Words: C. Abbott
It was with great excitement, curiosity and pleasure at the knowledge that I would be a part of the festival this year. This marked the 22nd year running and it was bigger than ever, respected globally as one of the most important documentary festivals and the largest in the UK. As a film student and writer I decided to volunteer as part of the talks & session’s crew – helping to greet the delegates and ensuring the events ran smoothly – I did this not only for the experience and enlightenment at a corner of the film world I was ignorant of until this point but also to educate myself on the great lengths taken to keep such an event afloat and explore the absolute diversity of documentary filmmaking.
As an individual that had never worked in such an environment and never wrote what could be considered a blog before, this was a week of surprises and occasional confusion. Speaking of which…
Things could have got off to a smoother start, yet as things would unfold I was to realise calling the path ahead a rocky one would be a duplicitous understatement. The festival officially ran from the 10th – 15th of June, I arrived in Sheffield on the 9th as travel and work never seem to mix on a personal level, for some reason. Unfortunately I was tad late for my first shift the day after, I got a call 30 minutes after I should have started (my bad). So in typical fashion I rushed into the volunteers hub which was mercifully 5 minutes down the road from me. Within minutes I was told to report to the delegate desk, handed a shirt and instructed as to what I had to perform. With great aforementioned confusion a picture was taken of all the volunteers at this station to which I’m visibly the odd one out, and then 6pm hit. Delegates poured in and suddenly the festival came alive. Despite my distinctive out of depth presence, I soon grasped the situation and was the first point of contact for guests entering the festival. Filmmakers, producers, press, actors and more all started arriving with a flourish of relief to finally arrive and excitement to get started, mostly for the welcoming party in a couple of hours. This was to be my week, 4:30pm – 9pm each night, greeting these artists and critics alike into this cultural beacon for cinema. It was to be a good week.
The opening weekend of the festival did not match the vigour of the guests with the weather of the city. People travelled far and wide to be greeted by familiar grey and relentless downpours, that welcoming British hug. This never dampened the mood however it did cause unfortunate cancellations for some of the outdoor attractions. There will always be issues with such massive events and this was no exception, a standout was how everyone had to evacuate City Hall during the Michael Moore screening of Where to Invade Next? But with a great deal of reorganisation and leg work that was promptly corrected. One downside for me however was how I was largely away from the events of the festival, being a greeter separates you from the atmosphere of the event and detaches you from the experience, it is something I’ll be sure to make differently in following years. Yet, I did manage to squeeze in a few screenings and the films were both wonderful and bizarre.
The highlight of which was by far Paa Joe & The Lion. It is a film that is essentially a father and son tale, a tale of art and strife. A once respected artist now living in poverty, his and his son’s only hope for redemption being in the form of a journey to the UK to start a new life, something I think we can all agree is more prevalent than ever. Other films ranging from the politically ambiguous The Confession to the oddity of Mattress Men, it was wonderful seeing the creativity and curiosities of people from around the globe. Not only this but the screening of Louis Theroux’s latest My Scientology Movie was met with great appreciation along with talks from Joanna Lumley, Reggie Yates and the consistently brilliant David Attenborough. It’s hard not to recommend to anyone to take part in the festival, the much overused phrase of there’s something for everyone is never more accurate here.
The festival was a great success, the weather was misery, the events went through setbacks and personally things could have started differently. Yet despite it all, this is something I will happily take part in again and recommend you to do the same be it as a volunteer or a guest. It is an experience and one I’m proud to have been a part of. Oh, and the parties. Go to them.