INTERVIEW WITH… KELLEN PLAYFORD OF NORWICH FILM FESTIVAL
We do like a decent festival that’s on our home turf, and to show that not everything happens in London we wanted to speak to Kellen Playford of Norwich Film Festival to hear about what’s happening for the next edition, and how it all came about. Their late deadline is 31st October, so get submitting!
Tell us a bit about your job, and what you do…
I’m the director of the Norwich Film Festival, and I oversee the general production of the festival, but I also take on as much of the day to day running as I can handle, before delegating the rest to a team of dedicated volunteers. Having started with little to no knowledge of how to run a festival, I picked up most things via trial and error, and I like to have a hand in as much of the festival as I can. So, I maintain and run the website and social media, design any artwork and promo materials we use, handle submissions, book venues, organise events, and pretty much anything else which needs to get done. Thankfully, the other guys in the team are willing to get stuck in, so a lot of the time I can pass work on to them and know they’ll sort it out in time. Most of my time is probably spent watching films, which isn’t an awful way to spend a day.
Next year will mark the fifth happening of the festival. How has it changed since the beginning?
In our first year, we weren’t entirely sure on what we were doing, or how to go about it. We started out purely as a platform to screen a friend’s film, and it all expanded somewhat unexpectedly from that. In the first year, we had about 500 submissions from around the world, and we screen about 100 of them. About 40 were screened in special evenings throughout the city, and the rest we screened in a shop that we hired out for two weeks. We set up a mini cinema in the store and just played all the films on a loop from 9am to 5pm everyday, inviting the public to drop by whenever they wanted. We also screened features back then, which we don’t do now. Basically, we did a bit of everything, because we didn’t know what people wanted, but now we’re a lot more refined – we only screen short films (with a max of 25 minutes) and we have dedicated evenings so people know what to expect each night. I like to think I’m a lot more organised and efficient now, but the truth is I just have a great team of volunteers that take on a lot of the responsibility.
Can you spill the beans on anything we should keep an eye out for at the next festival?
Well it’s still very early days at the minute, but we are planning on expanding a lot, and not just during the festival period (10-25 April), but throughout the whole year. For example, our first event of the year is this month – we’re hosting a special Halloween screening of An American Werewolf In London at Cinema City. It’s part of a new tactic to host monthly screenings of classic films so that we’re not just an annual event, but a year-round event. We do have other ideas for the main festival in April though, including dedicate evenings for animated films, student films, and live action shorts, as well as the BAFTA Shorts Tour, but we’re also hoping to put together a couple of workshops where professional filmmakers will come up for a screening and tutorials for people interested in filmmaking. We’re also going to arrange as many Q&A sessions with filmmakers as possible, giving audiences another chance to learn more about the films they’ll watch.
Why should filmmakers submit to Norwich Film Festival?
We’re still quite new on the circuit, but we’re always adapting and trying to make the most of what we have. A few years ago someone asked me why they had to pay submission fees, and I had to explain that without them we wouldn’t be able to put on a festival at all. They appreciated that, but said it would still be cool if there was a way to get involved without paying – and so we created the One Minute Movie category. It’s completely free to enter and we look for the best film which is exactly 60 seconds long. It can be difficult, but it really tests a person’s ability. Two years ago, someone asked if we accepted screenplays – we didn’t then, but we do now. We’re hoping to give a platform to up and coming writers, so we offer a cash prize, and get their work in front of industry professionals to help them network. It’s easy enough to say that we offer cash prizes, but we try to do more for filmmakers. We want to help them along their career path and give them any advice or exposure we can, so we ask them for feedback so we can tweak the festival accordingly, giving people more opportunities in future. We give all films screened a full page on our website, with links, pictures, bios, videos, interviews, and whatever else we can fit, and we use social media to highlight up and coming filmmakers.
What’s your advice to someone who gets a rejection from a festival?
Try not to take it personally, and keep perceiving. I know that sounds simple, but filmmakers don’t often realise how difficult it is to run a festival, and if we reject a film, it’s often because we can’t screen it, not because we don’t want to. Last year, for example, we had over 400 films sent in to us (which was great), but due to our size, we could only afford to put on four or five evenings of films. That’s about 12 hours of content that we had to choose, from around 100 hours submitted. It makes the decision process really difficult, and we have to be ruthless, but that’s not always a reflection of your film. There’s every chance that your film could get selected for a dozen other festivals, so never stop submitting it. Another thing you should remember is that due to the amount we have to cut, you need to make your film stand out. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but if it’s different, we’re much more likely to select it. I can’t tell you how many dark-and-tense-dramas-about-male-loners-coping-with-death we’ve had over the last few years (too many). We might pick one or two, but any more than that and our whole audience goes away feeling depressed. Try making a comedy (we never get enough comedies), or a musical, or an abstract piece, or an animation, or Bollywood rom-com…
Tell us the best and worst part of your job.
One of the best parts is during the submission period when we get to watch all these great films from people all over the world. It’s quite inspiring to see how many people come together to make these films, and it’s a real honour to experience that. Sure, we have to watch a few less than perfect films along the way too, but I still enjoy it. The festival has also afforded me the chance to meet some amazing filmmakers from all over, and it reminds me how much of a community the filmmaking world is. Oddly enough, the days of the festival are the hardest for me, personally. After months of organising the events and inviting people, publicising things, designing things, promoting things, I get a bit stressed about whether or not it’ll turn out well and people will enjoy themselves. By the time I get to the cinema to watch the films I’ve already watched them all around 15-20 times, so my attention drifts to the audience and how they react (“There’s a good bit coming up, I wonder if they’ll like it,” “Why didn’t they laugh as much as I did then?”, “Did anyone else notice that reference to Indiana Jones?”) and it’s not really until the final night of the festival when I can sit down with a drink after the screening when I can relax.
Share with us one of your favourite films and tell us why you like it…
Over the year’s we’ve had some fantastic films screened. One of my very favourites is Ana’s Playground by Eric Howell. It’s a short about children in conflict zones, was in our first festival way back in 2009, and went on to win awards all around the world, and even got screenings at the Winter Olympics and the UN. From our second year, the highlight was undoubtedly a short film about a boy with a rare skin disorder called Sunny Boy by Jane Gull. This has also gone on to win countless awards, and we were so impressed with Jane, that we invited her on to our judging panel the next year (and every year since). She’s now in the process of making her first feature film, which will no doubt be another success. 2013 was a great year for us because the standard was so high across the board, including the likes of BAFTA nominated Island Queen (by Ben Mallaby) and animated gem I Am Tom Moody (by Ainslie Henderson, starring the voice of Mackenzie Crook), to a quirky little mocumentary that was one of my favourites, called David’s Fine (by Matt Holt). It’s hard to pick my favourite from last year, even now. In terms of scope, (Iain Forbes) is a brilliant futuristic tale about the world’s last bag piper, sent in the mountains of Norway, but then you have the wonderfully introspective piece by Jonny Phillips called Woodwoo about a tree surgeon coping with life. I’m already excited about the films we’ll have for 2015, and we’re only half way through our submissions period.
Thanks to Kellen for taking time to talk to us on the blog. Remember their LATE DEADLINE is 31st October, and the festival itself happens next April.
Kellen Playford graduated from Brunel University in 2006, went travelling, and then decided to launch the Norwich Film Festival as a one off event in 2009 after hearing the problems a friend had trying to organise a screening of a short film. After taking a break for a couple of years, the festival was relaunched in 2012 as an annual event for the whole of the Norwich Community. He divides his time between working on the festival, working at a cinema, and working on short film projects with friends. He is also in the middle of the very long process of writing a book.