With a brand new location of the recently built Lighthouse Cinema in Newquay and a strong line-up of films this year, Cornwall Film Festival was bigger and better than ever for its 10th anniversary. This year the festival paid particular attention to some low-budget gems including Sundance sleeper hit Bellflower (2011) and UK films the dark Kill List (2011) and darkly comic Black Pond (2011). There was also a distinct focus on females in film, those that write and direct such as Lynne Ramsey, We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), and Larysa Kondracki, The Whistleblower (2010), as well as the writers of the books the films are adapted from and the female characters at the centre of the stories. Documentaries were also included in the line-up with South West Premieres of a variety of films including the highly anticipated new Errol Morris doc Tabloid (2010). There was also a special screening of BFI Archival Folk films, rare films from the BFI National Archive and Regional Film Archives with footage from various locations and events in Cornwall.
Of course the Cornwall Film Festival wouldn’t be such if it wasn’t for the Cornish films being showcased and this year felt particularly strong with the inclusion of two Cornish feature films, Mark Jenkin’s subtle drama Happy Christmas (2011) and Brett Harvey’s comedy horror Weekend Retreat (2011). There were also a multitude of shorts in competition for the much sought after awards which include the Delabole Slate Golden Chough Award for the film that best captures the spirit of the Festival, the ‘On the Edge’ Jury Award for the best short experimental, art or non-narrative film and the ‘Eye Toons’ Spider Eye Animation Award for the best UK animated short film. For a full list of all the awards and the winners visit the website http://www.cornwallfilmfestival.com/.
The festival is a brilliant opportunity for students in the region to get involved in any way they can, whether it is making their own short film to submit to the festival, helping with the marketing and promotion of the festival (the festival trailer was created by University College Falmouth student Sophie Graham) or volunteering, it certainly offers some fantastic opportunities. But it’s not all about the students, this festival has something for every film fan with a particular focus on retro classics this year including Peter Jackson’s sublime Heavenly Creatures (1994) and Terrence Malick’s 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven as well as talks, workshops and Q and As, the three days are packed full of a variety of things to see and do.
There was a great atmosphere in the huge cinema foyer as everyone gathered for the 10th anniversary birthday celebrations with a locally made cake and locally made cider as well as the presence of the Mayor of Newquay. There was also lots of support for the locally made feature films with screenings packed full of friends, family and locals excited to see the films on the big screen for the first time. Perhaps one of the most exciting screenings, and also completely full, was the South West Premiere of Ramsey’s We Need to Talk About Kevin which was followed by a Q and A and book signing with author Lionel Shriver, whose book of the same title the film is based on.
With networking events, a diverse programme of films and an awards ceremony the festival feels like it is really establishing itself as a proper platform for Cornish and international films. There is a great community spirit behind it which is wonderful to see and feel but the festival also has a professional air about it, particularly with its new location. It is inspiring and delightful to see so much home grown talent and also brilliant to see the festival growing each year. I advise anybody who is passionate about film to treat themselves to a few days in beautiful Cornwall for this cultural delight of a festival.
Festival Director Donna Anton, who has directed the Cornwall Film Festival since 2009, spoke to me about the festival this year and important issues in film at the moment.
Flickfeast: This is the 10th year of the festival, what have you done to ensure the festival is stronger than ever?
Donna Anton: We worked very hard to raise funding this year, which is scarcer than ever, and tried to improve publicity and marketing (though this area can still be massively improved). We expanded the short-film competitions from two to seven and thus attracted more sponsors and wider filmmaker interest, and we increased the number of feature films and documentaries, many of them in preview. We also pounced on the opportunity to move the Festival to the new cinema in Newquay, which allowed us to expand programming options with its four all-digital screens, while the cinema’s large foyer is ideal for festival exhibits, socialising and networking.
Finally, on the administrative level, my assistant, festival manager Tiffany Holmes, and I have now delivered three festivals in a row — so we have the unprecedented opportunity of learning from mistakes and building on our successes. In the previous seven years the Festival had never had the same director two years in a row.
FF: A lot of the films this year have themes of gender and darker themes of murder running through them. Were these recurring themes intentional when selecting the films? Can you tell us a little bit about your selection process?
DA: Films reflect the zeitgeist, and themes of gender exploration as well as darkness and miserablism — comic or otherwise — may be a by-product of our difficult times. These themes were not intentional but in fact were cobbled together from the titles currently available through distributors.
We’re basically a short-film fest, but we’ve increased the number of features and documentaries the last several years to grow the general audience. I tried to select a cross-section of titles that were interesting and/or provocative — most of which already had good advance press. In most cases, these are films that will not be seen on a big screen in Cornwall, unless shown at the Poly (RCPS, Arts and Science Venue Falmouth) or picked up by a film society (i.e., Penwith FS in Penzance). In short, based on availability and projection format, I compiled a programme of films that would engender discussion or inspire, not just entertain or horrify. If there had been available some well-made romantic stories or comedies, I would’ve included them — but there weren’t!
FF: You have said that this year there has been a particular focus on female filmmakers with a range of films directed and written by females and also a lot of strong female characters included. Do you feel it is particularly necessary to promote these and if so why?
DA: Absolutely. Women filmmakers are vastly underrepresented, and their work needs to be promoted and supported. The most common statistics found online: in 2009, women accounted for 7% of directors, 8% of writers, 17% of exec producers, 23% of producers, 18% of editors, and 2% of DOPs. These are crushing ratios. Remember, the first and only female director to win an Oscar was Kathryn Bigelow in 2009. Complex, interesting female characters are also in the minority.
The fact that we began a short-film competition this year for female directors, Reel Women, is even important with the sad news that Birds Eye View film festival lost 90% of its public funding last week, as reported in the Guardian:
Birds on a wire
Meanwhile, there was terrible news for the Birds Eye View film festival. After nine years celebrating the achievements of women film-makers, the event has had 90% of its public funding slashed. In shock, festival co-founder Rachel Millward has cancelled the 2012 event and is now working on finding a saviour. Festival patron Gurinder Chadha was sad to hear the news but determined to help restore the festival. She told me: “Birds Eye View has shone a light on so much female film talent that might never have been celebrated otherwise and it deserves to be back soon.”
FF: With two strong Cornish feature films screening at the festival this year, do you feel Cornwall is developing a reputation and a community of talent that could start to be recognised nationally and possibly internationally one day?
DA: I believe it is, especially if Happy Christmas and/or Weekend Retreat do well at one of the more prominent film festivals, like Sundance. But Weekend Retreat, for instance, took Brett Harvey four years to make, so if Cornwall’s growing reputation for talent is to be perpetuated, other upcoming filmmakers need to be supported too.
FF: The festival gets bigger and better each year, what future plans are there for the festival?
DA: Much depends on funding and sponsorship. Check back with us in the spring!
Black Pond (2011)
Days of Heaven (1978)
Happy Christmas (2011)
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Kill List (2011)
The Red Machine (2009)
The Whistleblower (2010)
Weekend Retreat (2011)
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
A big thank you to Donna Anton and Festival Manager Tiffany Holmes for access to this year’s festival and cooperation throughout.