By Rimma Snesar-Sanchez
When you think or hear of film festivals, several big names come to mind – Cannes with its VIP chic; Sundance with its quirky shorts; Sheffield with his philosophical vision of documentary filmmaking. These associations make sense. These names are constantly covered by the media for valid reasons. After all, many filmmakers have achieved international fame at these festivals. And yet, even they started their career somewhere. Overnight success stories are very rare. Almost non-existent, in fact, despite some industry professionals claiming otherwise. Most of the careers of those without parents in the industry began at obscure, local independent film festivals, which makes these festivals as important as the internationally renowned ones.
To be honest, I never thought I would end up at an independent film festival. But that changed in April, when in the middle of a panicked exam review, I dithered on Facebook. An ad for a local film festival, LIFF, popped up on my feed. Without a second thought, I applied as an extra pair of hands. A week later, I found myself with two other volunteers in a shabby but cozy cinema in East London. After a brief meeting with festival officials, I was assigned to help set up fragile audio and recording equipment and the other two volunteers were dispatched to help lead people to their seats, check their tickets and perform other household chores.
That’s not to say those jobs stuck with us for the rest of the festival. Everyone pitched in as we circled the cinema, chatting and sometimes arguing over where one or another poster should be placed. I didn’t leave the festival empty-handed and learned some useful tips. Make all the films you want, but submit them to relevant festivals. Use more expensive recording equipment, it will save you time when editing. Although the industry has its own problems, you will meet people along the way who are ready to accompany you.
Some may complain that this is not revolutionary advice. Independent film festivals are a waste of space if that’s the kind of professional advice that’s given. I strongly disagree with this view – what matters is not the advice per se, but the fact that those with more experience are willing to pass it on to those who are at the beginning of their career in the industry. ‘industry. New talent needs to be supported in these first steps, made aware of both the bad and bad sides of the industry as well as its creative and welcoming chaos. This support does not happen theoretically, but practically, on the job. New ideas bounce off each other quickly and their developments happen even faster. Because of this hands-on perspective and interpersonal way of communicating, film festivals are arguably the best way to support emerging filmmakers.
New talents are indeed present in local independent film festivals. The Durham Film Festival is the perfect example, taking place in June with the help of student volunteers and the British Film Institute after a two-year hiatus. As I speak as a viewer, rather than a volunteer, it was very refreshing to see these new cinematic talents emerge (especially after long periods of confinement). Would Sheffield have considered a documentary about what happens after an uncomfortable question is asked? I doubt. Would the Sundance judges have considered a short film about a gassed duchess and her caretaker in a style that falls between that of Wes Anderson and that of early Spanish surrealist filmmakers? I doubt. Would Cannes VIPs even watch a religious depiction of the grief of two elderly parents? I doubt it too. But these (and many more) were shown at this year’s Durham Film Festival.
It was amazing to see these new talents finding their voice and the public enjoying their works, thanks to the Q&A organized by the festival. Therefore, local independent film festivals are not only a way to connect with people in the industry, but also a way to find out how the public reacts to your film activities.
Most people love the social, or creative, or just the excitement that comes with enjoying a good movie together. But we rarely consider that local independent film festivals can offer all of these aspects on a more personal and individual level. Hopefully soon more people will consider exploring what’s hidden in their local cinema, rather than just attending blockbuster film festivals.
Image: Samuel Regan-Asante via Unsplash