The G7 were dribbling out of Cornwall when we chatted to Cornwall Film Festival – soon to be Mor Media – director Louise Fox. During the conversation, a helicopter landed in a nearby field, highlighting how those world-leading movers ‘n’ shakers had been filling bandwidth and creating a stir in the county. And that’s exactly what the Cornwall Film Festival has been doing since its inception, and what the name change reflects – the cultural bandwidth it fills and the stir it’s been creating.
The Cornwall Film Festival has grown to be a year-round multi-media fest of events and engagement, and the name change better reflects the breadth of that activity.
“When I first started, it was a weekend festival,” says Louise. The scope of her ambition for the festival saw it expand from one area to four venues all over Cornwall and to push the time boundaries it was delivered in.
“My role was also to reflect the changes within the British film industry,” she says. That meant working more closely with the BFI and the Film Audience Network to do that combo of supporting British film and getting audiences into cinema.
And while that was growing, the CFF was doing more with young people.
“You can’t have an arts organization or a media organization that doesn’t support young people,” says Louise. For film, that priority group is between 16 and 30.
“About four years ago, we put in Beacon Media Education Projects,” she says, which created a year-round programme of activities.
“With Mor Media, all the key areas that we cover have come under one banner,” says Louise. Those areas include community work, education & training and events that include the film festival itself, outdoor cinema, talks & Q&A’s and the fun stuff like dressing up to watch a film.
Part of the drive behind the Cornwall Film Festival was to push the film mind-map of the UK to go beyond Bristol. Louise noticed that big funders didn’t extend to vast swathes of the South West. With prodding and picking, that changed and the Cornwall Film Festival ran a BFI Film Academy for two years.
“From that work, I brought 25 young people aged 16-18 to the film festival,” says Louise, which gave plenty of them their first taste of a foreign film. One of the films they saw was the international festival hit My Skinny Sister When the young people went on to make their own film, there were echoes of that film in their own production.
It’s that kind of transition that shows how valuable creative inspiration can be.
“From script to screen, you could see how their work changed and developed after the film festival,” says Louise. “Having this development programme, where we do our local shorts or international shorts, people can see more aspirational work.
“We have this amazing development programme for young people supported by our trustee team – that see people come through programmes like screen stars of tomorrow or our youth jurors, they might volunteer or apply for an internship then.
“Often we give those people money to go out and do some work on a project on a part-time or full-time basis. So there is a clear progression for people coming into the industry.
The organisation has been an entry point into the media industry for many, including Joshua James Richards, a previous winner of the film festival, who earlier this year received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography for his work on Nomadland.
Former Cornwall Film Festival volunteer and intern Michael Roberts, who is now a marketing executive with The Guardian, said: “Without the nurturing of CFF executive director Louise Fox and the whole team, my career would not be in the position it is today.”
He added: “Mor Media has developed countless community networking sessions and training opportunities to help the industry thrive. Cornwall’s film and media industry is undoubtedly more vibrant, educated and flourishing thanks to the group’s work.”
Meanwhile, previous festival winner and volunteer Lawrence Donoghue said: “In 2019, I had my short film Flying Lessons screened and was lucky enough to be presented with a writing award. It was a huge boost to my confidence and felt like my voice had a place on the big screen.”
“I’d like to think that we’ve made a difference in the whole 20 years,” says Louise. “I’ve certainly seen in my time people going into production or going into great jobs. They’re not always in Cornwall which is quite sad – we’d like to see them come back and have more of an industry here.”
That 20-year legacy of the Cornwall Film Festival has made a lasting impact.
“I think we’ve always been more than a film festival,” says Louise. That isn’t just impact on their doorstep, but agility and international pull.
“With Covid, we transferred to the digital sphere quickly and easily. It allowed us to communicate with people right across the country and internationally. We’re not so geographically constrained – trying to get people to an event with poor public transport. We developed a strong programme of outreach work through talks and masterclasses, and got amazing support from the industry. Loads of big international directors and senior TV people jumped on board straight away. The move to Mor Media does represent all the work that we’re doing in media – films are a core part of what we do, but it’s not everything that we do.”
One of the ways they responded to Covid beyond being purely a film fest is with their Coronavirus stories in Cornwall.
“The Coronavirus stories in Cornwall represent the work we do with our communities,” says Louise. The community health and well-being elements of the work and the audio production doesn’t sit squarely in a ‘film fest’ nomenclature. And they have ideas about future projects.
“It’s been incredibly successful,” says Louise. “The whole project will go to the British Library. It’s an incredibly important social record of people living in Cornwall during Covid – it’s a project that isn’t film but it is a bit media.”
The Amplify film festival, where four film fests joined forces for an impressive digital offer was an example of agility, new ways of thinking and working together.
“I work in a very collaborative way,” says Louise. “I think it’s a key part of the arts. Amplify came out of some work that I did a couple of years ago with other film festivals, about coming together from across the country to form a Federation.” Louise sits on the board of the Uk Film Festival Federation which is the network of film federations right across the country.
Each member of Amplify brought their unique and slightly different skills and for CFF that was a combo of their work with young people and industry.
“It was as hard to put on a digital film festival as it was to put on a physical film festival,” says Louise. “It was bigger and it was incredibly rewarding and successful.” And together the four partners were able to offer films and talks that individually they would not have been able to provide.
There are hopes that Amplify will continue – Mor Media owns the digital platform it was delivered on – but not this year. There’s a focus on in-person cinematic events.
“We’re part of this national campaign to get people back into cinema. If we don’t, we will lose cinemas,” says Louise.
They do have a track record of enticing people into dark rooms.
“We’ve seen our audiences grow and grow,” says Louise.
“Our diversity is way above a Cornwall average. We reach people right across the board. I love the fact that when we’re in a physical film festival space there’s somebody at the beginning of their career and somebody that’s been there forever. Everybody mingles, everybody stands next to one another on an equal basis, and that’s fantastic.”
That mix of audience extends to those who wouldn’t usually see an independent film, or see a director speak, but the experience allows them to get a sense of how much work is involved in the magic of making a film.
“Growing audiences is part of what we need to do as a charity to support all the other work. We have to drive audiences and new audiences and find new ways to do that,” says Louise.
Key to that new audience are the films Louise manages to attract.
“I want exclusivity in the film festival. The premiere status of a film in the region is important to me,” she says. And notable attendees include Mike Lee, who has been at the festival a couple of times. His Peterloo talk was pretty special. says Louise, who is also a big fan of special events, like the Blues Brothers screening where the audience had to put on a tie, or the screening of Jaws on Porthmeor Beach with a pedal-powered cinema or a silent screening, where everybody had to wear headphones.
But it’s fact rather than fiction where the future could lie.
“I’ve got a passion for documentaries. I think it’s an area that we could develop,” says Louise. “There are so many issues out there in the South West. I think it could be an area that we could develop a lot of solid documentaries. I want to win awards for document makers.”
There’s talk of Cornwall vying for City of Culture status and with the Cornwall Film Festival being a key event in the county’s cultural calendar, there’s a feeling, from us at least, it should be a big part of that. But Louise also has international ambition.
“I would like to see our events develop into star-studded large scale events,” she says. “We all live here and that should be part of any arts organization – to work in the community, closely and collaboratively, not just satellite in and satellite out like many of the productions coming to film here.”
top image: executive director, Louise Fox
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