Sheffield DocFest announces Paul Sng’s TISH to open this year’s festival on 14 June 2023, an intimate portrait of British documentary photographer Tish Murtha, and her daughter’s fight to preserve her legacy.
In TISH, Paul Sng celebrates the vision and profound humanism of this gifted artist. As the film questions the value placed on art and artists from working class roots, we follow Tish's daughter Ella, as she fights to preserve her mother's legacy. No less striking than the work of its subject, TISH is a powerful tribute to a vital artist, activist and social chronicler, and a rallying call to all whose engagement with art questions who gets seen and heard, who doesn't, and why. This is a story of contemporary Britain, of the fight for culture, as well as the life of a mother and activist.
Directed by Paul Sng (Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché, Dispossession) and produced by Jen Corcoran (Nascondino [Hide and Seek]) through Teesside-based Freya Films in association with Hopscotch Films and Sng's Velvet Joy Productions, with cinematography by Hollie Galloway. The voice of Tish is played by Maxine Peake (Funny Cow). The film was made with the support of the BFI Doc Society Fund (thanks to National Lottery funding) and Screen Scotland, in association with the BBC.
Paul Sng, Director of TISH, says: “We’re completely delighted that TISH has been chosen to open Sheffield DocFest, a huge honour in a fitting city to launch a film about a photographer whose images show the fun, mischief and ingenuity of working class communities. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Tish Murtha used her camera to interrogate the detrimental impact of Thatcherism and deindustrialisation. More than forty years later, her images retain an urgency and empathy that speak to the concerns faced by people struggling to pay for food and energy bills in the present day. While this film celebrates the calibre of Tish’s work, it also asks questions about the value placed on working class artists and the communities that nurture them. These are important questions, now more than ever.”
Dani Carlaw, Head of Unscripted at Screen Scotland said: “It is fantastic to be able to support Director Paul Sng’s latest feature documentary, a powerful and intimate portrait of photographer Tish Murtha. It is a fitting recognition of this important work that it will be the Opening Gala film at Sheffield Doc Fest. Screen Scotland has a longstanding partnership with Doc Fest, and to play such a big part in this year’s festival is an honour.”
Annabel Grundy, Sheffield DocFest Managing Director, says: “We are delighted to open the festival with TISH, as we celebrate 30 years of Sheffield DocFest. TISH shines a light on a working class artist whose work was tragically overlooked while she was alive, and whose story was rooted in the North. We are thrilled to welcome back director Paul Sng to Docfest, who presented the film at early-development stage in our marketplace in 2021 and producer Jen Corcoran who came through our own 'Future Producers' school seven years ago.”
Kids jumping on to mattresses. Credit: Ella Murtha
The festival is pleased to announce the internationally and critically acclaimed Iranian film director and screenwriter, Rakshan Banietemad, will be the Guest of Honour for 2023. One of Iran’s most celebrated filmmakers, she is often referred to as the “godmother of Iranian cinema”. Her wide-ranging and bold collection of works focus on poverty, criminality, divorce, polygamy, social norms, cultural taboos, women's oppression, and cultural expectations.
Rakshan Banietemad will attend in person and will present a Retrospective of six films, including the World Premiere of her latest short, Narratives Ad Hominem. The retrospective will be complemented by six features (including five UK premieres) from other filmmakers chosen by Banietemad and the Festival. Screenings will be accompanied by live Q&As and introductions.
Rakshan Banietemad says: “Although the Women, Life, Freedom movement was formed in Iran, its reflection spread throughout the world and will undoubtedly be influential in women’s movements in similar societies. The 2023 edition of Sheffield DocFest is smartly focusing its attention on the importance of the women’s movement by showing a number of Iranian documentary films. I am pleased that I have been invited to the Sheffield DocFest as a guest of honour and I will be present at this prestigious festival to introduce some of my documentary films.”
