes of town, McAllister met and started filming with Steve Arnott, a struggling warehouse worker by day and hip-hop performer by night, who harbours his own creative dream. Says Sean McAllister, “Back home in Hull, where I began, I have been filming Steve and wondering whether he can, against the odds, unlock the opportunities to build a better life? Is social mobility possible in cities like Hull? What role does culture have to play in this? How long can he hold onto his dreams for?"


Luke W Moody, Director of Film Programming, Sheffield Doc/Fest says, “The World Premiere of A Northern Soul is the perfect opening scene to Doc/Fest’s 25th festival edition. Sean’s internationally recognised cinema of rapport questions the present from a local point of view, but touches us all. A Northern Soul is a potent story about belonging, the value of culture for every person and offers a sense of hope and solidarity in turbulent times.”


Continues Sean McAllister, "I am delighted that Sheffield Doc/Fest is opening its 25th edition with a film from Yorkshire, and I cannot think of a more fitting occasion for A Northern Soul to receive its World Premiere. As a Northern filmmaker – and as someone who has attended every Doc/Fest since its inception and screened all my films here – it particularly resonates with me that the festival supports and celebrates regional voices and brave filmmaking – whether that’s in Syria or Hull – and it’s great to see the festival making these bold choices.


 "Steve represents a forgotten generation whose dreams haven’t been met. He is also a deeply community driven optimist, who has been trying to find a way to bring creativity and culture to the disadvantaged kids of the city, whose opportunities to build a better life are restricted by the world around them. I left school at 16 and went straight into dead end factory work and eventually made a film in a pea factory that got me into film school and since then I've enjoyed filming around the world but it felt like an important time to be filming back in the North ".


Lizzie Francke, senior production executive for the BFI says, “Our congratulations to Sean McAllister and producer Elhum Shakerifar on their collaboration A Northern Soul having its world premiere in opening this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest. Sean is one of our most important documentary filmmakers working today. His portrait of a city and its people that he has such a personal connection with promises to be incisive, profound and resonant. For the BFI this is really a hat-rick celebration because we have been delighted to support Sean’s previous work and also have been proud to support both the Doc/Fest and Hull 2017”.


Patrick Holland, BBC Two says, “Sean McAllister is a unique talent and a hugely important voice in British documentary filmmaking. His films from Iraq and Syria (for BBC Storyville) have been some of the rawest, most human, most powerful pieces to document the unfolding tragedy of the region. Now he’s coming back home and his film, set in Hull, promises to be intimate, revelatory, unfiltered and moving. It will be a highlight of the documentary year on BBC Two”.


Director Sean McAllister is known for his candid, frank films, depicting with extraordinary intimacy the lives of ordinary people who are struggling to survive but are survivors, caught up in political and personal conflict, struggling to make sense of the world we live in. From his early films Working For The Enemy (1997) and The Minders (1998), Sundance Jury Prize-winning The Liberace Of Baghdad (2004) and Japan: A Story Of Love And Hate (2008) to his more recent successes, The Reluctant Revolutionary and Sheffield Grand Jury Prize winning, BAFTA nominated A Syrian Love Story (2015), Sean’s work continues to inspire, to surprise and to fascinate audiences.  Hull 2017’s film programme was supported by the BFI with National Lottery funding.


 A Northern Soul is produced by Elhum Shakerifar (Even When I Fall 2017, Almost Heaven 2017, A Syrian Love Story 2015,) and Sean McAllister for BBC Two, with support from the BFI awarding funds from the National Lottery, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Sharp House.


The full line-up for the Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018 programme will be announced on Thursday 3 May.





Opening Night Film: A Northern Soul + Q&A
Directed by Sean McAllister, produced by Sean McAllister and Elhum Shakerifar

UK 2018 / World Premiere

Venue: City Hall, Oval Hall

Date: Thursday 7 June

Times: Doors open 18.00. Film starts 18.45

Event Strand: Film programme, Doc/Love

Ticket Price (including booking fee): £11 / £8 concession




Preview Reception of the Alternate Realities Exhibition
Venue: Trafalgar Warehouse
Date: Thursday 7 June
Times: 5-6.30pm
Event Strand: Alternate Realities

Ticket Price: Free


Opening Night Drinks
Date: Thursday 7 June

Times: 8.30pm-1am
Event Strand: Live Events
Ticket Price (including booking fee): £5


Festival Pass: comprises one full registration, giving access to Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018: 7–12 June. Your Festival Pass includes access to the Film programme, Alternate Realities programme, Talks & Sessions, Marketplace & Talent, Special Events, Doc/Player and all social events and networking. https://www.sheffdocfest.com/passes/delegate  

For further information, contact:

Sarah Harvey Publicity

Sarah Harvey sarah@sarahharveypublicity.co.uk

Nikki Aslatt nikki@sarahharveypublicity.co.uk

Oli Gots oli@sarahharveypublicity.co.uk

+44 (0) 207 732 7790

About Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest is a world leading and the UK’s premier documentary festival. Doc/Fest celebrates the art and business of documentary and all non-fiction storytelling, from feature length to short film, series, audio, interactive technology, augmented reality, virtual reality, and live events.

