Sheffield Doc/Fest Board Apologizes to Ousted Programmers

The Sheffield Doc/Fest board of trustees has apologized to its programming team who departed on acrimonious terms last week, following the departure of artistic director Cintia Gil.

In an emotional statement last week, the festival’s group of seven programmers — Juliano Gomes, Qila Gill, Carlos Pereira, Christopher Small, Rabz Lansiquot, Soukaina Aboulaoula and Herb Shellenberger — spoke out about an ugly clash between the festival’s board and its outlook for the event, and the artistic team and their curatorial vision.

On Tuesday, the board of trustees released an apologetic statement that also asked some searching questions of themselves.

“We agree with the signatories of the letter ‘What is a film festival even for?’ that it is an important question to be asking,” the statement said. “And it’s also important to ask, how does an artistic program balance its subjects and perspectives, while simultaneously championing its filmmakers, growing its audiences and engaging its partners. These are questions we are currently addressing as we consolidate DocFest following recent leadership changes.

“We remain enthusiastic about the future of the festival and are currently working on our strategy with a view to the new leadership playing a role, with the board, in determining how Sheffield DocFest develops,” the statement added.

The programmers had claimed they were “silently locked out” of their email accounts days after Gil’s departure, which was chalked up to “artistic differences.” The group also noted that “all traces of our presence at the festival—names, photos, information about our work—were scrubbed from the website.”

“We received no note of termination, no thanks for our work, no acknowledgement that we had played any role in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the festival, both of which took place in a pandemic,” the programmers said. “We wrote to the board and, after receiving tepid thanks, we were told that we could reapply for our jobs when the positions were advertised again.”

Responding to the programmers’ claims, the board said: “We apologize to the signatories for not communicating better. We very much appreciate their contribution to the festival. Their fixed-term contracts ended in June 2021, after this year’s festival, but we welcome their candidacy for future programming roles.”

The board of trustees is chaired by Alex Cooke, with Brian Woods as deputy chair and Jo Clinton-Davis, Madonna Benjamin, Helen Scott, Derren Lawford, Peter Armstrong and Shirani Sabaratnam as members.

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