TALES FROM A FESTIVAL DIRECTOR ...
January 2018 | Georgie McGahey
In 2017, Adrian Barber chatted with us about his first year as The Bolton Film Festival's director. Programming and organising is no easy feat, and Adrian was indeed candid about the trials and tribulations of putting such an event together.
Five months on, and we were lucky enough to catch up with Adrian again as he begins planning the festival for 2018.
MFJF: Adrian, it appears that you are back for more in 2018! For those that would consider running a film festival, could you tell them how much work it takes to bring a film festival to fruition?
Adrian: I don't think many people realise how much work goes into a film festival - it's a year-long job. Any film festival that is starting out begins with funding, and there are a lot of meetings that come to nothing, it's not easy to keep your chin up.
I spent months knocking on doors with my begging cap trying to convince strangers to part with hard earned cash. I'd explain to them that a film festival can inspire members of the community to follow their dreams, in my opinion, a good film festival is as much about the films as it is the networking, the talks and masterclasses. I was lucky that my sponsors shared that vision, to deliver an event that brings diverse and innovative short films from around the world and to offer our audience short films that they couldn't previously see on their doorstep.
It's true that Manchester is only 20 minutes away from Bolton, but that strength is also our weakness, it makes Bolton in some ways a cultural black hole. I wanted to create something the town could call it's own; we have one of the biggest food festivals here and a world-renowned Ironman, so I wanted to offer an annual event that was based upon film. After the initial funding was secured, it was a case of creating a jury, and I'm lucky that Bolton has had a raft of talent emerge from the town. Contacting people such as the Bafta-nominated writer Chris Lunt (who grew up in nearby Horwich), the Olivier award-winning Theatre and Film Director David Thacker from the Octagon Theatre (Bolton) and our Bolton born patron the actress Maxine Peake wasn't easy, but once I got hold of them they were quick to jump on board and lend their support.
I believe a festival is only as good as your jury and Bolton now has fourteen amazing jurors, most recently we've had the 4 x Bafta winner Colin Pons join us, the actor Gerard Kearns (Shameless) and the animator Jon Turner of Kilogramme: https://www.boltonfilmfestival...
MFJF: So after all that hard work, what was it like seeing the festival come to fruition?
Adrian: It's funny; you almost don't get to see it. I never got married, but I've heard from bride and grooms that they don't get to see their weddings and that's the case with a film festival. You're aware it's successful when people start to arrive, and the room slowly builds with people, but you're so busy organising things that you don't get to stand back and see what you've created. The room is packed, and everyone wants a slice of you, and that's important - you need to make everyone feel special and important.
Bolton Film Festival is nothing without its attendees, especially the film-makers. We had a few film-makers and students say they couldn't afford to come to Bolton when we told them they'd been selected, so we paid for their coach or train and brought them here. We think that approach sets us apart from other festivals, we know we can't be a film festival without our film-makers, and that means something to us.
Our ethos is all about community, whether that's the film-making community, the student community or the regular public. We make a special effort to reach out and ensure sure we have a diverse audience from all walks of life. Our town is multi-ethnic and socially diverse, and we want to look at our seats in our screenings and see that reflected. Most of our screenings and talks are free, and we do that because we want anyone to be able to attend no matter how hard pressed for cash they are.
MFJF: What were the screenings and atmosphere like?
Adrian: All our screenings were jammed, and that's something we're proud of. We didn't sell out the screenings, but we were within a whisker of doing so.
We've got one of the biggest and best state of the art screens in the country. It holds 232 people, so to see it almost at capacity in our first year was a great feeling. We decided early on that we weren't going to do themed screenings at night, we wanted a programme that took you on a journey. When you're at home you don't watch documentaries back to back all night, you change channels and vary what you watch.
Programming the "Best of the Fest" screenings was something that was so difficult for me, but so enjoyable. One of our guests tweeted "Felt every blooming emotion in the first half", and that's what we wanted. A journey of the profound, the unseen, the heartwarming, films of joy and laughter, films of excitement or films that were long lasting and enduring. The Best of the Fest programme was a celebration of film-making in every form, and we were confident that there was a film in there for everyone.
MFJF: Was it successful?
Adrian: Yes, I think so. When you hear an audience laugh in unison, you know that you've reached them, when you see people with a tear of sadness in their eye I think it's safe to say the film has touched them. The day after the festival we were inundated with messages, and they all asked the same thing "Where can I find the films online ?". Over the last few weeks, I've bumped into a few of our guests, and it's interesting that they all had a different favourite film - I'm proud of that.
MFJF: Could you tell us who were the competition winners were for 2017?
Adrian: Best International Short – 'The Devil is in the Detail' (Dir. Fabien Gorgeart)
Best UK Short- 'Edith' (Dir. Christian Cook)
Best North West Short – Rabbit Punch (Dir. Keith Farrell)
Best Documentary- ‘Gina’ (Dir. Wendell Cooke/Jeremy Macey)
Best Comedy – The Kidnapping of Richard Franco (Dir. Dan Clark)
Best Animation – 'A Love Story' (Dir. Anushka Naanayakkara)
Best Film For Change - 'Silent Child" (Dir Chris Overton)
Best Community Short- 'Anxiety' (Dir. Gino Evans)
Best Experimental - 'Green Screen Gringo' (Dir. Douwe Dijkstra)
Best Student Film (Sixth Form) – The Tale of Little Red (Dir. Ash Podda, Kendal College)
Best Student Film (Undergraduate) – 'Stalemate' (Dir. Kieran Stringfellow, Falmouth University)
MFJF: What was the feedback like from the festival goers?
Adrian: The feedback we got from the festival goers was amazing; we did surveys when people were leaving, and we were hitting eight, nines and tens with almost every person. There is always room for improvement with any project, and we've identified things we'd like to tweak and improve, but that should always be the case for anything you do in life.
MFJF: So with the 2017 festival behind you, what are the plans for 2018?
Adrian: We're growing to a three-day festival, we had some fantastic films we couldn't show last year purely because of limited screen time, so by increasing the festival to three days it means we can show more films and offer more talks and masterclasses.
We've just been voted a "Top 100 Best Reviewed" festival by FilmFreeway users, and we're keen to capitalise on the solid foundations we've laid down in our first year. We're just back from Aesthetica, and they've invited us back next year to a "Meet the Festival Marketplace" along with the likes of Edinburgh Film Festival, Sheffield Docs, London Short Film Festival, Kerry Film Festival and the Iris Award. That's a major honour to us; it's a whole bunch of kudos to be standing alongside such big names sharing the news of what we do at Bolton.
We've also added lots of new awards and categories, we've got a new "Three Minute Quickie" category that is peanuts to enter, and regarding prizes we've got Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Performance and a Grand Jury prize for "Best Film of the Festival". We're also bringing some of the biggest names in short film and animation to Bolton to speak and inspire the next generation.
We're open for Early Bird entries now, and were surprised by how many entries we get each day, we've already had some incredible films come in, and that's something that makes each day special. It's like Christmas morning each day at our end, opening the inbox every morning to watch jaw dropping films never gets old or boring - I'm a lucky guy.
If you want to enter the Bolton Film Festival, then click HERE for more information.
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