Sheffield DocFest film festival announces line-up including Steve McQueen premiere

Sheffield DocFest announces a line-up that includes 55 world premieres, 22 international premieres, 15 European premieres and 59 UK premieres across 57 countries with 63 languages represented, including new international and UK competitions and a northern focus.

By Julia Armstrong
Monday, 17th May 2021, 3:37 pm

Among its highlights, the festival is delighted to announce the world premiere of the first instalment of Academy Award winner Steve McQueen’s new series for the BBC, Uprising. Directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Small Axe) and James Rogan, the film - about the 1981 New Cross fire - will be presented as a special screening.

As announced previously, this year’s Retrospective: Films will be a celebration of Black British screen culture curated by guest curators including historian David Olusoga, who is also the subject of the BBC interview.

Titles include Burning An Illusion by Menelik Shabazz, It Ain’t Half Racist, Mum by Stuart Hall, Looking for Langston by Isaac Julien, Second Coming by Debbie Tucker Green, The Black Safari by Colin Luke, Baby Mother by Julien Henriques and Franco Rosso’s The Mangrove Nine. Karen Alexander has joined the previously announced line-up of guest curators.

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The Sheffield DocFest opening film is the European premiere of The Summer of Soul, about the seminal and extraordinary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

This year, for the first time, Sheffield DocFest goes nationwide with five premiere screenings showing in up to 16 partner cinemas in cities around the UK, and online, followed by pre-recorded Q&As:

● The European premiere of My Name is Pauli Murray, about the pioneering Black attorney, activist, priest and poet, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen (Oscar nominated for RGB). Betsy and Julie will also be the subjects of this year’s BAFTA Masterclass.

● The UK Premiere of The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation by Avi Mograbi, a timely and critical focus on the history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

● The UK Premiere of Lift Like a Girl by Mayye Zayed which follows 14-year-old Zebiba as she trains to become a weightlifting champion (in partnership with Birds Eye View’s Reclaim the Frame).

Director Steve McQueen presents the world premiere of the first instalment of his new BBC series, Uprising, st Sheffield DocFest

● The previously-announced opening film: the European premiere of The Summer of Soul, about the seminal and extraordinary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, followed by a Q&A with the director, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson.

● The previously-announced closing film: the world premiere of The Story of Looking by Mark Cousins, based on his book of the same name. Mark Cousins will be in a live-streamed conversation from Sheffield.

Cíntia Gil, festival director said: “We are very proud to present a programme that brings together a multitude of forms, landscapes and visions, with a myriad of incredible talent to whom we deeply thank for their trust. We are excited about holding this festival in a way that welcomes everyone - in Sheffield, in cinemas across the UK, and online. The importance and urgency of cinema has only grown since we last saw a film on the big screen.”

The Sheffield DocFest closing film is the world premiere of The Story of Looking by Mark Cousins, based on his book of the same name

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, Sheffield DocFest presents a series of films. These include the world premiere of In The Shadow of 9/11 by Dan Reed, 9/11: One Day in America, directed by Daniel Bogado, Surviving 9/11 (working title) by Arthur Cary and My Childhood, My Country – 20 Years in Afghanistan by Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi.

This year the festival is holding its first-ever UK competition, with a selection of 14 independent films.

Also new for this year is Northern Focus, showcasing nine shorts and features from across the north of England. These include Sophie Robinson’s new film in collaboration with Dunstan Bruce, leader of the band Chumbawamba, I Get Knocked Down.

The 78 features and 88 shorts in the Film programme includes many premieres. In total,b35 artists and collectives are represented in the Arts Programme.

Other talks and Q&As will feature Alison Bechdel (No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics), Lydia Lunch (The War Is Never Over), Brian Hill and Poet Laureate Simon Armitage (Where Did The World Go?), Alba Sotorra (The Return: Life After ISIS) and Victor Kossakovsky (Gunda).

The international competition presents 11 features produced in 14 countries.

Additional films presented as special screenings are Clive Patterson’s Sing, Freetown, with television reporter Sorious Samura and Sierra Leone theatre director Charlie Haffner, and a collaboration reflecting on the pandemic between Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and Brian Hill, Where Did The World Go.

The DocFest arts programme includes a range of activities, from exhibitions and talks to events and new commissions.

In Sheffield films will be screened at Showroom Cinema and Abbeydale Picture House, with the Arts Programme at Site Gallery, S1 Artspace and Sheffield Hallam University Performance Lab.

The festival runs from June 4 - 13 in Sheffield, in cinemas across the UK and online.

Tickets and passes can be purchased at, where there are also details of free events and screenings.