Blueberry at Sheffield DocFest – 2019

Sheffield DocFest occupies a special place in our hearts and calendars at Blueberry. Each year we attend to learn about and enjoy the latest films, talks and initiatives in the world of Documentary filmmaking.

This year, alongside Irantzu, Bhavinee, and Kirsty, we took some new members of our team on the trip to Sheffield; Zuzka, and Giusy (long form), Anna and Alise (short form) and Zsofi (marketing and PR).

The resounding feedback was that everyone Loved the DocFest and came back inspired and energised. Indeed, it’s always and inspiring, surprising and moving in so many ways. We’ve put together some of the films and talks we most enjoyed – because we also want to tempt you to come next year!

Most of these films – and more – will appear in the cinemas over the coming months.  If you love documentaries too and want to catch them on the big screen, then we recommend checking these listings – some include Directors Q&As too! Keep an eye on these cinemas, institutions and companies for information regarding screenings nearby: DocHouse at Curzon Bloomsbury  //  Dogwoof  //  Barbican //  ICA //  BFI //  Frontline Club.

AND – we would love to bump into more of our community at Sheffield DocFest 2020. Lighting passes are on sale now. and cost £202.80 (£169+VAT) for an ALL ACCESS PASS. It might seem like a long way away right now, but if you’re interested in going, it’s definitely worth booking before 31 August 2019 – after this, prices increase and reach double the cost by the time of the event!

Blueberry Team’s TOP 10 FILMS – catch them in cinemas!

1. Don’t Be A Dick About It

In affluent suburban Maryland, teenage brothers Matthew and Peter while away the summer days, alternatively bickering and bonding, while their cousin Ben Mullinkosson films them. When they aren’t winding each other up, Peter stages endless dramatic recreations of Survivor evictions while Matthew hangs the park a lot, determined to overcome his profound fear of dogs. A funny and astutely observed foray into brotherhood.

Very well-made, feel-good Comedy Documentary. After the screening we had a great Q&A with the Mullkinson brothers, who are the cousins of the film’s protagonists, Matthew and Peter.  – Alise

2. Midnight Traveler 

When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

This moving, close up story touched everybody so deeply, particularly at the end when the father took part in an audience Q&A over Skype from their current safe place in Germany. How fortunate we are, how bold and persistent love and the human spirit are. – Irantzu

3. One Child Nation

With chilling clarity, Wang’s new documentary reveals how relentless propaganda brainwashed and terrorized countless Chinese citizens into committing unspeakable crimes against fellow villagers and family members. Through interviews with both victims and instigators, along with revelatory data regarding the sheer number of abandoned children (nearly all of them infant girls), One Child Nation breaks open decades of silence on a vast, unprecedented social experiment that shaped—and destroyed—countless lives.

Shocking to see how almost everyone from the generation who first had to bow their had to this policy haven’t even questioned the establishment, and were almost offended by the suggestion to think about the consequences. Even more shocking to see how the current political establishment is almost erasing all evidence of it and seamlessly putting their propaganda machine into action in order to establish the two-child policy.  It was such an honest and powerful work, it made everyone cry in the auditorium! – Zsofi

4. Once Aurora

Aurora is a pop music sensation from a small town in Western Norway. She was discovered at the age of 16, dropped out of school, and spent the next years touring the world with her first album. At the age of 20 she is at a breaking point. Is this really what she wants, and if not, does she have any other option but to continue?

An endearing film, which follows the highs and lows of Aurora’s progression as an artist – starting out at age 16! after a friend posted a video online of her singing. It follows the highs and lows of her progression as an artist. An insightful and endearing film with an amazing soundtrack too! – Kirsty

5. Tiny Souls

Marwa is nine, and like any child, her concerns revolve around school, and her interests around playtime. Four months into camp life, Marwa expects that they’d likely stay there for another week, maybe two. Over the ensuing four years, the director follows Marwa’s day to day life in the camp, where she blossoms from a child to a young woman.

Fantastic film about Syrian kids in a refugee camp. So moving, it left me speechless for hours. – Zuzka

6. Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and shocking fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein, Untouchable reveals how Weinstein acquired and deployed his formidable power over decades, exploring both the method and the collateral damage of his alleged abuses. A haunting parable for our times, the film is also a beacon call for future generations.

Powerful film about Harvey Weinstein. It raises relevant questions in the current climate and with the mogul’s impending trial leaves them perhaps unanswered… – Zsofi

7. Reconstructing Utoya

A feature documentary where four survivors from the Utøya massacre of 2011 reconstruct their memories in a black box studio together with twelve young participants in order to share and remember their experiences.

