With the appointment of Festival Director, Heather Croall in 2006 Sheffield Doc/Fest has undergone dramatic changes in its programme delivery.
Now, Sheffield Doc/Fest is not only a 5 day yearly event - it is becoming a year-round service provider to the industry with training, educational and cultural activities taking place across the UK, year-round.
The introduction of the MeetMarket in 2006 changed the face of how pitching works. The MeetMarket enables dedicated, scheduled one-on-one meetings between filmmakers and buyers. The MeetMarket has established Sheffield Doc/Fest as an important international marketplace for documentary.
The festival programme now also includes the Crossover Interactive at Sheffield strand with sessions and masterclasses dedicated to exploring the digital revolution in broadcasting and the impact that convergence, digitisation and interactivity has on documentary production and delivery.
In 2007, Crossover Labs were introduced as an all year integral part of Sheffield Doc/Fest. This international programme of residential labs, is designed to explore the creative and the commercial challenges of developing content and services for digital media. The labs are co-produced by Sheffield Doc/Fest and Crossover.
The early days
The first Sheffield International Documentary Festival was held in 1994. The festival was launched as both an international film festival and a conference for all professionals working in documentary production. The first Doc/Fest consisted of all the observational American trailblazers, including Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, DA Pennebaker.
The Director and Programmer work in close collaboration with the Board and Advisory Committee to create a rich and challenging programme each year. Doc/Fest has long been regarded as an event owned by members of the documentary industry, who are well-represented on both the Board and the Committee.
Doc/Fest was the vision of Peter Symes of BBC TV Features Bristol. He felt that it was incredible that there was no festival in the UK celebrating the work of documentary makers and no forum at which the makers could meet to argue and debate their craft, especially considering that Britain has a long tradition of making some of the very best documentaries in the world.
In 1990 with the support of John Prescott Thomas and Peter Salmon at BBC Bristol, a working party was set up to see if a documentary festival would be a viable proposition. Originally the festival was to take place in Bristol. Over three years Peter and others worked to raise money to support the festival. By 1993 Channel 4, United Artists, Discovery Channel, Central TV, and Granada TV all had representatives sitting on the Festival Board and generously agreed to provide funding.
In the same year, filmmakers and academics in Sheffield suggested the city as a venue. In 1993 Sheffield was developing its media production base and its cultural industries quarter was expanding. It also had at the two universities, strong film, journalism and media schools with a growing centre of postgraduate education at the Northern Media School, a large student population and venues for offices, screenings and debates. Being outside the magic circle of London was seen as a positive advantage. It was thanks to the likes of Sylvia Harvey and Colin Pons that the festival took off, Colin particularly because of the work put in to raise funding for infrastructure.
Peter Symes chaired the festival in 1994 and 1995, then Marion Bowman took over in 1996, followed by Roger James from 1997 to 2000 and Christo Hird from 2001 to 2004. Steve Hewlett has chaired the festival since 2004. Alex Graham is the current chair.
Festival Directors and Programmers have included Midge MacKenzie, Paula Shirley, Kathy Loizou, Alex Cooke, Sirkka Moeller, Caroline Cooper Charles, Brent Woods and David Teigeler.