Sheffield Doc/Fest wins charitable status and recruitment starts after chairman Alex Graham steps aside

A Sheffield Doc/Fest audience.
A Sheffield Doc/Fest audience.

Sheffield Doc/Fest has become an independent charity, it has announced, and is also looking for a new chairman or chairwoman.

After starting in 1994, the event is now welcoming film submissions for the next festival in June 2020.

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For 26 years, Doc/Fest has been a subsidiary of SMEC, the charity which runs the Showroom Workstation, and but this week announced that it achieved charity status in its own right in October.

Peter Brooks, chairman at SMEC, said: “I doubt whether anyone involved at the time, back in 1994, would have predicted the global reach and success that Doc/Fest has achieved.

"It is right that a festival of this scale and prominence take full control of its own future and so I am delighted that Doc/Fest has been able to gain charitable status in its own right.

"The Showroom is without doubt the home of independent cinema in Sheffield and we look forward to working with new festival director Cintia Gil and the team.”

Attendees enjoyed the festival.

Attendees enjoyed the festival.

Ms Gil added: “To become a charity is an opportunity that will provide us with the space for public service, both in the interest of filmmakers, artists and the public.

"Sheffield Doc/Fest is a festival committed to the values of freedom, social engagement and collective development of the arts, therefore the purpose of our work becomes even clearer with this new status."

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Meanwhile Alex Graham, Doc/Fest’s chairman since 2008, has decided to step aside.

Mr Graham, a television producer and journalist who was the founding CEO of the Wall to Wall production company and remains chairman of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, has governed the festival over a period of significant growth.

During his tenure he has overseen a "substantial increase" in the festival’s audiences and international profile, as well as increased financial security and sustainability and led the appointment of Ms Gil, who has relocated from Portugal, where she directed the Doclisboa festival from 2012.

Mr Graham said: “I am very sad to be leaving Sheffield. Chairing this great festival has truly been one of the highlights of my career.

"But organisations need a regular injection of fresh ideas and thinking at board level and after more than nine years, it is time for me to move on.

"I would like to thank all of our stakeholders, but in particular SMEC and Sheffield City Council for their unstinting support of the festival over the past 26 years and particularly during this time of transition.

"I am confident that I leave Doc/Fest financially and organisationally stronger than when I took over and I wish Cíntia and her fantastically talented team all the best in taking it to the next level.”

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Sheffield Doc/Fest was established by the Showroom Cinema and Sheffield Council in 1993 in response to British documentary filmmakers needing a forum to come together to discuss their craft.

The first festival ran over eight days in March 1994, organised by festival director Midge Mackenzie.

It had a film programme, masterclasses and an industry conference attracting around 100 delegates from across the UK.

Guests at the first festival included filmmakers DA Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and Robert Drew.

The Showroom Cinema, as well as being the organisation’s parent company from the start, also served as the festival’s hub.

Now in its 27th year, the event has grown to become one of the world’s major documentary film festivals and marketplaces, with a programme of 200 titles, attracting up to 3,500 delegates and 30,000 public admissions from 60 countries around the world over six days each year.

Though the festival now takes place over 20 locations across the city, the Showroom Cinema remains the festival’s delegate centre and one of its best-loved venues, say organisers.

The appointed candidate for the chairman/chairwoman position will lead the trustees in responsibilities for maintaining "fiscal probity", overseeing governance and working alongside the executive team to manage stakeholders and act as advocates for the festival nationally and internationally.

The 27th edition of Doc/Fest will take place June 4 to 9, 2020.