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Sheffield Doc Fest reviews

By Dáša Raimanová

The biggest documentary film festival in the UK happens each year in Sheffield. This year kaleidoscopic selection presented 122 films from 52 countries.

Below are some of the titles at this year’s festival.

The Grand Jury Award for the International Competition went to In the Rearview by Polish Director Maciek Hamela.

When the brutal invasion from Russia on Ukraine started, Maciek as many others travelled to the Polish border wanting to help. Only a couple of days later, he bought a minibus and started to. evacuate people from Ukraine into safety. After three weeks of this tireless theres and backs, he invited a friend - DOP to join him. This resulted in a harrowing and raw portrait of passengers sitting on the back seats of the minibus, fleeing their homeland with almost nothing. Among many of the passengers is a 5-year-old girl showing a paper to the camera stating her full name, address, and name of her parents. She carefully folds the paper, puts it in her pocket - just in case…Or a father clenching to his small daughter who stopped speaking since the shelling started…or an injured Congolese woman who urgently needs hospital care. Maciek, the driver and director, navigates this devastation with kindness and thus his film returns humanity to his passengers amidst the unbearable destruction surrounding them.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Estonian director, Anna Hints

A Sundance winner, this visceral documentary takes us to a smoke sauna tradition passed on over generations in Estonia. This is the place where women heal. From giving birth to revealing their secrets - they find peace. Apart from sisterhood, the viewer is taken on a deeply intimate and in a way questioning journey of womanhood. Harrowing confessions depicting difficult mother/daughter relations, periods, abortion, and sexual abuse are all part of the collective story happening in the smoke sauna.

Making of this documentary was a challenging process taking seven years. Since it was filmed in the original temperature - the camera had to be cooled with ice packs and operated in gloves. A long time was also dedicated to developing an aesthetic of how to film women’s naked bodies without portraying them as sexual objects depicted by the male gaze.

Valerija, a short by Chroat director Sara Juricic

This amazingly cinematic and experimental short documentary takes us on a journey into a world. without men. Animation, projection and reality mix in this playful piece without any dialogue. The Croate filmmaker questions how it feels to have a family tree consisting only of women.

Can I hug you? A short by Iranian director Elahe Esmailir

In the religious Iranian city of Qom, there are many restrictions imposed on women in the name of ‘sexual safety’ – from the mandatory hijab to forced gender separation. Hossein grew up in this patriarchal context, but as a boy, he experienced sexual abuse by another man. With the help of his wife and director, he starts the conversation with his parents that he was waiting for many years. In the hope of helping others, this film opens the deeply taboo topic in Iranian society - the widespread sexual abuse by boys. This theme also remained for so long untouched since by presenting a man’s vulnerability, the imposed societal role of a strong man starts to crumble.

Dáša Raimanová is a UK-based documentary filmmaker originally from Slovakia whose

work explores socio-political topics, primarily focusing on women and minorities. Apart

from working for the international broadcaster DW, she directed and co-produced,

Gypsy Gadji (2023), a short documentary, developed by EsoDoc; DocLab Poland and

obtained the Dok Leipzig Co-Pro Market award. Across the Road - Worlds Apart (2019),

a TV short documentary she directed, was broadcast in 9 European countries and has

online views of 700K. POLYLAND (2018), a LUSH Film Fund-supported feature doc

was selected for the Guardian pitch at Sheffield Doc Festival, screened at international

film festivals and became part of Amnesty International's campaign against hate crimes

in Poland.

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