The way this film dealt with the tragic topic that has been highly publicized and turned into an award-winning, Hollywood story last year is enviable by any filmmaker. It’s connections with the participants of the documentary and the high-level of sensitivity everything was handled resulted in one of the most powerful and moving stories I’ve seen this weekend. – Zsofi

8. While We Are Here

Lamis and Wilson are migrants in New York. She’s a Lebanese that just arrived, and he’s a Brazilian that has lived there illegally, for 10 years. A hybrid narrative constructed with a poetic approach and a travel diary that takes us into the essence of human micro-politics in times of globalization – an uncertain kingdom of desire, hope and fears.

A powerful story about love which connects people even if there are walls and borders that divide the world. The directors show how two people can be part of a society, live in a foreign city for many years and then suddenly feel entrapped. The film makes the audience that kind of feeling of isolation and the lack of freedom that goes under the skin. A piece of shocking and very worrying information was that in the last 10 years the number of border walls has increased a lot. We had in the world around 20 walls and now there are more than 70. – Giusy 

9. Hi AI 

Hi AI is a creepy mediation on the topic of robots and AI slowly becoming part of our lives – imagine the Joaquin Phoenix film, Her as a documentary and REAL! In the centre there are stories of two households – a Japanese family of 3 generations bringing home a robot-boy Pepper to keep grandma company, and Amercian sex trafficing survivor Chuck purchasing a perfect robot-girlfriend Harmony.


It’s funny and sad at the same time to observe these people wanting to interact and connect with robots and how it’s not quite working, whether its Harmony replying amiss or Pepper not recognising the words grandma uses. The film brings this eerie feeling of isolation and loneliness, what happens when we start seeking company from robots rather than humans? How is it going to change the society we live in? – Anna

10. The Great Hack 

The Great Hack by dirs. Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim present a detailed account on how Cambridge Analytica uses personal data to create personality profiles and determine the “persuasibles” to be targeted for seamless propaganda. Data is the most important commodity in today’s world and it is the most powerful weapon, and if you are not thinking for yourself someone does it for you.

We all know it’s happening and our phones are listening to our conversations but the implications are far more serious than sneakers ad in your Insta. The film shows the real scale and global impact of such manipulations that is impressive and terrifying at the same time. – Anna

Top 5 TALKS

1.  Meet The Sales Agents and Distributors

International sales agents can help a film find distribution partners in markets worldwide, often inputting into marketing and festival strategy. In this session, executives from a range of international sales companies will introduce themselves, explain their approach to acquisitions – what they’re looking for – and share examples of films they have recently worked on. Following the presentations, there will be time for delegates to connect with sales agents and exchange business cards.

The single most useful event of the festival to all filmmakers who have a project either film or TV, in the UK or outside and are looking for ways to get it to an audience. – Zsofi

2. Imaginary Friends: Short Stories From The Loneliest Generation
In 2018, the UK’s Ministry of Loneliness was installed to combat the issue of isolation. Generation Z has been singled out as ‘the loneliest generation’, with social media’s effects often receiving the blame. However, it’s online that young people can find a sense of companionship: a recurring theme in this year’s shorts programme. Online personalities offer a tailored experience, creating the illusion of intimate relationships. How can the Film and TV industry cater to the needs of an audience craving personal connections if social media is already their bff?

A panel that discussed how we are the loneliest generation – especially amongst young people.1 in 4 people experience loneliness. Very telling and relatable. – Bav

3. Channel 4 First Cut Pitch

The Channel 4 First Cut Pitch is back! Once again Channel 4 will be offering five new directors the chance to pitch in front of some of Channel 4’s factual commissioning team and a live audience. One winner will walk away with a commission from Channel 4 for their first 60’ film and one months fully-paid development and mentorship with an indie to support the development of their idea.

If you have something to pitch next year – make sure to keep an eye on this, as they will be opening up a doc series spot as well! – Zsofi

4. Funding and Commissioning: Podcasts and Audio Documentary

Earlier this year Spotify paid a reported $230m for Gimlet – a US Podcast business. It was a jaw-dropping valuation by any standards. However there’s no question that podcasting continues to grow – both in terms of audiences and content. More and more talent is turning to the medium to tell stories and reach audiences direct. Audible, Spotify and the BBC are pushing into the market, as are numerous advertisers. We explore how podcast ideas can get to market, the different funding models and what audiences they can reach.

Podcasts are one of the fastest-growing sectors within our industry and many of the popular pieces are representatives of the documentary sector. Very useful and informative panel. – Zsofi

5. Commissioning: Factual Entertainment
Factual Entertainment sits at the heart of the TV schedule but with budgets, ratings and platforms more challenging than ever, how does terrestrial fact ent punch through? We ask our panel of commissioners whether the big plays are only for the big players or whether a small indie can still have a shot at the main prize?

Go to this one next year to learn about funding! Unmissable! – Anna

BONUS

Some Like It Short (Short Form Commissioners session)

This talk was so informative that we came up with a bonus content and you can read our full summary of the panel here!