Pippa Considine runs through the standout moments from the recent Sheffield Documentary Festival

1 Alastair Campbell on his new BBC documentary, Depression and Me, was in conversation with the film’s director Peter Gauvain, “I didn’t want to see you talking about it,” said Gauvain. “I wanted to see you living it, to see Alastair Campbell’s depression for ourselves rather than talking about it.”
Recorded over 18 months, Campbell described it as a process of ‘attrition’: “I had a love hate relationship with the TV process, it was quite difficult, balls-aching.” The self-filming produced highlights of Campbell contemplating life in his bath and a moment of clarity at three o’clock in the morning.

2 In a packed session on the future for short form, delegates heard from  commissioners at BBC3, Little Dot’s Real Stories and the New York Times Op Docs. “More and more will be consumed online and short form is good for bite-sized viewing,” said Lindsay Crouse from the NYT, who predicts that viewers will increasingly be wanting to fill shorter spaces of time with great content, including journeys in self-driven cars. “The time for consuming this content is only going to get bigger.”

3 On the subject of how to gain instant impact for a short film ,The Future of Documentary Shorts panel split hairs between the need to grab attention in the first minute, the first five seconds, or the thumbnail photo and title.

4 During the Fact Ent  Comissioning session,  BBC, head of popular factual and factual entertainment commissioning David Brindley admitted that they’ve got a lot of food at the moment. What they want is more real world constructive docs, pop docs at 8pm on BBC One and BBC Two to grow and build.

5 Talking talent, Channel 4 is backing comedian Joe Lycett as the next big new talent, now fronting quirky consumer series Got Your Back.  The BBC is looking for experts, who can also offer something a bit different. While ITV cites talent from its Real Full Monty  – Ashley Banjo and Alexander Armstrong, Coleen Nolan and Victoria Derbyshire – not forgetting elsewhere in its schedule, the Queen and David Attenborough.

6 With the SVODS now dominating non-linear viewing, live and event programming is even more in demand from the terrestrials. At Channel 4, deputy director of programmes Kelly Webb-Lamb said that they want to do more live, “which we can do as a terrestrial channel in different scheduling, using digital platforms.” While Channel 5 is keen to find ideas that can sustain stripped 3-day event scheduling.

7 As well as the big 9pm returnables, ITV is also after formatted docs with a huge heart. “If you can make Kevin Lygo laugh then you’ve got the ink on the paper” said Kate Teckman, factual commissioner at ITV.

8 At the Sheffield/ Channel 4 First Cut pitch we saw diversity in action, with four finalists out of five being women. The standard of the films was impressive, with the winner Lyttanya Shannon getting great access to a story of domestic violence.

9 While much factual content is now shot through with drama and tension, might we have a bit of pulse-racing overkill? Tom McDonald, head of specialist factual commissioning  at the BBC said: “I find the trope of adrenalized, right on the edge, will they survive has begun to feel a bit tired and the audience is saying what else have you got ?”

10 UKTV  hosted a packed session. With a third more original commissions pledged for 2018 v 2017, they showed a real breadth of demand, from obdocs like Inside the Vets from Brown Bob Productions to fact ent formats like Judge Romesh bringing a comic spin to real-life disputes from Hungry Bear Media.

The Televisual’s own Televisual Factual Festival will take place at Bafta once again this year on 21st and 22nd November. Details soon on televisual.com

Pippa Considine

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