Film festivals are the best way for filmmakers at any stage of their career to get their work noticed, network with people in the industry and be inspired by other films.
Whether a festival screening secures a distributor, wins you some awards or simply creates industry buzz around your film; the power of screening at the right festival at the right time cannot be underestimated. From the large-scale production centred Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and Festival de Cannes, to the independent spirits of Sundance in the US and Underwire in the UK – each festival has its unique vision and approach to curation.
The key is often to find the right festival fit for your film. Those screening shorts in the UK for instance might look at Encounters, Edinburgh International Film Festival or London Short Film Festival and for features, there’s the British Independent Film Awards, the BFI London Film Festival and Sheffield Doc Fest just to name a few. The more festivals a film is a part of, the more likely you are to find a fit.
Here at Creative England we support filmmakers at all stages of their careers. From our iShorts scheme all the way to our Production Funds, many of the films we have supported at every level have gone on to achieve some form of festival success. We decided to take a look at a few recent examples to demonstrate what festival screenings and successes can mean for the future of a production.
'45 Years' - Directed by Andrew Haigh
Director Andrew Haigh’s second feature length film is ’45 Years’, supported by Creative England’s Production Fund. It is a Norfolk-based emotional tale of a retired couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, when the relationship is thrown into turmoil after Tom Courtenay’s character, Geoff Mercer, receives an unexpected letter about the body of his first love being found.
The film premiered at Berlin Film Festival and screened at Edinburgh Film Festival (the longest continually running film festival in the world), where it won the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film and landed Charlotte Rampling the title of Best Performance in a British Feature Film. Rampling and Courtenay also won the Silver Bear Awards for Best Actress and Best Actor at the Berlin festival. However, the key festival success for Haigh was undoubtedly the screening at Festival de Cannes, where he attained a UK distribution deal from Curzon with the help of film sales company, The Match Factory. It has also been screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
No doubt thanks to acquiring the distribution deal (and thanks to the festival success of Haigh’s former feature, ‘Weekend’), ’45 Years’ has since gone on to break UK box office records, as reported by Screen, for surpassing the £1million mark on a simultaneous theatrical and online release date – a fantastic achievement for this regional film.
'The Goob' - Directed by Guy Myhill
‘The Goob’ is another Norfolk-set production, this time from director Guy Myhill. It captures the life of Goob Taylor, a young man whose rocky relationship with his Mother’s new boyfriend, summer job as a beetroot farmer and new love interest in the form of fellow farmer Eva, make for an enchanting coming of age tale set against the beautiful rural Norfolk landscape.
Completed as part of the Creative England programme, iFeatures (for first feature films), Myhill’s feature debut went on to screen at the Venice Days Festival, BFI London Film Festival (where Myhill received a nomination for Best British Newcomer) and South by South West Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas for its US premier. The film won Best Achievement in Production for producers, Mike Elliott and Lee Groombridge at the British Independent Film Awards; where Myhill was also nominated for Most Promising Newcomer and Sienna Guillory, for Best Supporting Actress. On top of this, ‘The Goob’ snapped up the Cineuropa Award at FIFA Mons International Love Film Festival, the Best Music award at Stockholm Film Festival and The Golden Hitchcock for Best Film award at Dinard Film Festival.
It’s fair to say ‘The Goob’ did rather well on the festival circuit. Off the back of this it also received great reviews from the likes of The Guardian and The Independent, plus warm reviews on its recent DVD release from the Financial Times, who describe it as “absorbing” with “episodes of transcendent beauty”. Not too shabby.
'Orion: The Man Who Would Be King' - Directed by Jeanie Finlay
Jeanie Finlay’s music documentary, ‘Orion: The Man Who Would Be King’ tells the unusual story of the life of the infamous Elvis impersonator, Orion (real name, Jimmy Ellis), who signed a record deal with Sun Records after Elvis’s death. A quick way for the record company to capitalise on the public’s insatiable appetite for the King’s music and belief in the legend’s divinity, Ellis complied due to his past dreams of becoming a singer in his own right. But the deal was not exactly mutually beneficial. As Finlay’s film conveys, Ellis’s own identity was overshadowed by the public’s obsession with Elvis and his contractual obligation to wear his bejewelled mask whenever he was in the public eye.
Finlay’s knack for telling such a sad, tragic tale in a sensitive but frank manner saw her garner success at festivals like the Solo Positivo Film Festival in Croatia, where her documentary won the award for Best Screenplay and at Nashville Film Festival in April, where it won the Grand Jury Music Film Prize. The latter award proves that Finlay’s choice to submit her film to a festival held in the city that gave rise to Elvis paid off. Place and relevance is incredibly important when it comes to festival screenings; and showcasing a film like ‘Orion’ in front of a native audience that would be more engaged was a smart move: one that’s paid off if recent reviews are anything to go by.
