Cornish Slates is a screening and networking opportunity for local filmmakers. With its third installment ready to drop, we chatting to organiser Jonny Dry about the set up, the success and the future of film in Cornwall
D&CFilm: What is Cornish Slates, who’s behind it and how did it come about?
Jonny Dry: I’ve been running Cornish Slates since it was first set up in 2018 to provide a platform for local filmmakers to connect with each other, alongside an opportunity to screen their work. One of my early criteria for running such events was for them to be free for those attending. I wanted the barrier to entry to be as low as possible and so was fortunate to get a small grant from Cultivator who administer funding from the European Regional Development Fund, HM Government, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.
The event itself was always designed as a celebration and showcase of the grassroots film industry in Cornwall. Providing a way for filmmakers to feel part of a community that actively supports one another. It came out of conversations and feelings that I had after graduating that there was little to step on to as a director, producer or writer. Having come from a very supportive student environment I wanted something that could provide a similar sense of community for those working or aspiring to work in the local industry. Networking is often daunting and I want these events to feel as open and as friendly as possible, we’re not pitching for funding or meeting industry execs but creating lasting connections with people from a similar mindset.
My own background is firstly as a film director and screenwriter with four films produced in Cornwall, but also as 1st AD on short and feature-length drama further afield in Bristol, London and the northwest. However, I am immensely passionate about making film as socially conscious as possible, both in the subjects that I write about and the way that it is ultimately put together, Cornwall is a great place to continue doing this. I am finding myself increasingly drawn to human stories that explore modern-day isolation, loneliness, and relationships, and I guess Cornish Slates is just a practical extension of my work as a director; trying to find ways for us all to feel part of a community and finding those people who we really connect with.
D&CFilm: This is your third instalment, have you seen any changes in the sort of films submitted?
Jonny Dry: We get a huge range and each time we open for submissions more films come in which is a good sign. The biggest change I’ve seen, which is what I’ve actively pushed for from the start, is getting a broad range of work that encompasses the very bottom to the very top.
For our first instalment, we had emerging filmmakers with their first projects screening alongside Oscar-winning film The Silent Child. For me Cornish Slates should be providing a road map that shows filmmakers potential roots for developing their practice and career. In this third instalment, we’re already seeing more of this range of work, with personal passion projects shot on a shoestring submitted alongside fully funded indie productions. We should all have one hand out behind us providing support to those who are coming along behind and Cornish Slates is again part of that growing vision that I have; where the mystery surrounding getting a project to screen is taken away and filmmakers stand in a line of progression that anyone can look at and see how making a living from film can be achieved.
D&CFilm: Getting your film screened is great, especially when combined with a networking event. How important have you found it is for filmmakers to get together to create a community feel and help generate new projects? And how successful has Cornish Slates been in that?
Jonny Dry: We’ve been hugely successful in the short term. There have been a number of excellent connections made at Cornish Slates that have been a factor in a number of films being made locally. The attraction of these events is inevitably getting work shown on the big screen, however, I’m trying to make clear that the most important thing people can do is attend as you never know who you might meet. Even if you’re not screened the event afterwards in the bar is a great informal atmosphere and where the real long term benefits can be found.
I’m very aware though that there are real challenges on the horizon which I need to figure out. The hardest thing, and something that I’m trying to work hard at solving, is making the community sustainable. Practically it’s impossible to shine the light on everyone who books a ticket or submits a film, but I’m trying to find ways of continuing to grow the community that also keeps people coming back. In many ways that is largely down to the community taking ownership of it, maybe going for a beer after the formal event finishes or arranging to meet for coffee. That sort of stuff is where real connections are made and friendships develop. Cornish Slates can keep running and providing a formal structure through which to encourage people, but what will make it really sing is if familiar faces keep coming back time after time.
D&CFilm: What sort of opportunities are there for Cornish filmmakers?
Jonny Dry: Tons and it is continually growing. I’d urge anyone looking for more detailed information to come to the event as we’ll be having a full presentation on the kinds of support available. But in short New Creatives, BFI, Cornwall Council and Exeter Phoenix are just a few that provide film funding. For graduates as well Falmouth University provides some post-education support. Beyond formal funding schemes though I think there’s countless opportunity if people think a little left of field about organisations, people and companies they might be able to pitch an attractive concept to. That’s not to say it’s easy, but looking to broaden your network is the key.
D&CFilm: This is one of our perennial questions, what’s the role of the artist / filmmaker in society?
Jonny Dry: For me, put simply, to reflect and distort the world around them. I read an awful lot of literature and a concept I continually return to is from Virginia Woolf, who writes in a 1919 essay about how literature should be a vehicle for exploring the cracks in everyday life; those things we cannot explain and can often only feel. There’s a tendency as a filmmaker to get drawn in to making work and presenting worlds that are perfect in their form and content. I caught myself the other day criticising a film I felt was lacking in a few narrative elements and character traits, yet on deeper reflection realised that this was precisely the reason I found myself so drawn to it. Life is not perfect, as much as we would like it or are told it should be, and the job of any artist is to try and be comfortable exploring those imperfections.
D&CFilm: Through Cornish Slates, what has made you smile or surprised you?
Jonny Dry: Two things immediately spring to mind. Naomi Frears‘ submission to vol. II; Doom, Theft and Other Stories (Eight very short films), if you can find Naomi or the work online go and watch it, it’s nothing like you’d expect but makes you laugh and think. Then secondly was hearing Cornwall My Home sung in Cornish in Zoe Alker’s submitted film Yn Mor. That, in particular, made me feel perhaps more vividly than anything else in recent years that there is a growing momentum in the Cornish film industry down here, one that is determined to make powerful regionally focused work that can compete at the highest level.
D&CFilm: What criteria is there to send your film to Cornish Slates?
Jonny Dry: Criteria are very open:
Drama or docs under 20mins long and produced in Cornwall in 2019/2020. Submissions should include:
- a password protected online screener link
- a short paragraph on how the film came to be made
- a brief synopsis of the film
- key creative talent and cast
- completion date
Deadline for submissions is midnight on the 1 March 2020. Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
D&CFilm: The screening and networking event is at the Poly on March 25 – is there any way to catch up with the films or filmmakers if people can’t make the event?
Jonny Dry: We’ll be covering our selected films on social media in the run-up to the event and we’re always open on our email for people to ask questions. Further support and advice is available through Cultivator and I urge any filmmakers in the region to get in touch with them as they can provide excellent guidance to all.
D&CFilm: What’s the future for Cornish Slates, and for Cornish films?
Jonny Dry: After our screening on the 25 March we’ll be gearing up for our fourth instalment on the 10 September, again at the Poly in Falmouth. Beyond that, assuming we continue to receive funding, I’m keen to take the event beyond Falmouth and to other areas of Cornwall who might otherwise lack such an opportunity.
For the industry more broadly who knows? What with Mark Jenkin winning a BAFTA, Screen Cornwall setting up in 2019 and interest from large UK and American production companies looking to shoot in the county, I think the future is bright. Amidst all of this though Cornish filmmakers have to keep a handle on what makes Cornish film unique, not just the landscape but issues and characters that resonate locally.
D&CFilm: Thanks Jonny! Sounds really exciting with some great films!
Cornish Slates is at The Poly Falmouth on March 25. Get your films in by March 1.