(Image: Cinema named "Avenue" in São João da Madeira, Portugal. Demolished to build...an avenue.)
3 days before the 2020 festival programme was revealed, we caught up with Festival Director Cíntia Gil to chat about her Doc/Fest journey, Doc/Fest 2020 and Doc/Fests yet to come.
What is it you love about working with documentary film?
I am passionate for Cinema since before I even remember myself... My great-great-grandfather built the first cinema in his hometown, and all my family grew up there. So for me Cinema was always where I felt safe, welcome and free: sitting in a dark room, with wonderful images moving in front of me, just for me, and I could be anything, anywhere... it changed my perception of myself and of the entire world...
I did not know really the difference between fiction and documentary until I started studying film! For me everything was true, and everything was fiction, and reality was all that all together... Then I realized that documentary is a film that takes reality as its main material of thought - and reality encompasses facts, but also dreams, ghosts, memories, all that can fit in a lifetime, in a planet... so in truth, I still don't care so much about that difference, between documentary and fiction... I think all good films are about us and take us far away from us - make us see better, listen better. The reason why I love programming and working with them is because I am obsessed with the idea that no film is impossible to be shared collectively - and so I love looking for ways of sharing films with audiences. And the other reason is the fact that I never gave up the idea that we can change the world - each person can, and collectively we can even more effectively. And that Cinema is a powerful way of imagining other worlds that we can all build together.
How long have you been part of the Doc/Fest family? What led you to Sheffield?
I arrived in Doc/Fest and in Sheffield only in November 2019. It's been short, but extremely intense... every day was a good challenge, that forced me to open my head and my heart to a new team and a new city. And I am glad I came: Sheffield became a place that for me represents some of the good things we are loosing so fast in our societies - solidarity, a sense of resisting to a wild capitalistic model... and with an amazing artistic community. I am proud of working here. And Doc/Fest is a project that grew and gave a lot to the city, and can still find even better ways to contribute. I definitely want to be a part of that.
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
Building bridges between Cinema (both its history and its future), the local reality of our community, and the horizon of an internationalist platform that wants to welcome every part of this planet in its wonderful diversity. No one should feel alienated or excluded. And this is not done by simplifying what is shown, by paternalizing anyone: it is done by valuing the power of cinema, and valuing each person's life experience and capacity to engage. This is the biggest challenge - to build those bridges - but also the most beautiful part of my job. It is when filmmakers and audiences come together that I learn the most.
Another wonderful challenge is to be constantly aware that I am a very privileged person. I work on something I love, I could make those options. But exactly for that reason, I have to constantly learn with others: other experiences, other contexts. And I have to fight - fight is really the word, to give my effort, my strength, to help opening spaces for other people to pursue their dreams too. Especially to those who have it harder, for different reasons: for their economical background, for their social context, for the color of their skin, for their uniqueness - and it's strange that in our societies, too often uniqueness is taken as a reason to exclude, and not to value someone. So my job is to make sure that Doc/Fest and film industry become a platform to which anyone can belong, where anyone is welcome and cherished, and safe, and listened to. And this means deconstructing my own privileges - which is a task of great responsibility but also of great joy - it allows everyone who does it to discover the wonderful potential of every human.
How do you describe Sheffield Doc/Fest when you meet new people who don’t know the festival?
I never separate the festival from the city. They are intertwined and for me, that's one of the richness and unique factors of Doc/Fest - to exist in such a special region. I describe the way Doc/Fest is plural: how it has space for so many different languages, artistic proposals, ways of engaging with films, with talents, with each other. And I describe the city and a little bit of its history. How it represents - at least for me - the values I love, how it resists becoming a city where people feel crashed by economical power and deaf politics. How it is the perfect place for affirming arts and culture as a collective adventure that can transform reality.
What can festivals like Sheffield Doc/Fest bring to communities?
First of all, inspiration. During the days of a festival, the city changes: people move in a different way, meet different people, and access a kind of crystal ball of the entire world, where they can travel and be touched by others. It brings also a critical debate: people talk about films and artworks, and through them about the world around them. It brings visitors: talents from many different corners that share their ideas and experience, and leave memories and, sometimes, inspire local artists, local youngsters, to do things they dreamed of doing. Finally, it supports the local economy, and that is certainly also extremely important.
But to be honest, no one knows the limits of what a festival like Sheffield Doc/Fest can bring to its community: that depends on each of us, it depends on what we give to it and what we take from it. But it definitely can inspire real change - both individually and collectively.
What advice would you give to people who dream of starting their own film festival?
I would say that to start a festival you need three pillars: a strong ground in your community - a festival has to be meaningful and important to those who welcome it; a passion for programming films and for creating access to them; and a huge curiosity and knowledge of film history and language. After having these three, you'll need partners in crime (colleagues with whom to share ideas and plans) and funders - the first should be local funds, because you need your community to share the responsibility, the risk, and the enthusiasm.
What can we expect from Sheffield Doc/Fest in years to come? What are the ambitions?
We want to do more throughout the year, with our local communities, with youngsters, with local talents - the festival can and will take more responsibility for helping accessibility to film and to the film industry to locals. We want to grow our international outreach - to work with more territories, bringing film and talent, to work more to decentralize the map of cinema from Europe and North America. We want to have a higher diversity in the talents, languages, and stories we bring and support. And we want to be active on a conversation about distribution and access: how can funding for Cinema be more accessible and diverse, and how can the money be distributed in a way that does not reinforce a colonialist pattern on what is produced and which stories are told, by whom.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I am looking forward to have feedback from audiences, from the filmmakers, and from my colleagues in the industry. It is unfortunate that we will only be able to be together in Autumn, and in a different way than what would be Sheffield Doc/Fest - I was dreaming about meeting everyone and seeing everyone together! But still, we can have a sense of community by reaching out to each other, making sure that we tell each other what we think and feel when we discover the programme. The team needs this! This is how we learn to do better.