'Emotional Fusebox' - Directed by Rachel Tunnard
‘Emotional Fusebox’ is a short film by director, Rachel Tunnard who is involved with Creative England’s iFeatures programme. The short is a pilot for Tunnard’s completed feature script entitled, ‘How To Live Yours’ which is currently in post-production. The short film is a about Anna (played by Broadchurch’s Jodie Whittaker) who lives in a shed at the bottom of her Mum’s garden in the Lake District where she enjoys making existentially inquisitive films starring her thumbs as the lead roles.
The short was screened all over the globe, including London Film Festival in the Shorts Selection and at Short Shorts Festival in Tokyo. ‘Emotional Fusebox’ was nominated for the BAFTA and British Independent Film Awards’ Best British Short Film titles; and at the British Shorts Film Festival in Berlin in January 2015, Tunnard took home the British Shorts Audience Award.
The festival success of Tunnard’s short pilot is a sure fire way of getting her name out there in the industry, garnering support from her peers and creating excitement for the final feature. Watch this space.
‘Notes on Blindness’ - Directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney
‘Notes on Blindness’ was one of the earliest shorts supported by Creative England’s original Lottery Fund. Initially named ‘Into Darkness’, the documentary short dramatizes the story of John Martin Hull, a professor of religious education who documented his experience of going blind with a series of voice recordings. Peter Middleston and James Spinney partnered on the short after working together on various projects for over five years. They were drawn to John’s story because of his “cinematic” language in describing his sensory and emotional experiences of blindness.
The short has screened at over 30 film festivals worldwide and won the Best Documentary Award at both Encounters Short Film Festival and International Short Film Festival of Cyprus. The project is similar to Tunnard’s ‘Emotional Fusebox’ as a feature is currently in development but is supported by the Creative England Production Fund rather than iFeatures; the success of the short at the numerous festivals it screened at helped to drum up excitement for the feature and the recent Emmy win for the team has no doubt added to the intrigue. This project and its emotive story is definitely one to pay attention to.
‘The Pig Child’ - Directed by Lucy Campbell
Produced as part of our iShorts scheme, ‘The Pig Child’ is a short sci-fi thriller from Manchester-based director, Lucy Campbell. Campbell’s background as a trained doctor could explain the subject matter of this jarring short; inspired by a modern outlook on the Frankenstein story, it follows a medical student who uses her own body for her scientific experiments.
The Pig Child premiered at Encounters Short Film Festival in Bristol and previewed at The Smalls festival in London. The film was also selected for both Palm Springs and the Edinburgh International Film Festivals. It won Catherine Steadman (Downton Abbey, The Tudors), who played Rosa in the lead role, the Best Actress title from Underwire and the short earned the title of Best Sci-Fi at the LA Independent Film Festival.
‘Billy The Kid’ - Directed by Sam Johnson
‘Billy The Kid’ is another project from the Creative England iShorts programme. This action-comedy short film from writer/director Sam Johnson was also made with the support of anti-bullying body, BeatBullying. It follows 15-year-old Billy The Kid, a British schoolkid enamored with the west, who is just starting a new school due to being bullied out of the last one for being a cowboy.
The short premiered at Palm Spring Shortfest in 2015 where it won the audience’s Best of Fest award. It also recently won Best of Fest, Best Comedy and Audience Award at The Isle of Man Film Festival, which was judged by renounced film critic, Mark Kermode. The film has also screened at DC Shorts 2015 in Washington, US as well as being selected for Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York this November. The warm audience reaction to this loveable short shows us how powerful comedy can be in remedying more serious topics like bullying; plus how film festivals in general need not always be an intellectually highbrow affair.
‘A Complicated Way To Live’ - Directed by Ged Hunter
One more from the iShorts programme… ‘A Complicated Way To Live’ by Liverpool-based Ged Hunter and Dave Hart. This social commentary short explores the implications of a flawed benefits system on the most vulnerable members of society and the lengths individuals will go to when they feel they have no other option.
The film won Best Narrative Short at London Lift-Off and went on to be showcased worldwide at Lift-Off film festivals in Amsterdam, Tokyo, L.A and Las Vegas, as well as Dances with Films in LA and Wild Sound in Canada. The international success proves that a regional film about the UK benefits system has universal relatability and narrative appeal.
Previous Creative England backed projects also include Stephen Poliakoff’s BAFTA and Golden Globe winning Dancing on the Edge and Penny Woolcocks’s One Mile Away which won Best British Feature at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012.
More information for producers about how festivals and markets work can be found on our Market Trader Swarms page on Hiive.
- Short Film Funding
- Filming in England