Feature documentaries from stars including Tilda Swinton and Alan Cumming as well as producers such as Searching For Sugar Man’s John Battsek and Shooting Bigfoot’s Morgan Matthews are some of the high-profile projects searching for funding at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Major broadcasters including HBO and the BBC as well as a slew of European networks have come on board a raft of early-stage docs, which are searching for final funding at Sheffield Doc/Fest’s MeetMarket. The marketplace, which is whittled down from around 550 projects, entices over 300 decision makers including Netflix and YouTube as well as distributors including Neon, Submarine and Cinetic.
We Need To Talk About Kevin star Swinton is directing an untitled essay film about education in a number of progressive schools across the world. The project Swinton, who co-founded a progressive school in the Scottish Highlands, is produced by Lily Ford and the Derek Jarman Lab and is at MeetMarket to explore release and distribution options.
True crime remains a popular genre for feature documentaries and HBO Documentary Film has become involved in Burden of Proof, a 90-minute film from Tobacco Money Feeds My Family director Cynthia Hill. The doc, which is produced by The Last Partera’s Christine Delp, has a budget of just under $1M and is currently in production, has also received backing from the Sundance Documentary Film Program.
Also, in the true crime space is The Sherwood Case from two-time Oscar winner John Battsek, who is behind films including The Imposter, Restrepo and Hillsborough. The film which has a budget of $1.2m and is being lined up as either a 90-minute doc or a three-part series, follows Gail Sherwood, who was sentenced for two years in jail for perverting the course of justice after being found guilty of lying about being raped by a stalker. However, she says she was raped again when she left jail. Director Isabel Tang (Private Life of the NHS) tries to piece together the story and asks what really happened.
British public broadcaster BBC is a popular backer of feature docs, through a number of different divisions including Storyville as well as BBC Scotland. The latter is in discussions over Going Back (The Mysterious Tale of Brian MacKinnon), a drama/doc that stars The Good Wife’s and Instinct’s Alan Cumming. Cumming plays 30-year Brian Mackinnon, who created a media frenzy in Scotland when it emerged that he had been pretending to be 16-year old schoolboy Brandon Lee. Directed by Jonothan McLeod, who was one of Lee/MacKinnon’s schoolmates, the doc is produced by Hopscotch Films’ John Archer and The Twins of the Twin Towers producer Olivia Lichtenstein.
Another high-profile project with BBC backing is The Mystery of DB Cooper, a doc that looks at the well-known case, which is largely regarded as the greatest unsolved heist in American history. Directed by My Scientology Movie’s John Dower, the film looks at the story of the mysterious fugitive who hijacked an airplane and got away with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nearly 50 years on, Dower looks at four possible suspects in the film, which includes candid testimony, archived footage and stylised drama. The doc, which already has Altitude Film Sales on board, is produced by Minnow Films’ Morgan Matthews and Anna Stephens.
Finally, the BBC is talks over The Rise and Fall of Bhutto, which tells the story of Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, swept to power in Pakistan’s first free elections in 1970 and was hailed by a messiah by the poor before being hanged like a common criminal less than 10 years later. Missing In Pakistan director Ziad Zafar has managed to persuade friends, family and enemies to break their silence after decades in the $491,000 doc, which is produced by Faris Kermani and also has Norway’s NRK, Japan’s NHK and Canada’s TVO on board as funders.
European broadcasters also regularly use the Sheffield Doc/Fest to find early-stage projects to co-finance. Germany’s ZDF, France’s Arte, Sweden’s SVT, Finland’s YLE, Netherlands’ EO, Greece’s ERT and Poland’s TVP are helping to pay for Maya, a doc that follows Mohsen, a wild animal trainer who works in the Iranian film industry with his 300lb Bengali tiger and after four years of working together, Mohsen wants to release Maya into the wild. The $827,000 film is directed by Anson Hartford (Ping Pong) and produced by Hugh Hartford.
U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN is involved in Sumo Supremes after handing Matt Kay’s film $15,000 through its short documentary award. The film explores the struggle for equality inside and outside Japan’s national sport. Whilst women have been banned from professional sumo for 500 years, a group of amateur female wrestlers and female mayors are fighting for further change within the sport and wider society. The $600,000 doc, which has also been backed by Film London and Tribeca Film Institute, is produced by Rachel Wexler and Jez Lewis, co-produced by Andrew Carver and exec produced by Emily James.
Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Head of Marketplace and Talent Patrick Hurley is responsible for “cross-stitching” all of the films with ideal buyers and works alongside Director of Partnerships and Development Sylvia Bednarz. Hurley tells Deadline that it is an ideal place for filmmaker to “nail down a deal”. He adds that projects featuring big names such as Swinton and Cumming helps attract the big decision makers, which is also beneficial to the rising filmmakers. The marketplace runs Monday June 11 through June 12.
Three Projects To Watch Out For:
Former Vice writer Daisy May Hudson caused a stir with her directorial debut Half Way, which told the story of her own family’s experience of homelessness. Hudson is back with her all-female team, to develop the 70-min feature doc investigating working class mothers seemingly punished by the British judicial system’s reluctance to give up archaic laws EU countries have abolished. The $422,000 film is produced by Claire O’Neill and Alice Hughes and is exec produced by Chemsex and Lords of Chaos producer Jacqui Edenbrow, who is head of video at arts organization Frieze.
The Untitled Princess Nokia Project
Seven years ago, Destiny Frasqueri escaped her abusive foster home in East Harlem with “$3 in my pocket and 75% on my phone battery”. Now, she’s one of the world’s best-known female rappers and has made endless headlines, having made headlines for throwing hot soup on a man shouting racist abuse on a New York subway, punching an audience member at the Cambridge Student Union and raising thousands of dollars for Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria. Directors Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini and Orian Barki tell the tale in a 70-minute doc, which has a budget of $555,000, produced by Tabs Breese and Alli Maxwell.
The World According To Amazon
Adrien Pinon’s doc investigates Jeff Bezos’ company, looking at how millions of people buy products on the online site every day, with the firm becoming more and more powerful. It also investigates the hearts of the logistical revolution from a utopia born in the 1960s through to its expansion as a global empire. French broadcaster France 5 is backing the $557,000 project, which is produced by Valerie Montmartin.