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Why here, why now? Documentary filmmaking in Leeds

By Elise Czyzowska

09 February 2023

From October 2024, MA Documentary & Factual will be offered at MetFilm School Leeds. This one-year course, which previously ran exclusively at our Berlin campus, joins the existing postgraduate degrees currently offered in Leeds – MA Cinematography, MA Directing, and MA Screenwriting, and will bring with it a new dimension of collaboration amongst our students.

MA Documentary & Factual in Leeds

As with all MetFilm School courses, our MA Documentary & Factual is a practical, industry-focused degree which aims to provide students with the skills and understanding needed to enter the world of factual content.

Modules range from an exploration of authorship – and how you, as a creative, can utilise your unique point of view, to a collaborative, client-based project, where students across our courses respond to real-world client pitches, from the starting proposal to the finished piece.

The MetFilm School community are well-versed in the factual format: in the last year, Documentary tutor Rick Minnich released his decade-in-the-making The Strait Guys, which has shown at festivals around the world including Doc Edge and the Green Film Festival. On top of this, MA Documentary & Factual graduate, Ibrahim Nash’at, worked as the editor on Heba Khaled, Talal Derki, and Ali Wajeeh’s Under the Sky of Damascus, which is premiering at this year’s Berlinale, as part of the Panorama Documents strand.

Bringing our MA Documentary and Factual to Leeds feels like bringing it home. The strength of documentary and factual filmmaking in Yorkshire is famous throughout the world. The success and popularity of the Sheffield Doc Fest, both amongst professionals for whom it is a sought after destination to launch documentaries and to meet other filmmakers, and amongst audiences who love it, is testament to that tradition.

Jonny Persey
MetFilm Director

You can read more about Rick Minnich’s The Strait Guys in this blog!

Documentary Filmmaking in Yorkshire

From multiple docuseries’ following Leeds United (such as Amazon Prime’s Academy Dreams and Take Us Home), to last year’s feature, A Bunch of Amateurs, Yorkshire is no newcomer to the documentary format.

The success of the latter, Kim Hopkins’ A Bunch of Amateurs, is made even more exciting given the involvement of the MetFilm community, with MetFilm Production, MetFilm Sales, and MetFilm Distribution all working on the project. The film resonated especially with the nation’s cinephiles, and received standing ovations across the UK, as well as winning the Audience Award for ‘Best Documentary’ at Sheffield DocFest.

This is not the first documentary from MetFilm Production that has seen such positive reception – their 2020 The Reason I Jump won ‘Best Documentary‘ at the British Independent Film Awards, and the same week it was released on Netflix, their ‘story of a lie’, Misha and the Wolves, quickly became a ‘New Years’ obsession‘ for viewers across the UK.

Some commentators believe we are in a golden age of documentary production right now, and certainly there is some truth behind this with the rise of streamers who dominate the production landscape. There are, though, just as many opportunities beyond Netflix, Apple, and Amazon, with independent film and television production now roaring.

MetFilm certainly have grand plans for the future, so do be on the lookout for any of our titles coming your way soon!

Zak BrilliantHead of MetFilm Sales & MetFilm Distribution

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A Bunch of Amateurs was one of four films that MetFilm Sales brought to Sheffield DocFest 2022 – find out more here!

As the UK’s leading documentary festival (and an Academy Award-qualifying festival), Sheffield DocFest brings with it an annual crowd of documentary lovers, and is just one of the many companies and community events in the region to support factual content.

There is Screen Yorkshire, an internationally renowned company funding productions and education projects across the region, to production companies such as the Emmy-nominated Daisybeck Studios. And, of course, a short journey from our Leeds campus it the city of Bradford, which in 2009 became the world’s first UNESCO City of Film and has more recently received government funding after winning the UK City of Culture 2025 bid.

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BTS of Bradfordian, an upcoming film directed by MetFilm School Leeds tutor Casey Shaw. Credit: Jordon Scott Kennedy

Why documentary filmmaking?

Looking beyond the Yorkshire region, documentary filmmaking is a craft constantly reaching new popularity, and new innovations, in the screen industries.

From Sara Dosa’s BAFTA-nominated Fire of Love, which narrates over archival footage of a daredevil couple to tell their love story – set against their visits to volcanic eruptions, to All that Breathes, Shaunak Sen’s ecological feature which The Wrap describes as including ‘some of the most stunning images in modern non-fiction film’ – and which MA Producing graduate Guy Horlock worked on as Associate Producer.

Documentary and factual storytelling does not stop at television and film, with the versatile format also proving extremely popular in the world of podcasting (with some of the most popular shows including Serial and This American Life), and over on YouTube, the ‘video essay’ has taken on a life of its own as an established format for creators to share information about – often impossible niche – topics, ranging anywhere from five minutes to five hours.

All of this goes to demonstrate how documentary filmmaking is adapting to our times, crossing content formats and styles to suit its audiences, and with the growing screen industries hub in Leeds, we are excited to provide an education route into the craft, starting October 2024.