Impressions from Sheffield Doc Fest

Dagnė Vildiūnaitė is the producer behind the Lithuanian production company Just a Moment. She has for years had an international focus, and her films have had both national and international success. “Father” by Marat Sargsyan were this year awarded in the festivals in Nyon and Krakow, “How the Revolution Played” by Giedrė ickytė got the award as the best film at the 9th Vilnius International Documentary of 2012, whereas ”Igrushki” by Lina Luzyte still waits for the international breakthrough, it deserves. Wake up festival people, here is a creative documentary film shot in Belarus that does NOT take the usual ”easy” path with Lukashenko in picture in every other moment!

Dagne sent me a mail a couple of days ago after travels to Moscow and Sheffield. It is always a pleasure to read what she has to tell, she has opinions that go way beyond, what more mainstream producers come up with in the numerous workshops of marketplaces for documentaires around the year. She gave me an ok to post her impressions from the visit to the Sheffield Doc Fest:

… and, yes, before that I was in Sheffield. I thought a lot about what made me feel so “not in place” there. And I made certain conclusions. Almost the entire festival program is consisting of the films talking about our “bad and unfair our world is, full of social problems and heroes who give their lives to change it”. I’m totally ok with it and I like many human rights documentaries.

But just next door they are organizing the market that has a strong focus on cross-media, online platforms, teaching that the audience has to be able to choose the content that they want and even influence the story of the film… and of course we also have to make our documentaries shorter and easier for the audience to “swallow”, while they are googling the entire world on their computers. And then my question comes – isn’t it our job to try to capture the audience that has less and less interest in the world around them? And isn’t it that audience that we are making our films about/for in the end? So why not challenge them and bring them back to cinemas to watch films that make them think. Instead of teaching them to push button “stop”, when they are not comfortable with the image they see?

But I’m so happy that I have attended one the best lectures in recent years – the masterclass by Walter Murch (it made my trip worth it). After it I suddenly realized one simple thing. There has always been a real interaction between audience and filmmakers. But it was on an intellectual level where the filmmaker raises the question, and an audience leaves the cinema with a gift – a new question, a new understanding, a new inspiration… Now it seems they talk about interactive elements in a purely physical way – audience pushes the button and feels satisfaction of being part of a creative process. We support a lazy audience locked in their rooms by their own choice, not willing to know smth more. And after that we talk with serious faces how bad it is that people end up living in the streets and vote for populists to become their presidents?…

I left Sheffield really scared. The town itself is full of people living in supermarkets and people living on social security payments (or what you call it). So the market and festival in this surrounding was even more symbolic.. But maybe I’m digging too deep?

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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