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Starting my journey as a documentary filmmaker

11 August 2022

A ticket for Sheffield Documentary Festival
DocFest opened with Moonage Daydream, a David Bowie doc at Sheffield Town Hall.

Dale Williams
Digital Documentaries (MA)

My journey with documentaries started when I first saw the Caves episode of Planet Earth on BBC 2.

In the very first shot, a parachutist freefalls into the open mouth of a subterranean cave before eventually releasing his parachute at what seems to be the very last second.

That opening sequence was more memorable to me than anything I’d seen in a fiction film, and it changed the boundaries in my mind of what a documentary could be.

Digital Documentaries (MA)

Sat waiting in a coffee shop

A few years later I found myself sat in a coffee shop waiting to meet Dr Janet Harris, leader of the Digital Documentaries (MA) course at Cardiff University.

I wasn’t sure my application would be strong enough join the course, I hadn’t done a BA, but Dr Harris assured me that a passion for documentaries and a willingness to work hard and network would see me through. Just over a year later I started study leave for my dissertation film.

Sheffield DocFest

At the end of June 2022 I was lucky enough to work at Sheffield DocFest, the world’s biggest and best documentary film festival.

A description of the Moonage Daydream documentary in the Sheffield DocFest programme
Seeing Moonage Daydream in Sheffield Town Hall was a special experience.

The Course/School encourages students to undertake both academic work and practical experience so this was a perfect opportunity and the best timing as I had a documentary to make and job hunting looming.

At Sheffield I would be surrounded by the world’s brightest and best filmmakers, recruiters and production companies. It was my first real film festival experience so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from the very first night I was welcomed with open arms.

Proposals, treatments and trailers

I realised immediately that the rest of the week would be an eye opening experience and I had to make the most of it. From the very start of the festival I was asked about proposals, treatments and trailers for my film, what I was planning to do post-graduation, and then which films I was planning to see later.

Despite working 10-6 each festival day on an AR project (that went on to win the Jury Award!) I was able to see some incredible films. Pongo Calling, Singing From the Rooftops, New Pigs on the Block were a few that really stood out. I met the editors, filmmakers and producers and swapped contact details with everyone.

Programme showing the documentaries available at DocFest.
There were plenty of films on after my finishing time of 6pm. New Pigs On the Block was a personal favourite.

The work itself involved moving customers in and out of screenings safely, keeping screenings to schedule, liaising with producers and artists, and being up to date with evacuation and safety information.

I had a team of volunteers to manage which was a fun challenge, but together we made sure everything ran perfectly for the entire week.

Prospects and opportunities

All in all I’d rate my Sheffield DocFest experience as 10/10. I’ve made friends and contacts that I wouldn’t have met anywhere else, I’ve seen incredible films that provided so much inspiration and motivation for my dissertation film, and it has given me prospects and opportunities that couldn’t have come at a better time.

Thanks Sheffield DocFest!

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