After my first ever film festival beginning of September in Berwick Upon Tweed I decided to check out what a more mainstream festival might be about. I chose Bolton mostly because it includes a relatively wide range of practices. As I have little experience other than some online events, I will in the following sometimes look at Berwick in relation to Bolton, no to evaluate but to unravel a bit of its structure.
Both festivals have an open submission but whereas Berwick works with a handful of curators Bolton deploys 24 judges coming mostly from a film industry background. It therefore makes sense that Bolton offers industry presentation and round table discussions involving organisations and enterprises such as Festival Formula, Doc Society, Director’s Notes or Shiny Awards. This is also one of the parts of this festival that is likely to appeal to students and novice filmmakers like me.
The festival director Adrian Barber stated that he regards Shorts as stepping stones towards feature length films, something that as an artist I would not necessarily underwrite. However, it makes sense in the context of Bolton as it is geared towards presenting new discoveries that could lead to new productions in mainstream cinema and TV. In contrast to Berwick, there were many filmmakers present at Bolton festival. This was exciting as it had at times a red carpet feel, reflecting also that the festival has been recently BAFTA and BIFA accredited.
That many people involved in the making of films were able to come is partly down to the programming. The main focus in the choice of film was western centric with the UK and its new talent at its focus. Yet not the entire programme was geared towards main stream and there were also sections on community film, an industry session on ‘working class voices’ in addition to VR and 360 films. One particular selection was titled ‘F-rated – Made by Women’, something that I personally object. Yes, I have figured out by now that the film industry is heavily dominated by white males from privileged backgrounds. Yet inclusivity could surely be achieved in some other form than creating extra sections. But maybe this is a topic for another time.
Overall it could be said that most work presented at Bolton festival was focused on delivering a compelling narrative and not necessarily set out to question the filmic medium per se. Or the importance and structure of a narrative. To me this alien and something I don’t quite understand, especially as quite a bit of selected work came out of film schools and university courses.
Having said that, I really saw a lot of interesting work that was thought provoking and relevant to today’s society. There was for instance ‘Tinned Pears’ by Libby Burke Wilde made with the charity ‘Chefs in Schools’. Zachary Woods’ satire ‘David’ about a therapy session going off piste also raised questions beyond the usual narrative and so did the VR ‘Hangman at Home’ by Michelle Kranot and Uri Kranot or ‘Hollow’ by Paul Holbrook (I look forward to seeing more of his work on main screen!) about the interconnectedness of violence, guilt and revenge and its ethical dimensions. There was also ‘View’ by the wonderful filmmaker Odveig Klyve who revealed the invasive presence of cruise ships in her hometown in Norway. Simply beautifully thought provoking in its quietness. ‘Swimmer’ by Jonathan Etzler offered not only an intriguing story about a criminal who refuses to come out of a pool to get arrested, a version of a Tristram Shandy stance of how to avoid dominant reality, but it is also technically really advanced and Etzler clearly has the aptitude to deliver fantastic feature length films. As part of an industry session Edwin Mingard, a last minute replacement for Hannah Bush Bailey from Doc Society, showed his film ‘An Intermission’ which was to me and my special interest of making films with people truly exciting. I managed to talk with him after his presentation about his take on collaboration. Truly exciting and I hope to do an interview on this topic with him very soon!
Overall I can say that I had really good conversations and made new friends as part of the festival. As a rogue filmmaker I had to engage with an alien world over several days and this forced me not only to think about my own practice but also enabled me to gain more insights in the complexity of what it can mean to be a filmmaker. One thing is sure though, as Odveig Klyve and I agreed on, not every filmmaker hankers after a feature length film or the big cinema. Some just want to make Shorts or work that can hold its ground not only on the screen but also in the gallery space. Where some of my own films might fit in this festival circus I still have not quite understood.