On Film Festivals

I’ve been lucky in that one of my films has been shown at two film festivals this year.1

It’s had a few other outings too but it’s the festivals that I want to talk about here, specifically, what being involved in them meant for me.2

Getting my film accepted by the festivals was great. The feeling of recognition that it engendered easily outweighed the feelings that accompanied the film’s rejection from other festivals. It also gives a social purpose to what otherwise can sometimes feel a little self-indulgent.

At the first festival the film received its first ever public screening (let’s forget the internet) so, of course, I went along.

The screening was part of a short film evening in a yurt. It was raining and the yurt was a bit damp inside. There were a lot of slugs.

I felt under pressure as a number of my friends were in the yurt. It was my responsibility to ensure that my film entertained them but also that all the other films entertained them too, because the only reason they were there was that my film was being shown.

I hope that they felt under pressure too; the pressure of knowing that they had to respond positively even if they thought the film was dreadful. I know that one friend, who has previously suggested that a six minute film I made was “five and a half minutes too long”, would have difficulty with this.3

As well as pressure, I felt a kind of guilt about attending a screening of my own film, like I ought not to be watching my own film. I felt this even more acutely when I saw my film at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival last weekend. This is because the film was, at that point, being shown in a small gallery space. When we got there the only three seats next to one another were at the front and so that is where we sat. After twenty minutes the room was completely full, with people standing squeezed in at the back. That meant I was taking up a space which someone else could have had, someone who hadn’t made the film, someone who deserved to sit down. But as I was sitting with my son and my wife, and because I’d made them come too, I couldn’t just get up and go stand at the back. In any case, I had to stay where I was to make sure my son didn’t make any kind of gesture or signal that might make it clear to everyone else that it was me that was responsible for what they were watching. Nobody must know.

My film was sandwiched between five others. Mine is supposed to be a comedy. None of the others were supposed to be funny and so they weren’t. I think some of them may have intended to be depressing, especially the one about a dilapidated German military hospital, the grounds of which “became the scene of 6 murders as necrophilic serial killer Wolfgang Schmidt, also known as “The Beast of Beelitz”, terrorised the area”.4 There was also a “coming of age film about a girl who seems out of place in what should be considered home. Her passive confrontations lead her beyond the home and into a world where she must face who she is in a surprisingly dark way.”5 I’m not sure whether this one was intended to be depressing because I cannot claim to have fully understood it but it certainly looked great, had great performances, great set pieces, unsettling music and a real, consistent atmosphere. It definitely worked.

Anyway, my film was on after these two and nobody had laughed in the last 30 minutes. Whilst the film is supposed to be a comedy, this isn’t apparent until halfway through.6

Thankfully, halfway through, people did indeed start to laugh, just as they had done in the yurt with the slugs.

Watching my film in public has been really useful and it has reinforced for me the need for and power of an (independent) audience as a means of recognition. I’ve shown the film to people individually and they’ve sat through it in stony silence but whenever it’s played in public people have started to laugh at roughly the same point in the film and then carried on doing so (sporadically) until the end. The dynamic created by a bunch of strangers in a dark room can’t be recreated at home, via the internet, or with friends and the appreciation of comedy, especially, is acutely social.

It has wonderful to feel that I’ve entertained people with something I dreamed up, especially given the inability to regard my own work with any kind of objectivity. This feeling has outweighed the feelings of pressure and guilt that I’ve referred to above but so far it hasn’t made me think that the film is perfect, that it is anywhere near as good as most of the other films I’ve see at festivals or that my next film will be anything but a dismal failure. But I don’t think that such insecurity is a bad thing if I’m striving to improve.

Being a part of film festivals has, also, given me a sense of belonging to a community. Like any community this one is made up of very different kinds of people. Not all members have the same aims and outlooks but I think pretty much all of them share the need or desire to express themselves using film and, through it, to reach out to touch others. It is a community which I like belonging to.


1 I should make clear that it’s the only one of my films to have been shown at a film festival anywhere.

2 This makes it easier to write a blog. I don’t need statistics. I don’t need analysis. I don’t need to speak to anyone else. I don’t need to think about issues of self-realization and objectification through art and the recognition of that self. I don’t need to consider the nature of the artistic discourse in which my film and I as a filmmaker are positioned and/or created nor the relationship of that discourse to power.

I do actually want to think about the last two things, but just not here. I think I’d bore people, and I don’t have enough of them to do that.

3 I think the others had been coaching him. He was very positive.

4 Malaise, by Christian Schmeer.  A very beautifully shot film.

5 Over and Under and Through, by Desiree Moore. A very unsettling film.

6 This is deliberate.

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