Sheffield Doc/Fest Touts Strong Female Presence

Kim Longinotto's 'Dreamcatcher' is one of the 73 films either directed or produced by women in the festival's selection.

"Women are given more opportunities as they go into the documentary or factual world," says the English festival's new programming head as nearly 50 percent of the lineup was produced or directed by women.

While critics may have lauded the Cannes Film Festival for having not one but two movies directed by women in the main competition lineup this year, including the opening night film, the real annee de la femme is currently being celebrated at Britain's Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Of the 150 films in the festival’s official selection, 73 — almost 50 percent — have been either produced or directed by women filmmakers, a record for the annual event in northern England.

“We really wanted to have a festival that had ample women representation from behind the lens and also in front of the camera," Claire Aguilar, the festival’s new head of programming and industry engagement, tells The Hollywood Reporter. With this in mind, a special Women in Docs strand was created, although an overall target figure for female participation wasn’t ever established.

“And then when we did our count, it was kind of surprising,” she says. “We never had a number goal of 50-50, but that’s the way it turned out.”

While such a strong representation of female filmmakers at a festival is rare, Aguilar says it “wasn’t hard” to achieve, arguing it showed a stark difference between the narrative and documentary film worlds. This year also saw Laura Poitras pick up the doc Academy Award for Citizenfour, and the likes of Jehane Noujaim (The Square) and Lucy Walker (Countdown to Zero) have become established names in the doc industry.

“There are plenty of documentaries that have women participating in them,” says Aguilar. “I think women are given more opportunities as they go into the documentary or factual world from the industry, and I think in fiction it’s just really closed off.”

The 2015 lineup in Sheffield includes Dreamcatcher, Kim Longinotto's story of a former Chicago sex worker helping other women in the industry; Portraits of a Search, documenting the mothers looking for their lost children amid Mexico’s drugs war, by Alicia Calderon Torres; and Chloe Ruthven’s Jungle Sisters, chronicling the emotional journey of two Indian village girls caught up in the country’s rapid globalization.