My Doc/Fest Experience: Volunteering

 By Christian Hassell, BA (Hons) Film and Media Production, 3rd Year.


Doc/Fest Banner

Ever wondered why Sheffield goes completely orange in June very year? It’s Doc/Fest.

Doc/Fest is the largest documentary festival in Europe, and also one of the biggest in the world! So, it makes sense that it’s a big deal. It attracts film backers & makers, tourists and even the odd celebrity such as Danny Boyle who attended in 2017, and David Attenborough in 2016- which created a huge buzz.

So, what really happens at Doc/Fest?

The event is a mixture of documentary film screenings, alternate reality fairs and panels, as well as delegate talks and meetings. Doc/Fest is an opportunity for film makers, distributors and commissioners to network with each other.

Virtual Reality, Trafalgar Warehouse, Doc/Fest

The Virtual Reality exhibition was so amazing. Here you could look at various people in the image, and each of them would tell you a unique story.


As a student, you have two options- either attend Doc/Fest as a delegate or a volunteer. Want to start a career in film as a freelancer? Go as a delegate. Want experience? Then volunteering offers this, and the opportunity for a few free viewings.

There are numerous volunteering options at Doc/Fest:

  • Promotional work
  • Film crew
  • Photography crew
  • Stewards
  • Alternate realities
  • Marketing

There are other roles available, and some are even paid. However, in my opinion, volunteering is far more worth it, as you would need to take time out of university to get paid.

A Northern Soul Promotion, Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Volunteers hard at work helping to promote the film ‘A Northern Soul.’


Volunteering can be very tiring; long hours and constantly being on your feet can really burn you out fast.

Because of this, Doc/Fest offers a lot to its volunteers to keep them motivated:


  • Free lunch. (Sandwiches) including vegan & vegetarian options.
  • One free film viewing per day. This is available for selected viewings on a first come first served basis. This year I watched a documentary called in ‘The eyes of Orson Wells’, and it sold out within the first few hours. Without these tickets, the film can cost up to £8-10 for a showing.
  • References. I have worked on the film crew in previous years, and have found that you can ask for a reference at the end of the festival (which is a scripted response, but still good to have). You can’t get specific or personal references from the person in charge (apparently it’s against a policy of some sorts), which is odd.
  • Free shirt. You can also get some other merchandise that others usually pay for if you are lucky.
  • Free talks. You may also get to attend talks or panels for free, if you happen to be working where the talk or panel is taking place at the time of the event.

Cinematographers, Using the Right Lens, Q&A at Doc/Fest 2018

Amazing panel discussing cinematography techniques, and a sneak preview about underground female boxers in Cuba.


  • DOCPLAYER! Doc/Player is an online equivalent to Netflix, containing content from Doc/Fest- including some of filmed talks, panels and all of the documentaries. This makes up for missing some of the films, as you can watch this at home. I would even go as far to say this is worth it as a whole, just for volunteering. (This is only available for 6 months after Doc/Fest. It’s also important to note that all delegates get this as well.)

Doc/Player Website

A huge variety of films and panels all available and viewable at home.

Sheffield Doc/Fest provides some amazing opportunities to gain valuable work experience, so make sure you get involved. Volunteering can enhance your CV, while getting you into films for free. And who knows, you may even end up meeting people who can recommend opportunities for work further down the line!