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Sheffield Doc/Fest Youth Jury


Engaging Young Audiences In The Appreciation of Documentary Films

Now in its seventh year, Sheffield Doc/Fest's Youth Jury offers young people who are interested in movies -- and especially in nonfiction filmmaking -- a first-rate, first-hand encounter with experts in the world of documentary film.

Youngsters between the ages of 16 and 21 are eligible for the program. They need not be dedicated documentary watchers, but they must submit applications that outline their experiences with and interests in nonfiction film.

Those selected to participate on the Sheffield Doc/Fest Youth Jury enjoy a thoroughly engaging program of documentary and festival-related events that start up in March and culminate in thorough nonfiction immersion at the annual Sheffield Doc/Fest, next scheduled to take place from June 12 to 16, 2013.

In March, they participate in the Sheffield Doc/Fest Hothouse Project, which includes viewing the films shortlisted by the festival for consideration for the Youth Jury Award, as well as speaking with industry experts -- including BAFTA-winning filmmaker Morgan Matthews (The Fallen, Scenes from a Teenage Killing, Britain in a Day), and others working in the documentary film arena as distributors, programmers and journalists, among others. The youth jurors learn more about different documentary genres and what makes a good documentary.

At the festival in June, guided by the Youth Jury supervisor, they confer with top filmmakers, distributors and critics, watch other films on the roster, attend panel discussions on all aspects of nonfiction film -- including funding, outreach and transmedia -- and, ultimately, participate in their own closed-door conference and critical debates about the films they've seen, and in the selection of one film that is to receive the festival's annual Youth Jury Award. They must also write a short statement that explains their selection of the winning film.

And they also have the benefit of interacting with each other, exchanging ideas and forming lasting friendships -- professional and personal -- with people who share and support their interests in film. For some previous participants, a spot on the Sheffield Doc/Fest Youth Jury has been an accelerator into the industry. It's certainly educational and nudges participants to transform their keen interest into dedication.

"We're incredibly proud of our Youth Jury," says Sheffield Doc/Fest Director Heather Croall. The experience gives a fast track to understanding how the industry works and for some it has facilitated their break into film and TV, where they are still working today."

That might well be the result of participation for Isla Badenoch, a 2012 Youth Juror, who describes her experience as "a whirlwind of incredible films and people whose passion could not help but rub off on you, and whose enthusiasm furthered my motivation to be in the filmmaking industry." The Youth Jury is certainly a great way to start out.

There are only five seats on the Youth Jury each year, and competition for them is keen. Applicants must be between 16 and 21 years old, and must live in the UK. Applications are now being accepted via the Youth Jury Page at Sheffield Doc/Fest's Website, and must be submitted no later than Friday 22 February. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview to take place on Tuesday, March 5. Participants will be announced in time for The Hothouse, which takes place in London (travel and accommodation included) from March 27-29.

Sheffield Doc/Fest's Youth Jury is an exemplary documentaries education and outreach program. It would be great if it could be extended to applicants who live outside of the UK. The festival is international in scope, as is the documentary filmmaking community. It would be brilliant if an concurrent international Youth Jury panel could eventually be organized (and sponsored!) to provide similar opportunities for young people around the world. Sheffield Doc/Fest is such a hotbed of creative thought and innovative implementation in its programming, perhaps they might be able to work in a second, international Youth Jury at some point -- when the time is right, and some equally forward-thinking foundation comes up with sufficient sponsorship to support the worthwhile endeavor.

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