DocFest Programmer Picks of 2023

A collage of nine films that featured in the 30th Edition of Sheffield DocFest
Image credit: (left - right) Between Revolutions, Q, Twice Colonized, Anhell69, Hollow, Lonely Oaks, Smoke Sisterhood Sauna, In the rearview, and Is There Anybody Out There?

Here are the non-fiction films that made it onto the Sheffield DocFest Film Programme Adviser’s list of their Top Five Films of 2023!

This year gifted us all with a number of brilliant documentary works and we are so pleased to have showcased and engaged with many of them during the 30th edition of Sheffield DocFest. 

As 2023 draws to a close, we asked some of our film programme advisers to share the top five non-fiction films they saw this year, whether picking for DocFest or on their travels at international cinemas, events and festivals. Let’s just say some found it easier than others. Scroll down below to find out if any made it onto your list or if there are titles you now need to add to your watchlist…



Alfredo Mora Manzano - he/him

  • Amizade by Cao Guimaraes
  • The Castle by Martín Benchimol
  • Man in Black by Wang Bing
  • The Invention of the other by Bruno Jorge
  • Manu: A visual album by Alexandra Cuesta

Why you should watch Amizade… “Amizade is a film made with archived rescued during the pandemic, a documentary born from confinement that pays tribute to the various types and nuances of friendship, reflected in the different image capture formats that Guimaraes has used for almost four decades. A film that might seem simple, about the people close to us whom we love the most, but in the hands of the filmmaker, is transformed into a journey that invites us into the stream of consciousness of a seasoned artist.”


Clodagh Chapman - she/her

  • The Glitter Factory (Glitterfabriken) by Alexander Rynéus
  • Q (ق) by Jude Chehab
  • Anhell69 by Theo Montoya
  • This Much We Know by L. Frances Henderson
  • Haulout by Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva

Why you should watch The Glitter Factory (Glitterfabriken)… “Excavating the titular glitter factory that was once the home of his grandparents, director Alexander Rynéus coaxes out an unexpected musing on time, dreaming and connection. All this makes for a visually stunning and brilliantly weird bit of work, and an absolute masterclass in efficient storytelling.”


Fahd Ahmed - he/him

  • Adieu Sauvage
  • Queendom
  • Silent House
  • Twice Colonized by Lin Alluna 
  • A Golden Life

Why you should watch Adieu Sauvage… “Adieu Sauvage. A film that is the rarest kind of film. A film whose sincerity and honesty is disconcerting. Whose emotional truth is never sentimental, and its subject matter, though tragic, never wallows in self-pity; but meditates on the consequences of colonisation that run far deeper than simple land. There is something profound at the core of this film, that speaks to the pains of not only the Amazonians it depicts, but the colonised world; which like its characters, has to confront a reality; where colonisation wasn’t only the theft of land, but of the meanings which tied it together.”


Harry Kalfayan - he/him

  • Kokomo City by D. Smith
  • The Cemetery of Cinema by Thierno Souleymane Diallo
  • Moretones by Ginan Juliane Sedil, Daniel Ulacia Balmaseda
  • Is There Anybody Out There? by Ella Glendining
  • Grenfell by Steve McQueen

Why you should watch Grenfell… “Steve McQueen’s 24 minute film Grenfell is a haunting reminder of the power of the documentary form. Single-shot and silent, it is an arresting vision of the tragedy that makes silence sound so loud.”


Image removed.
Image credit: Valerija by Sara Jurinčić

Mariana Hristova - she/her

Why you should watch Valerija… “Valerija is a film that takes the boat to the underworld in order to unite living and dead, the momentum and the eternity. Through unconventional visual means and oneiric poetics, it emphasizes a ritual that keeps oblivion away from the ancestral memory, so that characters and viewers altogether can reconnect with their roots and with the very human essence.”


Martijn te Pas - he/him

  • While the Green Grass Grows by Peter Mettler
  • Queendom by Agniia Galdanova 
  • Apolonia, Apolonia by Lea Glob
  • Between Revolutions by Vlad Petri
  • Rewind & Play by Alain Gomis

Why you should watch While the Green Grass Grows… “Winner of the main awards at Visions du Réel, DOK Leipzig and RIDM. Stunning, complex, wise, engaging and much more. An absolute delight and worthy to be seen by anyone interested in (the meaning of) life, humanity, nature and cinema itself.”


Mathy Selvalumaran - she/her

Why you should watch Is There Anybody Out There… “Is There Anybody Out There gives nuance to Ella’s characterisation as a disabled person, cigarettes and all. As a community we don’t often come across stories of disabled women told from their own viewpoint, not as afterthought or inspirational trope, but as complex people in their own right. In a landscape of sensationalised stories about disability, Ella's decision to depict her own everyday life authentically is something I truly appreciated.”


Rachel Pronger - she/her

Why you should watch Beirut my City… “Screening as part of a retrospective in Berlin of work by underseen Lebanese director Jocelyne Saab, this new restoration offers a heartbreaking portrait of a city under siege. With poetry, nuance and candour, Saab uses the destruction of her own childhood home as an entry point into a wider discussion of history, memory and cycles of violence. Moving, resonant, and, of course, painfully relevant to our turbulent present.”


Image removed.Image credit: Metabolism by Misho Antadze

Tara Brown

  • Fire Through Dry Grass by Alexis Neophytides & Andre ""Jay"" Molina
  • The Stroll by Kristen Lovell, Zachary Drucker
  • Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie by Nicole Bazuin
  • Black Barbie by Lagueria Davis
  • Queendom by Agniia Galdanova

Why you should watch Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie… Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie is a short film centring a Black queer person with Dissociative Identity Disorder talking about how their disorder affects their life and their alters. What I love is that this film is not shown as a talking heads with sad music, but full of colour and bringing to life Nicole's alters. A wonderfully different take on the portrayal of mental health especially those with intersectional identities


Zeynep Kaserci

  • What About China by Trinh T. Minh-ha
  • All that Breathes by Shaunak Sen
  • Q (ق) by Jude Chehab
  • Geographies of Solitude by Jacquelyn Mills
  • A Thousand Fires by Saeed Taji Farouky

Why you should watch What About China…  “‘What About China’ is a montage of footage that Trinh T. Minh-ha generated in 1990s rural China. Without a clear centralised story, the film offers many threads to the audience, allowing us to weave them in our own way. While the film’s overarching theme reflects on the notion of harmony, Minh-ha invites us to establish new ways of seeing the material and challenges us to think about the relationship between what is visible and invisible. It is a highly poetic and thought-provoking work that pushes the boundaries of the non-fiction format with its artistic language and I’d recommend everyone to see it!"



And if you have room for more films to check out, here are few gems that were part of this year's festival programme that are making their way to UK cinemas this month and next year:

Happy watching!

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