Luke Moody, our Director of Film Programming, talks about his motivation to discover emerging voices, greatest challenges of his job and advice he would like to give to filmmakers. 

What lies at the heart of your desire to work with documentary film?

Non-fiction cinema is a form of engagement where a number of my interests meet: politics of the everyday, historiography, the art of making images, the production of evidence, life as it is, life as it could be, the struggle of perception, deep empathy, technologies of representation. Non-fiction cinema is an art form that provides continuous intrigue for me, an evolving space to question and understand myself and others, how we live, how we see, how we share. It also feels like one of the most difficult spaces of production, of finding support to realise and share art, so I’m keen to dedicate any fuel and thought I have to supporting the creators working in this field.

How do you describe Sheffield Doc/Fest when you meet new people who don’t know the festival?

Good films, even better parties, one pass for everything.

What are the greatest challenges of your job?

Values. It’s really positive to see how many films are being produced around the world, and how many filmmakers take risks to create these works: creative risk, political risk, the risk of representation and storytelling. It is a challenge to curate a concise programme from all of these films. We navigate and debate a series of values to offer focus and balance in the spectrum of selected works. Following selection we also want to give equal value to the presentation of selected works, whether it is an experienced filmmaker presenting an Oscar contender or an emerging artist sharing their first feature at the festival, old guard or avant-garde, the festival is a space of coming together on equal ground with your industry and audience.

What kind of films are you looking for when you and the Films team watch the submissions?

I could speak for hours on this subject, but I guess most people are reading this on their phone on the bus! I often pull back from viewing submissions to remind myself of our core values of a film. What we look for are tangents from two primary starting points: 1. authenticity, 2. the new. Does the filmmaker and the film show authenticity in voice, in questioning, in sharing the images they produce and the stories they represent? Is there something new about this work? Does it offer a perspective of a known subject that we haven’t seen before? Does it offer an aesthetic approach to reality we have not engaged with? Is the socio-political narrative of the film relevant to the now?

You receive a lot of submissions from filmmakers around the world, do films stand a chance of being discovered?

I see this as one of the primary roles of a festival with an open submissions format: to be ravenous in the search for works that are not already on our radar, to ensure we are a festival of equal opportunity, a truly international and plural festival. If there is a strong film in our submissions we will find it and discuss it.

You travel internationally to other festivals to see films. How do you choose the events you will attend? Do you meet with filmmakers when you travel or mostly just watch their work?

Festivals are quite a whirlwind of encounters for me. I have the chance to see programmed films, often firing up with an 8:30am screening and finishing the day at midnight after an exhilarating Q&A. I also spend the time between to build bridges, to meet producers of upcoming projects, to talk about cinema of regions I’m less familiar with. I try to attend a mixture of festivals, based on their style of selection ranging from strong commercial events to highly curated and artful selections.

What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers who dream of having their film screened at Doc/Fest one day?

Don’t exclude yourself by thinking ‘well they only play films by established filmmakers’ or ‘nobody will watch the film anyway’. There are nuances of every festival’s programming style, traditions, requirements and restrictions, but each year there are also changes, surprises and new directions. Coming to the festival will give you a sense of the current programming ethos, even if you make a day trip and buy a few tickets there are opportunities to chat to other filmmakers during the day or over an evening drink to get a sense of the films and curation. You can also grab myself or a colleague after a Q&A to say hi, so that I can put a face to an email or a film submission in the future.

The extended closing date for film submissions is 8 March 2019 (12 noon GMT). To submit your project or to find out more, click here.

If you have any enquiries regarding film submissions, please email Film Programme Coordinator Mita Suri: