Blueberry Highlights from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017

We had a blast at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest and it was hard to pick our favourite talks and events but we gave it our best in this highlights compilation.

We also did a round up of our favourite films here.


The BBC Interview: Louis Theroux meets Nick Broomfield

Having a talented and humorous documentary filmmaker like Louis Theorux interviewing a legend the caliber of Nick Broomfield was a treat. The talk provided great insight into the process of the acclaimed, award-winning documentary maker with lots of interesting questions.

He explained that his films feature himself heavily, as he guides the story and builds the relationship with his subjects using a unique style. However, talking about his new film, Whitney “Can I Be Me”, which premiered at the Festival and it’s predicted to be his most commercially successful film of all time, he revealed how the production team wanted more of him in the film but he knew it had to be all about Whitney. She was so strong that her presence had to be felt and her voice heard so it wasn’t relevant for him to be in it.

Louis asked if there was anyone Broomfield would have loved to have made a documentary about but couldn’t and his answer was Princess Diana. He also mentioned Colin Young as one of his idols, which he described as the Godfather of Docs.

Broomfield revealed his top three tips on documentary filmmaking: to have a good sense of people, to build a good relationship with the film’s subjects and to have a great crew.


Craft Summit: The Art of the Story

This year’s Craft Summit kicked off with international story development guru Fernanda Rossi. She explored the principles of storytelling and story structure, both traditional and new, aimed at expanding your storytelling toolkit and finding solutions to your story that are true to your vision.

It was a very interactive talk which involved the whole audience with physical and vocal exercises, a really fun experience with useful information and jokes along the way.

The highlights from Fernanda’s inspiring talk were: we tell stories to make sense of our past and project ourselves into the future; we’re human because we tell stories and good ones need a balance of predictability and surprise; it’s important to recognise opportunities when they happen and not expect them to happen and it’s ok to go off script if the situation calls for it.


In Conversation with Walter Murch

An absolute MUST for those interested in editing was the talk with Legendary film editor Walter Murch, whose career spans more than 40 years and 3 Oscar wins, including credits such as “The Godfather”, “Apocalypse Now”, “The Conversation” and “The English Patient”.

Murch has been fascinated by the art of the cut since he was around 10 years old, playing around with a tape recorder and would edit the film without realising what he was doing. He first officially got involved with film at film school when he was 22 years old. After graduating he would write letters to directors telling them he wanted to work with them, that’s how he would get his work.

“Editing is the architecture of the mind”. Murch thinks filmmakers sometimes have a link with architecture. A film is architecture inside your mind.

Among his many insightful thoughts on the craft he compared editing to learning a new language and finding new ways to express yourself, underlining how editors are tactical in portraying the vision for the film.

The first time Murch used digital editing software was Avid on “The English Patient”. He then switched to Final Cut Pro for “Cold Mountain”. He’s currently editing on Premiere for the first time which he likes – cutting Taghi Amirani’s documentary “Coup 53”. He admitted to not being a fan of Final Cut Pro X – he would just switch between Avid and Final Cut Pro 7.

The legendary editor also commented on how recording sound separately allows you to be more creative since you can either depict what you see on screen or create something else that’s more creative and intuitive. A funny anecdote Murch told the audience was how taking a shower helps him when he has editorial block as it enables him to get into deeper levels of the unconscious.


Sensitive Access Commissions with Channel 5

This discussion featured Amy Flanagan (Channel 4), Danny Horan (BBC), Guy Davies (Channel 5) and Malcolm Brinkworth (Brinkworth Films). They looked at how producers go about asking for permission to film a person or their family in times of crisis and distress. They concentrated on fixed rig shows like “24 hrs in A&E”, “The Hospital”, “999 Whats your emergency”, “The Accused” and “Slum Britain”.

For instance, they showed a clip from “The Hospital” which took place at the same time as the terrorist attack on Westminster. The producers made the decision to blur the terrorist’s face as they wanted to keep the hospital’s trust and it was outlined in their initial contract that anyone they couldn’t get permission from, had to be protected, no matter who that person was.

It was interesting to find out how they would approach a mother in A&E and ask to film her sick child and in general how they would find subjects to follow and understand their needs.


Extreme Factual: No Pain No Gain?

Channel 4 has put extreme factual at the heart of their schedule. But what are the secrets of its success? The speakers on this panel were Kelly Webb-Lamb (head of Factual at Channel 4), Colin Barr (Minnow), David Dugan (Windfall), Dominic Harrison (Channel 4), Moses Adeyemi (Contributor on SAS: Who Dares Wins) and Kim Shillinglaw (Endemol).

There was a bit of a debate between going through the harsh conditions realistically and prioritising the well being and safety of the contributors and the crew. It was pretty interesting hearing both perspectives and how they have to consider that times are changing and they need to find new ways to keep the audience engaged.

Using “Mutiny” as an example, they highlighted how to push these shows to be as extreme as possible to get drama out of a few guys on a boat, showing the importance of characters and casting. They also used this format as a new way to get a younger audience interested in history, and make an older audience watch a reality programme.

They also touched on how these ‘extreme’ shows tend to mainly feature men as they’re envisioned as an escapist masculine concept but networks want to find ways to include women more.


Grierson DocLab Alumnus Ryan Gregory Wins Inaugural BBC Three Northern Docs Pitch

One of the best festival highlights for Irantzu was seeing Ryan Gregory, a member of the Grierson DocLab programme 2016, win the first BBC Three Northern Pitch session, to produce a documentary on voice hearers, commonly referred to as schizophrenia. A career-launching moment for Ryan and an inspiration to all the 2017 trainees and some of the previous DocLab trainees who turned up to support. A proud moment for Jane Callaghan, Managing Director of The Grierson Trust and for Yen Yau, their Outreach Programme Manager. | More