IF YOU WANT TO MAKE FILMS, GET THEE TO A FESTIVAL!
July 2021 | Katherine Hogan
When I was in college, I was taking Film Studies. It was my favourite class and in the two years I think I only missed one class. As well as the being encouraged to read about film, read screenplays, go to the cinema, buy film magazines were also advised to go to festivals. I can only remember this being mentioned once or twice but it was in the back of mind until 2007. A year of studying film and getting out of my comfort zone, visiting new cinemas, seeing films I wouldn’t have thought of, then I found the BFI London Film Festival programme at a cinema in Brentford. I couldn’t stop reading it. Even though it was pages of films being screened with no more detail that a paragraph, I was enthralled. Recognising Steve Buscemi’s name in the Masterclass sections, and that he had directed Interview, I became determined to go to the festival.
Having never gone to a film festival before I admit I was slightly lost amongst the crowds. It was the UK premiere of Interview and the press were crowding around the small Odeon in Leicester Square, which is now sadly gone. Excited that I got to walk on the red carpet I ran around the press a few times, unsure how to actually get into the building, pushed to the front, witnessed Sienna Miller and Steve Buscemi arrive then dashed into the cinema, worried I would miss the film. I was by myself but I didn’t feel alone. The cinema was sold out, packed row to row of film enthusiasts, some in groups, some sitting alone like me. I felt a constant buzz through the film and Q&A and was disappointed when it was all over. I got to see Steve Buscemi in his Masterclass too, even got up the courage to ask a question. This was my first taste of what film festivals were and once I had it, I couldn’t stop.
Living close to London I'm lucky, I can just hop on a train and be at the BFI whenever I please. But there are many other film festivals all around the country, both local and the more prestigious.
Film festivals are important for any aspiring filmmaker as they open up your mind to other experiences, including films and stories you might not get a chance to see. Any aspiring writer is told time and time again that to be a better writer you have read books and plenty of them. It’s the same with film, and there is no better place than a film festival to discover something new. Festivals are also the perfect place to discover films from around the world that might not even be released in the UK, which makes the screenings special, and in some cases unique.
If you do plan on studying film at University or you’re already there, you will be learning about markets and festivals as a perfect place to showcase your work. Starting at student festivals and working your way up to the big leagues such as BFI or Edinburgh (which do accept submissions from everyone) is the way to go if you start with a short film and then move into features. Attending festivals as a spectator you can find out what is accepted and the what the festival is looking for.
As well as film screenings, festival also offer up a wealth of other opportunities. There are events where people in the industry talk about their experiences and upcoming projects. Networking opportunities with both newcomers and those who have attended previous festivals are invaluable. Festivals such the BFI Future Film Festivals offer classes and advice sessions which has an age cut off, encouraging younger future filmmakers to join in. The opportunities and benefits of film festivals have changed since I first attended, but now there are even more reasons to get involved.
I wouldn’t describe Film Festivals as rites of passage for all those who want to make films, write films, teach film even, but they are important to attend. Watching films is the best education (apart from hands on work of course) and introduction into how the industry works.
If you are in love with films as much as I am you wouldn’t think twice about trekking across the city to a little local festival in North London for a screening in a village hall, or risking punting on the river in Cambridge to kill time between films. I’ve actually put myself through the wind, rain and crowds of people who didn’t know who John Hurt was, just so I could see a film at a festival. Every time, it was worth the trouble.
Would you like to share your set stories, write reviews or blog about your journey into the industry? MFJF would love to hear from you!