Sheffield Doc/Fest: The Art of the Film Festival Q&A

By  · Published on June 11th, 2014

Web Junkie Q&A

Web Junkie Q&A, photo via Twitter/Dogwoof

As someone who takes pride in conducting critical interviews with filmmakers, the differences between that art form and the film festival Q&A are difficult to adjust to. I’m moderating a handful of the latter here at Sheffield Doc/Fest, and I’m fairly new to the experience on that side of the stage. My third day was comprised primarily of three screenings for which I had the honor to introduce and then host a conversation with the directors and, in one instance, an additional special guest. The key is that it’s a hosting duty. I’m there to emcee, not dig in, and it’s more for the audience than for myself.

The thing is, an interview on this site should technically be for the audience, as well. And it is, but not in an interactive sense. However, I wondered if perhaps my preferred interests in documentary form and meaning and ethics aren’t what readers prefer. At film festivals, the audience wants to know very briefly about the making of the movie, usually just the basics of how the project came into being and why. Then it’s typically about the content. You’ve got those who want to know more about the subject matter that isn’t in the film, those who want to know where the characters are now, those who want to share their own relevant (and often irrelevant) stories, those who are already knowledgeable or familiar with the topics or people the film is about and who want to discuss further with more authority than curiosity. And of course those who simply want to thank the filmmakers publicly.

From the Q&As I’ve moderated and attended so far, I’m really impressed with the audiences at Sheffield. They don’t ask a lot of the dumb questions I’m used to in many parts of the U.S. There was one person at the screening for Web Junkie who made comments about herself and her internet-addicted brother, but she ultimately was interested in the characters of the film as they might help her understand her personal relevance, not an attempt to make the filmmakers see why she’s somehow significant. Where attendees of Doc/Fest can seem rather impolite in terms of phone usage and loud whispering, they make up for afterward in their civility and judgment and sophistication. That was even the case with a film such as All This Mayhem, where skateboarding star Tas Pappas attended the Q&A (which I did not host) and got the crowd riled up, more in a sense of engagement and excitement than volume.