A Tale of Two Festivals: Birds Eye View & Flatpack

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LSFF's Philip Ilson previews two exciting and essential film festivals coming up in March and April

FRAYED (Georgina Oakley), screening in Birds Eye View British Shorts programme

With January’s 11th London Short Film Festival a distant memory, 2014 well under way with spring in the air, and both the Oscars and the BAFTAs out of the way, it’s time to take stock of the world of film festivals. These days, there is no festival season as such, as they’re taking place constantly week in, week out. With just two months into the new year, we’ve already had two biggies: Sundance and the Berlinale, and in the world of short film Clermont Ferrand 2014 is history too. But as the LSFF monthly newsletter highlights, film festivals are an on-going activity, and two festivals happening in March and April are worth highlighting here; both have grown (like LSFF) more organically out of a passion for cinema exhibition, and both were set up in answer to areas that their founders believed there was no or little representation. And both are now established and respected on the circuit.

Birds Eye View takes place in London from 8 – 13 April. Founded by filmmakers Rachel Millward and Pinny Grylls in 2002, it was set up to celebrate women film directors and filmmakers and to create “a positive response to the fact that women make up only 7% of directors and 12% of writers in the film industry”. Initially a showcase for short film, the actual Film Festival was set up in 2005 and has been a staple of the London festival circuit ever since, and now with a new Director at the helm: Kate Gerova.

Since 2002 there has been a lot of discussion and positive steps regarding women in the film industry: We’ve seen a woman director win an Oscar (Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty in 2013), and names in the Hollywood film industry from Geena Davis to Joss Wheedon to Jennifer Lawrence all campaigning for more women in the industry. In documentary, things are looking healthy, with a near equal balance helped by the success of filmmakers such as Kim Longinotto, Lucy Walker and Alison Ellwood.

Short film also has a healthier percentage of women filmmakers; in 2013, 35% of the films screening at the London Short Film Festival were directed by women (and we held an event at that year’s Underwire Festival to discuss this). Birds Eye View have always championed short film, and LSFF is co-promoting their British selection of shorts this year.

The five shorts selected are a strong on powerful drama: Dee Meaden’s epic Some Things Mean Something finds serious meaning in sentimentality, and at 33 minutes long it transcends the typical short film length to create a moving portrait of a young man with learning disabilities.

Moira Buffini’s Father (starring Michael Smiley and Antonia Campbell-Hughes) is a fast-moving black comedy about a fallen priest on the run finding himself at the door of an old flame and face to face with her daughter. Both films concentrate on the male protagonist (the young disturbed man in Some Things Mean Something and the priest in Father), but both have the supporting women roles integral to the plot development; the mother in Some Things… is increasingly frustrated by her son’s insistence that his estranged father is trying to get in touch with him, and the spunky mother and daughter in Father give as good as they get to Smiley’s con-man.

Georgina Oakley’s Frayed could be seen as a more traditional ‘women’s film’, as it concerns a women on a bus who cannot keep her demons at bay; using a mix of live action and animation, it’s an original piece of work that shows how inventiveness can be used in shorts.

The Bird’s Eye View UK shorts programme takes place on Saturday 12 April, 1pm at the BFI Southbank  

The Festival has a tagline of “girls, guns, artists, icons”, and scanning further through the brochure the Birds Eye View women focussed brand gives us a wide variety of cinematic activity, from silent films with live scores by women jazz artistes, a partnership screening with LSFF faves I Am Dora of the lost 1978 New York gem Girlfriends (a favourite of Lena Dunham), a focus on veteran British animator Joy Batchelor (co-director of the classic Animal Farm), and the latest in women directed features. And LSFF fave Destiny Ekaragha screens her debut London-based feature Gone Too Far, a fresh funny take on culture clash on the streets of Peckham.

Flatpack Festival in Birmingham (20 – 30 March) was founded in 2006, but also grew out of many years of Festival Co-Director Ian Francis running film events across Birmingham under the 7 Inch Cinema banner. The 7 Inch Cinema multi-media events took place in the Rainbow pub in Digbeth, a depressed post-industrial area of the city with small industry workshops and warehouses that are now becoming galleries, pop-up restaurants and shops. 

Flatpack definitely feels like a passion for its team, as the programme is described as a ‘state of mind’ rather than a festival. This is where audiences can trust a brand; if Flatpack says it’s cool and worth watching, then it must be, even if it’s something you’ve not heard of before. For example, for 2014 there is an evening dedicated to Saul Bass (best known for his titles work for Hitchcock and Kubrick, but a filmmaker in his own right), an archive programme themed around rough seas, Sellotape Cinema (which sounds intriguing in itself!), a Bob Stanley (St Etienne) curated double-bill of music docs, a retrospective of New York avant-garde filmmaker Henry Hills (who will be in conversation with Vivienne Dick), and a whole lot more. What’s exciting is the hotch potch aspect of the programme that makes total sense under the Flatpack banner. A lot of this stuff can probably be researched and found, but we don’t need to do it, as Flatpack have done it for us and are presenting it to us like a well prepared banquet or a present of everything that we’re going to like and get excited about. This is a uniqueness that I aspire to when curating at the London Short Film Festival, but Flatpack are one of the few UK film festivals that can successfully do this.

BIRDS EYE VIEW, London (8 – 13 April)

FLATPACK FILM FESTIVAL, Birmingham (20 – 30 March)