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The BFI Future Film Festival

When you stick a camera in the hands of an infantile person with a bad idea you get Bumfights and happy slapping. With wider availability of better technology and opportunities such as the internet and appropriate film festivals however, we no longer need to fear when a dapper young lad says he has a movie to show us. An impressive outlet for the burgeoning imagination is the 5th BFI Future Film Festival, held this year on the 17 and 18 of February. This annual showcase comes at a great time with the government looking (however deftly) at the future of the industry and the emergence of its youngest recognised directors. Rhythm Circus was there, and though there was much to see and do, we bring you a breakdown of the highlights of the weekend.

Commencing with a look into painstaking patience was the award for best animated short, with guidance supplied by a panel of experts: animation producer Ramsay Mcbean, head of 3D animation at the SAE institute Dan Lavi and winner of last year’s award Leo Bridle. After the screening the panel gave their feedback, and though every film, from the Pixar standard Adrift to the macabre and comedic horror tribute Bridge of Vernon, had strengths and weaknesses (the latter mostly related to story and concept), all were beaten by Bexie Bush’s Ever Hear a Postman Whistle?, a recorded conversation between two hilariously astute old timers set to phenomenal stop-motion effects. “For me you could have taken the visual out of it” said Dan Lavi, “although it was fantastic… take it out and just listen to it on the radio, I would love it still.” Alongside a glass trophy Bexie won an opportunity to pitch a film to Ramsay McBean and his buddy Max Howard, one of the top animation producers in the world.

 Later on expert visual effects editor David Hall, who’s worked on Casino Royale, Clash of The Titans and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to name a few, gave a master class on the scope of visual effects and the benefits they can bring to even the lowest budget movie. In our interview he said “I love the invisible effects because if the audience doesn’t perceive it to be an effect, then it has succeeded. So I am really fond of that, although there’s always room for a giant scorpion (laughs).” In the battle of practical vs. CGI, David cited Guillermo Del Toro as one he admires for balancing the two, enhancing his animatronics with digital effects, and feels that the move away from filming on reels and complexity of 3D are the biggest shake ups for special effects artists at this moment.

To finish out the first day we caught the superbly in depth and personal Q&A with longtime producer Lisa Bryer, whose resume includes music videos for The Cure, the short film Wasp and feature films from the self-admitted flop The Hole to the simply stunning The Last King of Scotland, all released under her production company ‘Cowboy Films’. After a recap of her career wherein she started as a runner, fought drug addiction and eventually took her current backseat position as mother and advisor of those in the industry, she began answering questions, the first of which was ‘what is the role of a producer?’. One wonders what is taught in film school today.

“People are always looking for fresh blood, fresh talent. Also fresh talent will usually put up with a lot less money,” said Lisa in regards to where favour lies in UK film today. “Or you go for the tried and tested, the real A-list, who you know you can guarantee getting a return on your money, whereas the middle, as with everything, usually always gets the squeeze, especially in times of recession. But no, I think it’s a very good time for up and coming filmmakers.” Other answers addressed the financial gains (or lack thereof) in short film funding, the many difficulties of making The Last King of Scotland (like casting, financing and filming in Uganda) and undesirable qualities in a director i.e. overdriven ego or traces of slothful approach. Lisa is about to go off and film a documentary on her aunt, an eighty four year old survivor of four concentration camps, death marches and typhus, perhaps the best subject for someone who’s survived one of the hardest jobs in filmmaking.

Albeit with a little less constructive criticism in its feedback, the nominees for best documentary short on Sunday morning explored some very unique and harrowing subject matter. The winner of the 15-18 year old category was Try Not to Lose by Nadia Birch & Nerissa Edwards, an account of the trials of a young and physically demanded boxer. “It was a really strong portrait film, it didn’t outstay its welcome, everything was concise and you really learnt something in a very short space of time I think about that kid and his life” said Phil Ilson, Director of The London Short Film Festival. Winning the older category was Lasting Rights by Jon Gordon & Niko Alajoki, who were pleased to overcome the difficulty the film’s delicate subject matter, assisted suicide, posed with superb cinematography, visual direction and a balanced account of their issue.

By no means least a last highlight was the screening of Black Pond, followed by a Q&A with its young directors Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe. You can click here to see the interview, so there’s no need to go too in depth here, but naturally with a film this ambitious and complex, questions were flung fast, mostly pertaining to the casting of comedian Simon Amstell and accomplished actor Chris Langham, how the £25,000 budget was collected and how in control both were of the much improvised nature of the project. “Everything that we did we did by mistake,” were Will’s words, followed by erupting laughter from the room.

The BFI Future Film Fest is not as hands on as it could be, but the level of experience pervading the building in those two days is staggering. It’s very much an eye opener on the realities of film; the difficulty, the hard work required and the short chance of getting recognition, let alone profits. It’d be nice if another day could be added to spread out the wealth on offer, however each masterclass is extremely memorable and satisfying, and worth going for alone.

Words > Graham Ashton
Photos > Tahlia Lewis

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