Sheffield is known for creating films about the industrial north. Whether it’s ‘The Full Monty’ or ‘When Saturday Comes’, the cinematic productions tell gritty stories about the people at the heart of Yorkshire.
As part of the international event, which is now in its 18th year, there will be a specific category focussing on films recorded in the city by those who live in Sheffield.
With dozens of subjects and ideas, it will depict the region as a multi-faceted place. From the highest places in the Peak District to the mental tolls of being a runner, the category gives voice to those who make the city.
Anna Paxton, co-director of ShAFF, says: “I think that a unique character really comes out in the personality of the festival and the films we select and the people that are involved in this selection.”
She believes Sheffield has a euphoric mix of the urban and rural that makes the films of this selection personal to the city,
Ms Paxton, who feels having the Peak District on the doorstep adds to its uniqueness, says: “We’re a cool urban city, but we’ve also got world class rock-climbing, trail running, and mountain biking right on our doorstep.”
One film which has captured the attention of the organisers, is Tala Lee Turton’s ‘Chinese Laundry’ which has won the ‘Made In Sheffield’ category.
The production is a short dance film depicting the battle of a trans-generational British Chinese immigrant struggling to fit in. Turton retells a story heard from her Chinese parents, second generation immigrants from Hong Kong, while showing the peace she found in the Peak District, while growing up in a Barnsley takeaway shop.
In shots moving from a dark, claustrophobic dry cleaners, to the light, open spaces in the dales, it is said to reflect the cynical banality and frustration experienced of daily work to the aspirations to feel freely Chinese and British and part of the city and the richness of the Peaks.
Tala told Girls in Films in talking about her work with director Patricia Zhou: “We are both interested in the multiplicity of East Asian stories and the diverse array of Chinese immigrant experiences.
She spoke about how her work with Zhou allowed her to develop the story from her intersectional working class background, as they are both East Asian female creatives.
She said: “We are both dancers and so movement features as a filmic language in the short, much in the same way as, but adjacent to, the voice over.”
ShAFF are renowned for showing a wide array of immigrant experiences, which feels apt in one of the UK’s most diverse cities.
In the 2021 census, figures showed that Sheffield’s non-white British population increased by 6.3%, and that now 25% of the city (141,825 of the population) comes from a non-white British background.
To Ms Paxton, it’s important to: “Not only to show a white man climbing a mountain, but a diverse range of people that want to have adventures and explore outdoors”.
However, she is keen to point out the festival’s main job is to select quality films that entertain audiences presenting an important voice to the city. The festival is intrinsically about adventure, where most of the films lie in an active nature.
Several films display the city’s important relationship with sport. Home of one of the UK’s oldest football teams, sport has been part of its personality for a long time, and director, Che Eviénè’s, of ‘One Rep at a Time’ depicts this alongside discussing the mental challenges it often brings.
Che, who also wrote the short film, as well as performing in the production, is a runner for Hallamshire Harriers. With help from videographer and editor, Grant Archer, the film incorporates multiple running experiences and displays how tough a sport it can be.
Che started running during lockdown to help with her own mental struggles during the pandemic, but feel this will resonate with other runners who have to balance the pressure of succeeding against the passion the sport brings them.
Speaking to Che, many things become very apparent. Firstly, she isn’t just a fan of running but also support’s one of the city’s football teams. Attending her first Sheffield Wednesday game soon after being born, she reveals sport is a big part of her life.
Che says that people often consider the physical side of running, but ‘One Rep at a Time’ focusses on the pressure and psychological side of the sport.
She says: “The reason I made this film is to demonstrate how running has the power to heal people in the way it did for me, helping my mental health, but often it can cause mental problems.
“Now I’ve started getting better and competing at a higher level, it’s easy for me to start getting nervous about competitions and pressuring myself. But I have to remember that the reason I started was because running helped me, you can’t allow it to become about stress.”
Che’s inspiration is said to have come from her sister, Shen Wigfield-Turner, who she describes as a ‘massive inspiration’ to her. Shen who has competed as a runner on a National level encouraged her sister to take up the sport and now acts as her coach.
Talking to her about her sister’s impact on the film, Che says: “She’s had a lot of people try and stop her along the way. She’s not had an easy ride at all. I’m very proud of her, and while the film is not about but a collective of people, it is heavily inspired by her.”
Che who will be attending the screening at the Showroom this Friday (3 March 2023), has described the upcoming event as surreal. She attended the well-known Sheffield cinema as a child to watch her heroes, but this time she will be the star, something she’s not quite yet got used to.
ShAFF have partnered with the Showroom cinema to screen all the films included in the festival. Details of the showings can be found here.