The Festival comprises:

- Film programme of the very best in international documentary screenings;

- Alternate Realities for innovation in interactive, augmented reality and virtual reality projects;

- Talks & Sessions with world-renowned filmmakers, to inspire, inform and debate;

- Marketplace & Talent for international business, delegations, pitching and training;

- Live Events, social events and networking;

- All Year screenings, talks and training outside of the Festival period.

Across all of its programmes, Doc/Fest gives audiences the opportunity to explore documentary within one unique, six-day festival experience, in the heart of the UK.

Sheffield Doc/Fest welcomes over 32,700 Festival goers each year, including over 3,500 industry delegates from 60 countries.

The 25th Edition will take place 7-12 June 2018.

About the BFI


The BFI Film Fund supports world-class UK filmmaking from talent and film development, through to production and audience development across exhibition, distribution and international sales. With over £50 million of National Lottery funding to invest each year, the BFI is the UK's largest public investor in film.


Hull 2017’s programme of screenings, events and film festivals, delivered through Hull 2017 and by Hull Independent Cinema and a unique partnership of film festival, educational and archive partners from across the north was funded by the BFI with National Lottery funding and led by its partner BFI Film Hub North. This exciting and rich film programme reflected the BFI’s UK-wide strategy to bring a wide range of films and related activities to local audiences and to support local film networks and audience initiatives.



Highly anticipated films backed by the BFI include Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War which will receive its world premiere In Competition at the Cannes Film Festival; Wash Westmoreland’s Colette, Idris Elba’s Yardie which premiered at Sundance; Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir; Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete which premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival; Jim Hosking’s An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn which premiered at Sundance; A Deal with the Universe which premiered at the BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Festival; Tinge Krishnan’s Been So Long; Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley and Daniel Kokotajlo’s Apostasy; Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion which opened the Critics’ Week at Venice; Saul Dibb’s Journey’s End; Steve McLean’s Postcards from London; Sean McAllister’s Made in Hull and Matthew Jones’ The Man from Mo’ Wax.


In production and post are Sacha Polak’s Dirty God; Tom Harper’s Country Music; Annabel Jankel’s Tell it to the Bees; the Chris Morris Untitled Project; Claire Denis’s High Life; Mike Leigh’s Peterloo; Chino Moya’s Undergods; Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch; Carol Morley’s Out of Blue; Tim Travers Hawkins’s XY Chelsea; Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d; Brian Welsh’s Beats; and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.


Recent releases include Aardman Animations’ recent box office hit Early Man, directed by Nick Park; Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here which won Best Screenplay for Ramsay and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix at last year’s Cannes Film Festival; Rungano Nyoni’s BAFTA-winning I Am Not A Witch which premiered in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2017; Clio Barnard’s Dark River; Michael Pearce’s Beast; Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country which won the Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic at Sundance 2017 and the Michael Powell Award, Edinburgh International Film Festival; Paddy Considine’s Journeyman; Lucy Cohen’s Kingdom of Us, winner of the Grierson Best Documentary Award, BFI London Film Festival; Sky Neal and Kate McLarnon’s Even When I Fall; Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or 2016 and BAFTA winner; Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, Cannes Jury Prize 2016; Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster; Andy Serkis’s Breathe, Opening Gala, BFI London Film Festival 2017; Peter Mackie Burns’s Daphne, Best Performance - British Feature Film, Edinburgh International Film Festival; and Sophie Fiennes’s Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami.


The BFI is the lead organisation for film in the UK with the ambition to create a flourishing film environment in which innovation, opportunity and creativity can thrive by:

  • Connecting audiences to the widest choice of UK and World cinema
  • Preserving and restoring the most significant film collection in the world for today and future generations
  • Championing emerging and world class filmmakers in the UK - investing in creative, distinctive and entertaining work
  • Promoting UK film and talent to the world 
  • Growing the next generation of filmmakers and audiences


About Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty. Through research, policy, collaboration and practical solutions, we aim to inspire action and change that will create a prosperous UK without poverty. For more information go to www.jrf.org.uk or follow us @jrf_uk