VIDEO & 360 PHOTO: Watch the robot speaker at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016 programme launch

This cute robot speaker stole the show as it helped to launch the star-studded line-up for this year's 2016 Sheffield Doc/Fest.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 5th May 2016, 6:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th May 2016, 8:06 pm

Alternate Realities curator Mark Atkin, who admits he has the coolest job title, was joined on stage by the robot - called NOW - which sat in a chair alongside him, waving at the invited audience and explaining how virtual and augmented reality will form part of this year's festival.

Afterwards the robot was mobbed by fans for photo and selfies.

There will be a world-leading programme of interactive media and virtual reality exhibitions and talks, as film-makers embrace new innovative ways of immersive story-telling, including 360 degree videos, photos and animations.

360 PHOTO: See our digital editor Graham Walker's own amazing virtual reality photo taken at the launch as double act Mark Atkin and his robot pal address the Sheffield Doc/Fest programme launch at Curzon Cinema, in Sheffield - CLICK HERE.

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TICKETS: Buy tickets for individual events, or a six-day festival wristband costs £65 (£55 concession), which includes ticket pre-selection available until May 31. For full details and timetable of events visit or email [email protected]

Sheffield Doc/Fest, a six day showcase of the world's best new documentaries, plus worksops, talks and a meeting place for film-makers to attract funding, attracts around 30,000 film fans - iincluding 27,000 members of the public.

Big names appearing at the festival to pull in the crowds this year, from June 10 to 15, include Oscar winners Tilda Swinton, Michael Moore, Lord David Puttnam and DA Pennebaker, plus Joanna Lumley, Ken Loach, Louis Theroux, Reggie Yates, Mark Herbert, Chris Hegedus, Adam Buxton, Freddie Flintoff, Ronnie O’Sullivan,

It will screen 160 international and UK documentaries, 27 world premiers, 15 international, 19 European and 52 UK premiers.

Documentary fans will be invited to get hands on and dive headfirst into stories where they become a participant.

They will be able to virtually visit the International Space Station, understand what it might be like aboard a migrants’ boat, experience the onset of epilepsy, or navigate the world without sight.

Mark and his robot, from the University Of Sheffield's Robotics Department, explained how they have programmed 14 immersive media experiences in Millennium Gallery and beyond, and 12 Virtual Reality documentaries in Site Gallery and The Space, allowing a depth of experience far beyond the limitations of the flat screen.

Put on a virtual reality headset to explore momentous historical events as though you were there – at Dublin’s General Post Office during the Easter Rising or in 1950s rural Australia when British atomic bomb tests changed lives of the indigenous Martu people forever.

In the Alternate Realities Summit, they will present a range of engaging talks and demonstrations. Artificial intelligence is one of its key themes.

There will be a talk with an android about love and war and discover how USC Shoah Foundation – the Institute for Visual History and Education is pioneering the use of natural language software to enable virtual conversations with 3D images of Holocaust survivors, so conversations can continue far into the future.

The Summit afternoon concentrates on the VR industry’s hot topics: does VR really work in eliciting empathy? What can VR makers learn from immersive theatre? How can VR enhance journalistic documentary?

To celebrate the ever-growing number of high quality VR projects in documentary filmmaking, festival chiefs have introduced a new Alternate Realities VR award, with shortlisted projects being considered by an all-female jury.

Mark said: “Two years ago we had two Virtual Reality projects at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Last year we had nine. This year we have created a Virtual Reality award making Sheffield Doc/Fest the first film festival to announce such an award.

"It’s a very exciting time for the genre, and we want to ensure we recognise those who are leading the way in this innovative new area, and create mechanisms to welcome under-represented talent in this field. Given the hybrid nature of the medium, we invited a diverse panel of media professionals as judges, so I’m extremely pleased to be able to announce our all-female virtual reality jury, and excited to see what they select.”

The 23rd Sheffield Doc/Fest, based at the city's Showroom cinema and other top city centre venues, including the Crucible and the City Hall, Bertha DocHouse Library Theatre, Odeon and Curzon Cinema, where the programme was officially launched.

Claire Aguilar, Director of Programming & Industry Engagement, has commissioned programming from the global community of independent producers, and has shepherded co-productions for television and film from over 300 producers and 35 countries.

Double act Now the robot and Alternate Realities curator Mark Atkin at Curzon cinema in Sheffield

A second-generation Filipina American, she studied Communications Studies and Film and Television Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She serves on the boards of Women Make Movies, EDN (European Documentary Network) and Firelight Media.

Claire said: "We are very excited to present 2016 Doc/Fest. We have so much exciting programming going on and lso special events and wonderful people coming, to chare the experience.

"We are opening the festival with Michael Moore and closing it with Tilda Swinton. We also have some amazing film-makers coming and for the talks and sessions exciting people are coming, like Lord Puttnam. We will be graced by the likes of Joanna Lumley and also Ronnie O'Sullivan who will be talking about his love of documentaries.

"We will also have a wonderful line-up of parties, which is great for Sheffield."

TICKETS: Buy tickets for individual events, or a six-day festival wristband costs £65 (£55 concession), which includes ticket pre-selection available until May 31. For full details and timetable of events visit or email [email protected]

Double act Now the robot and Alternate Realities curator Mark Atkin at Curzon cinema in Sheffield