Raul Niño Zambrano, Sheffield DocFest Creative Director added: “I have always admired Rakhshan Banietemad’s work and this year is the perfect chance to celebrate her films and her commitment to documentary filmmaking. Looking back at her films now is a very enriching experience that reminds us of the power of storytelling.”
Following a successful return to in-person delivery last year, the 2023 DocFest returns to Sheffield venues including The Crucible Theatre with a series of in-person talks, screenings, and extended Q&As. Joining the speakers line up of public talks and events will be satirist and broadcaster Munya Chawawa, presenting a talk titled Satire in Documentary, supported by Channel 4. He will discuss his unique approach to integrating satire in non-fiction keeping viewers engaged and cleverly informed. BAFTA nominated for his Channel 4 documentary How to Survive a Dictator, Chawawa continues to be one of the biggest and brightest talents in UK television.
Munya Chawawa, Broadcaster, says: "I'm looking forward to coming back to Sheffield, my university hometown. At this year's DocFest I'll be sharing more of what I have been up to in the documentary space, how I have built my career so far, and how humour can be a powerful tool for truth-telling."
Sheffield DocFest (14-19 June), celebrates its 30th year in 2023. As the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects, DocFest champions and presents the breadth of documentary form – film, television, immersive and art – in the vibrant city of Sheffield each June.
Sheffield DocFest runs from Wednesday 14 - Monday 19 June and the full programme will be announced Wednesday 10 May, with public tickets on sale on this date.
Opening Night film: TISH
United Kingdom - 2023 - Paul Sng - 90 min (World Premiere)
Paul Sng’s riveting portrait of Tish Murtha captures the passion and commitment of a trailblazing photographer who dedicated her life to recording the hopes, dreams and struggles of working-class communities in the industrial North East.
A young boy and girl share a quiet moment while friends play behind them on a terraced street. Four youths lie against a wall while one of them aims his air rifle at a nearby target. A young woman looks reflectively into the distance, as dusk falls on the council estate behind her. Tish Murtha’s images amplified the often unspoken concerns of the people she photographed, who ranged from children and adolescents to unemployed adults, sex workers and families struggling to live in modern-day Britain. Born in the northern coastal town of South Shields, Tish began her extraordinary career in the late 1970s. She was driven by a fierce conviction to record the impact of Thatcher era de-industrialisation upon local communities and her striking black and white images convey a tenderness and intimacy that set her apart from her peers.
In TISH, Paul Sng celebrates the vision and profound humanism of this gifted artist. As the film questions the value placed on art and artists from working class roots, we follow Tish's daughter Ella, as she fights to preserve her mother's legacy. No less striking than the work of its subject, Tish is a powerful tribute to a vital artist, activist and social chronicler, and a rallying call to all whose engagement with art questions who gets seen and heard, who doesn't, and why.
About Paul Sng
Paul Sng is a bi-racial British Chinese filmmaker based in Edinburgh, Scotland whose work focuses on people who challenge the status quo. His work has been broadcast on television and screened internationally, and his feature film credits include Dispossession and Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché (winner of BIFA 2021 Best Documentary, BIFA 2021 Raindance Discovery Award). He is a BAFTA Breakthrough 2022/23 artist.
About Sheffield DocFest
Sheffield DocFest is the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects. We champion and present the breadth of documentary form – film, television, immersive and art – in the vibrant city of Sheffield each June. We offer makers and audiences a place for inspiration, debate, development, learning and challenge. Our programming represents our core values – creativity, empathy, freedom, inclusivity and internationalism.
Sheffield DocFest is run by International Documentary Festival Sheffield, an independent registered charity (no.1184849), whose purpose is to advance the art of film, education and training in documentary filmmaking. Our core values as a charity centre around empathy, inclusiveness, social engagement, freedom and internationalism.
Sheffield DocFest is made possible thanks to the support of our partners, funders and sponsors, including Principal Funders Sheffield City Council, Arts Council England and BFI.
Header image: Tish promary still. Credit: Ella Murtha