Raul Niño Zambrano Appointed Sheffield DocFest’s Creative Director After Year In Interim Role

EXCLUSIVE: On the eve of Sheffield DocFest, Raul Niño Zambrano has been appointed creative director of the U.K.’s leading all-documentary festival, a position he held for the past year on an interim basis.

Sheffield DocFest’s board of trustees confirmed the appointment Tuesday, as the 30th edition of the festival prepares to open in the historic city in South Yorkshire, England. As creative director, Zambrano sets the program agenda across the festival’s Film Programs, Alternate Realities exhibition, Marketplace & Talent activities, and Talks & Sessions. The role is a joint leadership position, working collaboratively with Annabel Grundy, Sheffield DocFest’s managing director.

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“We congratulate Raul on his creative leadership and for such a strong line up for our 30th edition,” said Alex Cooke, chair of the board of trustees of Sheffield DocFest. “Raul and Annabel make a great team. We look forward to their continued collaboration and vision for the future of DocFest.”  

Zambrano was previously senior programmer at IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) where he started as a programmer in 2008. “During his tenure at IDFA, Raul conducted a ground-breaking study on the position of women within the documentary world The Female Gaze (2014) and initiated the IDFA Queer Day (2013, ongoing),” noted a release about his appointment. “In addition to being a lead programmer on the overall selection, he curated such programs as Emerging Voices from Southeast Asia, and Cinema do Brasil. He has participated in many international festivals as a juror (Hot Docs, DocPoint, Guanajuato International Film Festival) and as an expert/tutor (DocMontevideo, FESPACO, Brasil CineMundi, If/Then Shorts Global Pitch, Guadalajara Doculab).”

This year, Zambrano joins the judges of the Whickers Pitch, which will award £100,000 to a filmmaker to make their first feature-length documentary, with the winner announced at Sheffield DocFest on Sunday (June 18).

“Since the very first moment I joined Sheffield DocFest I knew it was the right place for me,” Zambrano said. “A nurturing environment for developing ideas as a team is what has made Sheffield DocFest play such a vital role in the international documentary arena as well as for the British industry and I am delighted to move forward in the Creative Director role. We have already started to put in place the festival’s vision and connect filmmakers, industry professionals and audiences with the latest trends, necessary conversations and best examples of creative practice so that DocFest truly feels like the home of documentary in the U.K.”

An indication of DocFest’s renewed vitality is the pace of delegate pass sales. They are up by 24 percent compared to this time last year, per the festival. DocFest expects a record number of delegates to attend this year (final figures will be published post-festival).

Sheffield DocFest is promising its “most innovative documentary offering yet” which, in addition to films, includes the abridged verbatim play, Jews. In Their Own Words, new live podcast events, premieres of TV series and virtual reality exhibitions. The festival opens with the world premiere of Tish on Wednesday (June 14), “an intimate portrait of British documentary photographer Tish Murtha and her daughter’s fight to preserve her legacy.”

The wider film program includes 37 world premieres, 20 international premieres, 10 European premieres, 47 U.K. premieres and eight retrospective films, from 52 countries of production. Among other highlights is the world premiere of Wham!, a documentary about the George Michael-Andrew Ridgeley pop supergroup directed by Chris Smith.

Another of the world premieres is The Price of Truth, a film directed by Patrick Forbes about the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize (an award shared with Philippine journalist Maria Ressa). The Guest of Honor at this year’s festival, Iranian filmmaker Rakhshan Banietemad, “will discuss her career to date, reflecting on her critically acclaimed and award-winning body of work, as well as premiering a short film she created during the pandemic.”

Keep an eye on Deadline for reports from the 30th edition of Sheffield DocFest.

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