UPDATE, 08/31: UK festival Sheffield Doc/Fest has apologized to a group of programmers who published an open letter complaining to the org that they were unceremoniously released from their contracts after this year’s edition.
“We apologize to the signatories for not communicating better. We very much appreciate their contribution to the festival. Their fixed-term contracts ended in June 2021, after this year’s festival but we welcome their candidacy for future programming roles,” a statement from the fest’s board read.
“We agree with the signatories of the letter, What is a film festival even for? that it is an important question to be asking. And it’s also important to ask, how does an artistic programme balance its subjects and perspectives, while simultaneously championing its filmmakers, growing its audiences and engaging its partners?” The statement added. “These are questions we are currently addressing as we consolidate DocFest following recent leadership changes. We remain enthusiastic about the future of the festival and are currently working on our strategy with a view to the new leadership playing a role, with the Board, in determining how Sheffield DocFest develops.”
The signatories were: Alex Cooke, (Chair), Brian Woods (Deputy Chair), Jo Clinton-Davis, Madonna Benjamin, Helen Scott, Derren Lawford, Peter Armstrong, and Shirani Sabaratnam.
The fest previously lost artistic director Cintia Gil, who quit earlier this year citing “artistic differences” with the board. A new director and programming team are being put in place.
PREVIOUSLY, 08/27: A group of seven programmers who have worked on leading UK documentary event Sheffield Doc/Fest for the past two editions have publicly stated that they were let go from the event, silently locked out of their email accounts, and removed from the website with “no note of termination”.
The move is said to have happened shortly after news broke last week that artistic director Cintia Gil was leaving the fest due to “artistic differences”. The group say they wrote to the event’s board and were told to reapply for their jobs when the positions were advertised again. At present, there are only three programmers listed on the fest’s website. Director of Partnerships Sylvia Bednarz is now acting as interim managing director.
The programmers, who were all hired during Gil’s tenure, are: Juliano Gomes; Qila Gill; Carlos Pereira; Christopher Small; Rabz Lansiquot; Soukaina Aboulaoula; and Herb Shellenberger.
The group released a collective statement today titled ‘what is a film festival even for?’ in which they criticized the event’s direction.
“We are naturally critical of the careless way events have unfolded and question Doc/Fest’s commitment to properly valuing its workers, whose situation has here gone right from precarity to quiet termination without any word from the management,” they wrote.
“As programmers, we again question the purpose and ethics of festivals run by boards predominantly made up of broadcasters and commissioners with a vested interest in showcasing projects whose distribution future is already predetermined.”
This is not the first time the Doc/Fest board has clashed with its artistic team. Back in 2019, previous director of programming Luke Moody suddenly quit and criticized management after leaving.
Sheffield Doc/Fest did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment.