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29 January 2018

“They need you as much as you need them. Never forget that.”

Top Tips for Factual Storytellers from Liz McIntyre

Earlier this month we were treated to a very special session with Sheffield Doc/Fest’s commander in chief, Liz McIntyre. Liz, who is also a WFTV Board member, spoke candidly to a roomful of WFTV members, offering them insights into current factual storytelling trends and offering them advice on how to make the most of their time at this year’s festival.

Kicking off with some information about Doc/Fest’s ethos, Liz explained that there is a simple guiding principle: “Everybody has a story to tell. And that story is equally valued.” The festival team are open to all genres and all lengths of factual storytelling, and their aim is that industry delegates who attend will not only be inspired but will also come away with new contacts, no matter what stage in their career they are.

“There are no rules any more, which is brilliant.”

Next, Liz took a look back through some of last year’s festival’s award winning films, pulling out subject, theme and stylistic trends. For example, City of Ghosts was given as an exemplary example of a powerful film about Citizen Journalism, a growth area in terms of delivering strong stories and a trend for filmmakers using their cameras as a weapon. Unrest – which won the Illuminate Award and was produced by WFTV member Lindsey Dryden – was used as an impressive example of a group of films which Liz classified as “self-portraits, self-examination and self-discovery.” Directed by Jennifer Brea, it shows her personal journey from patient to advocate to storyteller. Liz also highlighted how this film used an effective impact strategy and accompanying immersive VR experience to have a wider real-world impact.

The blurred boundary between fact and fiction continues to be a space where interesting work is being made, with filmmakers playing with styles and format. Liz gave Drib as an example of a film that did that to particularly impressive effect at last year’s festival. When asked what was ‘out of fashion’ at the moment, Liz was hesitant to write off any entire genres, saying that everything comes back around and adding “There are no rules any more, which is brilliant.”

Securing funding is always a major priority for filmmakers and Liz’s advice to those in the room was to think of their films as a pack of cards; “you need to decide how you’re going to slice it to get funding from different sources”. Doc/Fest’s MeetMarket selects 65 projects every year and arranges meetings between filmmakers and funding bodies for the express purpose of doing deals and forming partnerships. Liz explained that it doesn’t matter what stage you are at with your project, nor how experienced the team is – any one can apply. Although, of course, it helps if you have Werner Herzog attached as an executive producer, ultimately it comes down to “the quality of the idea and sense of potential.” The best thing an applicant can do to help their chances of being selected is to have a strong trailer. And that doesn’t mean it has to have exceptionally high production values but rather that it should show the quality of the story, the characters, and the project’s unique selling points (such as access).

For those who don’t get selected for MeetMarket, Liz was keen to stress that there are many other opportunities for delegates to meet with decision makers. She has made it the key ambition of her tenure to “break down the barriers to entry”, as well as the divide between decision makers and filmmakers. “They need you as much as you need them. Never forget that.”

Sheffield Doc/Fest is currently accepting submissions of films and Alternate Realities projects, as well as applications to MeetMarket and Alternate Realities Market.

Find out more and submit your project at

Follow Liz McIntyre on Twitter here: @LizMc_Docs.