The Devon film festival scene is focused on Two Short Nights and the View from Here, and screenings still make the majority of these festivals. South Devon filmmaker Robin Whenary stepped behind the curtain to find out how the selection process takes place and if there’s anything to be learned from watching days and days of short film Over to you Robin
When Lee Morgan asked if I’d like to help with the selection process for the D+CFilm Open Screening at Two Short Nights, and the View from Here festival, I jumped at the chance. As a maker of short films myself, which I regularly submit to festivals, it was a great opportunity to watch lots of shorts before they had been sifted through, and to observe the other end of the submission process.
If the films are to be projected on the big screen, technical quality is a vital consideration, but I was slightly surprised to find myself preferring some less technically accomplished films to those that looked great but had little or no content. But technical deficiencies mean the story or other elements have to be exceptionally good for it to stand a chance. Getting the right combination of content, form and execution is rare, but after all that is what filmmaking is about!
It was especially interesting to observe some general trends amongst the fiction films, according to what kind of filmmaker was behind them. Obviously there were exceptions, but some common factors became apparent.
Film school productions tended to have more dialogue and therefore be more theatrical, and have a lot of studio-bound interiors. They were also the ones most likely to have been shot on film, and tended to veer toward the safe and uninspiring. Tellingly, none were selected.
Some shorts that had received funding from regional screen agencies shared this to varying degrees, and more than one was hampered by derivative and undistinguished music, which can only have been designed to make it more commercial, but in fact damaged the film.
The work of independent professionals or semi-professionals tended to be visually impressive and have confident use of images and sounds, but sometimes it seemed wasted on a weak script.
The films by amateur, younger, and less experienced filmmakers by contrast often had inspired moments and promising ideas, but were let down by some aspect of the execution. Often poor sound or unsteady camerawork, or they were just trying to be too complex.
I was struck by the prevalence of two techniques in particular. One was the way the opening titles were displayed: many if not most films had the title a short way in, after the first few shots, rather than at the very start, and this became rather predictable. In certain cases it had the effect of pulling me out of the film slightly, just when I was starting to get absorbed. The other technique was also to do with editing: jump cuts within shots, by which I mean that the camera position remains the same but the editor has just cut sections out to speed up the action, as opposed to jump-cutting to another angle.
Selecting films is obviously as subjective as making them – some films we said ‘no’ to have been screened at many other festivals. The final selection for the D+CFilm Open Screening was down to Jonas and Stuart at Phoenix Media, working from our ‘yes’ shortlist. Needless to say they’ve made some decisions I disagree with, but it is certainly an eclectic bunch of films, which I look forward to watching on the big screen.
â€¢ Robin Whenary is an award winning filmmaker from South Devon, this is an edited version of an article that appeared on the D+CFilm Social Network
(image: above Robin Whenary)