Sheffield Doc/Fest admins apologize to ousted programmers

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The Sheffield Doc/Fest board has apologized to its programming team who left under acrimonious terms last week, following the departure of artistic director Cintia Gil.

In a moving statement last week, the festival’s group of seven programmers – Juliano Gomes, Qila Gill, Carlos Pereira, Christopher Small, Rabz Lansiquot, Soukaina Aboulaoula and Herb Shellenberger – spoke of an ugly clash between the board of the festival and its perspectives for the event, and the artistic team and its curatorial vision.

On Tuesday, the board issued a statement of apology that also asked probing questions about itself.

“We agree with the signatories of the letter ‘What is a film festival even good for?’ that this is an important question to ask,” the statement said. “And it’s also important to ask how an arts program balances its subjects and perspectives, while simultaneously championing its filmmakers, expanding its audience and engaging its partners. These are questions we are currently addressing as we consolidate DocFest following recent leadership changes.

“We remain excited about the future of the festival and are currently working on our strategy for new management to play a role, together with the board, in determining the development of Sheffield DocFest,” the statement added.

The programmers had claimed they were “silently locked” from their email accounts days after Gil left, which was attributed to “artistic differences”. The group also noted that “all traces of our presence at the festival – names, photos, information about our work – have been erased from the website”.

“We received no notice of termination, no thanks for our work, no acknowledgment that we had played a role in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the festival, both of which took place in a pandemic,” the programmers said. “We wrote to the board and, after receiving lukewarm thanks, we were told we could reapply for our jobs when the positions were advertised again.”

Responding to the programmers’ claims, the board said, “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 application for future programming roles.

The board is chaired by Alex Cooke, with Brian Woods as vice-chairman and Jo Clinton-Davis, Madonna Benjamin, Helen Scott, Derren Lawford, Peter Armstrong and Shirani Sabaratnam as members.

The council’s full statement is below:

The aim of Sheffield DocFest is to advance the art of filmmaking, documentary film education and training, to present an exceptional selection of national and international non-fiction narratives and to celebrate documentary in all its many and evolving forms. . We agree with the signatories of the letter, What is even a film festival for? that is an important question to ask. And it’s also important to ask how an arts program balances its subjects and perspectives, while simultaneously championing its filmmakers, expanding its audience, and engaging its partners. These are questions we are currently addressing as we consolidate DocFest following recent leadership changes.

We remain excited about the future of the festival and are currently working on our strategy for the new management to play a role, together with the board, in determining the development of Sheffield DocFest.

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 application for future programming roles.

The Board of Directors (Alex Cooke, (Chair), Brian Woods (Deputy Chair), Jo Clinton-Davis, Madonna Benjamin, Helen Scott, Derren Lawford, Peter Armstrong, Shirani Sabaratnam).

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