Sheffield Doc/Fests Entire Programming Team Ousted Without Notice

Seven programmers for the Sheffield Doc/Fest, one of the leading international documentary film festivals in the world, were quietly terminated this week without notice. The abrupt change in personnel follows the recent exit of Cíntia Gil as artistic director, as announced by the festival on August 20. Director of partnerships Sylvia Bednarz is now acting as interim managing director.

According to Variety, “On Friday, in an emotional statement, the festival’s group of seven programmers — Juliano Gomes, Qila Gill, Carlos Pereira, Christopher Small, Rabz Lansiquot, Soukaina Aboulaoula and Herb Shellenberger — spoke out about an ugly clash between the festival’s board of trustees and its outlook for the event, and the artistic team and their curatorial vision.”

IndieWire has reached out to Sheffield Doc/Fest for further comment.

Per the report, the group has been with the U.K. film festival since 2019, and “under former DocsLisboa chief Gil, they claim they were ‘silently locked out of our email accounts’ days after Gil’s departure, which was chalked up to ‘artistic differences.’ The group also notes that ‘all traces of our presence at the festival — names, photos, information about our work — were scrubbed from the website.’”

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

Sheffield is readying for its 2022 edition, taking place June 23 through 28, but currently without its veteran programming team at the helm.

“The exchange established between artists and curators over the last two years to develop an artistic approach to various aspects of the festival is now in vain,” read the statement. “What is the future of the artistic program at Sheffield DocFest? How does it fit into the new vision of the board?

“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,” the statement continued.

The programmers were all hired during Gil’s tenure.

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