UPDATE, 08/31: Britain’s Sheffield Doc/Fest has apologized to a group of programmers who published an open letter complaining to the organization 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, following this year’s festival, but we welcome their application for future programming roles,” read a statement from the festival’s board.
“We agree with the signatories of the letter, What is a film festival even for? that is an important question to ask. And it’s also important to ask, how does an arts program balance its subjects and perspectives, while simultaneously championing its filmmakers, expanding its audience, and engaging its partners? The statement added. “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.
The signatories were: Alex Cooke, (chairman), Brian Woods (vice-chairman), Jo Clinton-Davis, Madonna Benjamin, Helen Scott, Derren Lawford, Peter Armstrong and Shirani Sabaratnam.
The festival previously lost artistic director Cintia Gil, who resigned earlier this year citing “artistic differences” with the board. A new director and a new programming team are put in place.
PREVIOUSLY, ON 08/27: A group of seven programmers who have worked on Britain’s main documentary event Sheffield Doc/Fest for the past two editions have publicly said they were fired from the event, silently locked from their email accounts and deleted from the site Web with “no notice of termination”.
The move reportedly came shortly after it was announced last week that artistic director Cintia Gil was leaving the festival due to “artistic differences”. The group say they have written to the event’s board and have been asked to reapply for their jobs when the positions are advertised again. Currently, only three programmers are listed on the festival website. Director of Partnerships Sylvia Bednarz is now acting general manager.
The programmers, all of whom were hired during Gil’s tenure, are: Juliano Gomes; Qila Gill; Carlos Pereira; Christophe Petit; Rabz Lansiquot; Soukaina Aboulaoula; and Herb Shellenberger.
The group released a collective statement today titled “what is a film festival even good for?” in which they criticized the direction of the event.
“We naturally criticize the reckless way in which events unfolded and question Doc/Fest’s commitment to properly valuing its workers, whose situation here has gone from precariousness to silent dismissal without any word from management” , they wrote.
“As programmers, we question the purpose and ethics of festivals run by boards made up mostly of presenters and curators with a vested interest in presenting projects whose distribution future is already predetermined.”
This is not the first time that the management of Doc/Fest has come up against its artistic team. In 2019, former programming director Luke Moody suddenly resigned and criticized management after he left.
Sheffield Doc/Fest did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment.