The awarding of the People’s Choice to Timi Ajani and Hana Elias for their film The Search Party closed another creative melee (so much more dignified than a riot) of short film and celebration of local, regional and international talent that took place at the Exeter Phoenix for its Two Short Nights extravaganza -now in its 15th year.
The Exeter Phoenix Commission Premiere and Award Ceremony topped off the two days of screening, talks and events, featuring a wealth of talent across boundaries and forms. And the final screening featured commissioned film from a variety of sources and styles.
In the Devon Documentary Commission, Bus Stories by Simeon Costello was an enlightening and engaging adventure which followed him as he journeyed from John O’Groats to Land’s End, all on local public buses.
The Devon Short Film Commissions featured Luke Hagan’s Lord of the Logos, a documentary which shed light on the top Black Metal logo designer, Exeter-based Christophe Szpajdel. Also in this category was Timi and Hana’s The Search Party, a comic tale of identity and foreignness set on Dartmoor.
It’s amazing the range of emotions you can cram into just three minutes, as the Micro Film Commissions proved. Rupert Green’s Nightmare of Garhblach was a maelstom of spooky horror, while the emotional after-burners were in full-tilt for Dom Lee’s father and son story Rocketshed.
But the rollercoaster didn’t stop there. The RAW Film Commissions demonstrated contrasting and charged short films. Pink by Bethan Highgate-Betts was a touching and tender take on memory, identity and expression. While the intimate and moving documentary The Visions in the Dark by George Griffiths raised some much needed awareness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
Undoubtedly the commission screening (plus after party) was the biggest draw of the Two Short Night programme, but hot on its heels is the closing event of the first day -the screening of the 48-Hour Film Challenge flicks. With just 48 hours to produce a two-minute film under strict(ish) guidelines -the films had to contain the line ‘hide them well’, while also featuring a lightbulb, within a given style -a slew of creative, varied and fun-filled films lit up the big screen. The sense of joyous camaraderie filled the auditorium throughout the screening. Of course there were prizes, with the film Little Billy Matches (from a team including Lord of the Logo’s Luke Hagan) bagging top place.
Two Short Nights had kicked off with a Family Friendly screening, where the audience of youngsters were beguiled, not only by the wonderful quality (young people are very exacting), but also by the engaging and varied stories.
It was a complete change of pace for the International Perspectives screening, which featured shorts from the UK, Bulgaria, Russia (an Oscar nominee, no less) and Iceland/Denmark. With superb story-telling all round, it was from this selection that the Two Short Nights International winner emerged: the character study Red Light by Tomo Waszarow. Almost absurd, while feeling absolutely real, the film features the goings-on in a bus, the driver of which refuses to go through a red light.
While this screening was taking place, many of the movers and shakers of the filmmaking scene were getting their heads together at the Creative Hub Social in the Exeter Phoenix bar.
As another pointer to the depth and variety of films on show -and the extent of the Exeter Phoenix’s commissioning remit -the Artists Moving Image screening featured the premiere of the Exeter Phoenix’s Artists’ Moving Image Commission winner, Ben Tupper‘s A Mythology in Self Defense. Intimately, claustrophobically set within the confines of a car, the film explores male relationships (interdependent, confrontational and touchingly supportive), as well as filmmaking itself. ‘The film’s dialogue is directly transcribed from a conversation between French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and camera inventor Jean-Pierre Beauviala,’ says the blurb. Followed by an illuminating chat with Ben himself, this was a film that could stand its own in a film festival or art gallery setting.
Day two began with a fascinating and perhaps not so futuristic look at immersive video technology: that’s virtual reality and 360 filming to you. Combining the filming talents and experience of Cineon Productions, with the psychological nous of the University of Exeter’s Psychology department, the event gave an overview of the technology so far with a nod to potential in the future. We spoke to Cineon’s Toby de Burgh before the event.
At the same time, filmmakers were have their CV polished in the film CV surgery (sorry people -didn’t get to this, too busy being immersed in technology!)
As if that wasn’t enough professional development, the afternoon saw a panel discussion on how to finance your short film (which obvs also strayed into the world of financing your feature). The knowledgeable and tirelessly enthusiastic panel was chaired by Ohna Falby (producer at Life to Live Films), and included Matimba Kabalika (BFI Network Talent Coordination), Kate O’Hara (development and production executive, iFeatures/TV Drama eOne) and Mike Knowles (producer at Now Films). Key info to take away was to build relationships with funders, whoever they may be; get creative about fundraising; be passionate and professional about your filmmaking journey; and don’t take any knock-backs that you may encounter as the end of the story: filmmaking and fundraising is an ongoing and collaborative process.
Meanwhile, there were more International Screenings, with films from Spain, the UK, France, and Ireland.
Another chance to get down and dirty with real-life filmmaking -yes, that’s a Q&A, people -took place at the Local Talent screening, which included the premiere of Luke Jeffery‘s zeitgeisty Morris Dancing thriller Hell’s Bells. He was there alongside Will Shutt, writer and producer of Run it Off, about two people who gain strength by running away from the past, in a good way. And there was John Panton, whose Sleigh was a comically cynical (yet ultimately uplifting) take on the music industry and Christmas -ideal for this time of year, shot in summer.
But if you want drama, forget what’s on the screen. The most dramatic, nerve-wracking and spine-tingling event was the Animation Commission Live Pitch. Four animators had been shortlisted to pitch for the forthcoming Animation Commission. They had seven minutes to explain their vision, not only in front of a top-notch panel, but in front of a live studio audience, too -all of whom could grill the filmmakers. The tension was palpable, and could have been cut through with a clay-modelling knife. The selection of fascinating ideas covered all sorts of animation, plus themes, and came from filmmakers in different places in their career. Eventually, after much deliberation, Stephen Whittingham was selected to make his film Totem.
The breadth and depth of animation talent out there was on display in the Animation Abstractions screening. This was edge of your seat animation, and not for the faint-hearted!
If you’re getting that itch of inspiration, the Exeter Phoenix film commissions are now open for 2017, with applications open for Microfilm, Devon Short Film and the Artists’ Moving Image commissions. Pop along to the site to find out more, and let your imagination run wild.