As UK film viewers, we are truly blessed with the number of domestic film festivals at our beck and call.

Whether you happen to be in Glasgow, for their edition of Frightfest; Bristol, for its Radical Film Festival or tied down to life in the capital and attending the London International Documentary Festival the chances are there is one that caters for you. British Council Film currently recognizes 172 active UK film festivals, each with their own unique flavour and a shared goal of helping filmmakers to screen their work to an eager public.

Festivals offer emerging filmmaking talent a unique platform to have their work seen and to hopefully gain awards. Having a film viewed by the right people, who would be able to commit funding, could help secure a future for an artist’s cherished project. They have also become a vital hub for networking, as well as a place to attend Q&A’s with established industry professionals. The impact these series of screenings can have on the career trajectory of an emerging filmmaker is hard to understate.

Sam Briggs has been lucky enough to catch up with Craig Higgins, Operations Director of Norwich Film Festival and Murray Woodfield, Director of the UK Film Festival, to seek their insight on the state of the festival circuit. As essential members of the teams which stage key festivals, both have a unique perspective on the state of our domestic filmmaking talent. They also look outwards to the international film community, whilst offering their views on the importance of keeping it local; the impact of Brexit and what their festivals are looking for when it comes to new submissions each year.

Miro Interview Film Festival

Kubrick By Candlelight (2017) Official Selection at the Norwich Film Festival (Credit: Redmond Barry Films)

In its 2018 edition, Norwich Film Festival screened 127 shorts, with submissions from over 35 countries and over 3,000 attendees. Craig Higgins, it’s Operations Director, talks to us regarding its undoubted success.

SB: In 2017, I was lucky enough to review the popular East Anglia Collection at your festival. How important is it for you to champion films influenced by the festival’s local region?

 CH: Hugely important! There is so much talent in the eastern region and we love having the opportunity to showcase outstanding films by amazing filmmakers. Being based in East Anglia, I believe we have a responsibility to champion these films and that we should be showcasing and supporting local filmmakers.

I also believe we have some of the best filming locations in the world and it is great for our audiences to see stories being made in the region. I am of the opinion that showcasing local films encourages local people to feel inspired to make film. The Norwich Film Festival (NFF) has an international reach so we feel incredibly honored that we can shout about local films on the world’s film festival stage.


SB: What does the NFF look for in movies aiming for official selection and awards at your festival that mark them out from the rest of your received submissions?

CH:  Firstly, it is important to say that as a festival we are always blown away by the films we receive. There is so much talent out there and we are beyond privileged that we get to showcase incredible films to our audiences in Norwich.

When we are selecting shorts, we are always looking for inspiring and creative films that challenge, entertain and offer something new for our audiences. It is fair to say that the strongest factor for selecting a film is the strength of the story. When judging shorts, it’s important that the film can engage the viewer from start to finish and if the film can do this, it has a good chance of being selected. However, we also need to be mindful of other factors such as direction, quality of performances, editing, pace and structure of the film etc. etc. There are so many factors to consider when judging a film, it is vital for the programmer to think about all of the above.

SB: How key are film festivals in offering an output for emerging filmmaking talent?

CH: They are so important. They offer filmmakers the opportunity to meet new artists, access film markets, attend workshops to support practice and development and, most importantly, provide that platform for filmmakers to screen their own films.

For emerging filmmakers who are submitting to festivals it also offers them a chance to win awards if their film is selected, and this can make accessing future funding so much easier. Whiplash is a great example. As a short film it played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Following its success, Damien Chazelle was able to turn it into a feature film which then went on to win three Academy Awards. Therefore, submitting to festivals is crucial in any filmmaker’s journey – they are the stepping stones to great success, work and recognition.

They also do a lot of promotion through film screenings and filmmaker interviews. This can increase a filmmaker’s presence on a global scale. For instance, here at the NFF we have over 18,000 social media followers with over 3 million impressions and we received over 70,000-page views to our website. Therefore, if a festival selects your film, then people visiting festival websites and its social media channels might just stumble across your film and this will subsequently create exposure.

Murray Woodfield, Director of the UK Film Festival (UKFF) spoke also with Sam about their core values of championing great films from filmmakers who might not yet have had the chance for a public screening of their work.

Screening in the heart of London, they celebrate the cultural diversity of films made in the UK and welcome films from all over the World.

Miro Interview Film Festival

Cruel (2018) by the Brazilian Fridman Sisters was screened at UKFF

SB: How importantly do you value the role of film festivals in offering an output for emerging filmmaking talent?

MW:   Arguably, film festivals are the main platform for emerging filmmakers. Success at festivals is probably the most effective way of attracting attention from the industry. This is not just at the festival itself but afterwards when the filmmaker is able to market themselves and their film as having won or been an official selection at various reputable festivals. The UK Film Festival has a long list of filmmakers that we have helped on their way to the Oscars, the Baftas, the BIFAs and success in the TV and Film industry in general.

SB:  This year the festival had a great deal of international submissions. How important is the UKFF’s ability to attract films from such a vast array of different countries?

MW:   Being an international film festival is really important to us because in a global world we want to reflect a wide range of cultures both from overseas and from within our UK community. We attract films from all over the world and have a particular interest in European productions. This has been enhanced by the fact that the UK Film Festival is the European Parliament’s festival of choice as the main organiser of the UK screenings of the Lux Prize finalists, which is an initiative to draw attention to the best in European Feature Films. We have organized this in London, and co-organised it in Leeds and Bath. The Lux winners often go on to win the Oscar for Best Film in a foreign language.

Sadly, Brexit will mean an end to our involvement in that initiative and the sponsorship we have had over the last 8 years from the European Parliament.

It should be said that although we are obviously an international festival it is very much our mission to discover and promote new filmmakers specifically from the UK.

SB: The UKFF runs a series of script competitions. Just how important an opportunity do you feel these sorts of contests are for aspiring filmmakers?

MW:   I can’t really speak for other competitions but our script competitions, including a 3 Minute Script; a 10 Minute (or less) Script; and a Feature Script, are extremely important because they are primarily set up to look for quality screenplays that can be passed onto directors and producers to get writers films made. Scriptwriters really struggle to find a way to get their work produced and we have a reputation for helping them do just that. We have had five of the winning Feature Scripts optioned which includes last year’s winner, The Canadian by Joadie Jurgova, which is now in pre-production.

Also, since the 3 Minute script competition began, each of the winning scripts has gone into production or pre-production and four of the writers’ resulting films have subsequently gone on to be multi-award winning at festivals around the world – including two Crystal Bears at the Berlin Film Festival as well as winning at Aesthetica Film Festival, the Bilbao Film Festival, Galway Film Festival and Underwire Festival. The films have been Official Selection in 41 other festivals and 2 have gained prestigious distribution deals.

Ultimately, festivals are an essential platform for the new talent ready to burst to the forefront. It’s of vital importance that they are here to stay.

Submissions are now being accepted by the Norwich Film and UK Film Festival’s for their 2019 competitions.