Monday, 11 January 2016

A Weekend at LSFF


Night Owls' listing in the LSFF programme
   I am very much in a sleepy haze as I write this blog post, as I arrived home in the early hours of this morning. I'm also in semi-dreamlike state because it's hard to accept the fact that Night Owls premiered at the BAFTA-recognised London Short Film Festival yesterday. Blimey.

  My first impressions of the festival, when I arrived Saturday afternoon, was "am I in the right place?". For a non-Londoner, Hackney Picturehouse seemed like a very out-of-town venue for a festival with London in the title. What's more, there was very little signage up to indicate that this was the home of the festival I've wanted to attend for years. There wasn't a photoboard up for people to pose in front of for Instagram. It felt like I was walking into a very dignified secret.

   But, in spite of the lack of decoration, the films really, really spoke for themselves. I've attended a lot of festivals over the years, and amongst a lot of good films, there have always been a few which were lower quality, in terms of production value and storytelling, and I have - in the past - wondered how some of these films managed to be accepted. 

   LSFF is not one of those festivals. Every single film is of an incredibly high quality, and the majority seemed to come from BFI, NFTS and iShorts. It made me very nervous to know that soon, amongst these polished, expensive-looking products, my low-budget Night Owls would be shown (although, it should be noted, they do also have a platform for very low budget films at the festival, featuring a great film by local-to-me filmmaker Luke Kondor).

   The first screening I attended, alone, was the 'F*cked Up Love' category of short films, and there is where the standard was set. All of them were beautiful little snapshots of how people interact when they are alone together, and it was great to see a piece amongst them from Five lamps Films regular Riyadh Hague, whose work I have followed for a while. A lot of the films in this category had a fairly similar aesthetic - hazy, hand-held cinematography with lens flares, a desaturated colour grade and jump cuts of cosy close-ups - but this is hardly a bad thing when the style suits the subject matter. 

   The highlight from this screening was, for me, Morning Has Broken by Simon Anderson - a portrayal of two people who escape a wedding after a chance encounter, and spend the early hours together. It was epic in appearance but intimate with its plot, even if it did end a tad abruptly for my taste.

   Next, I met up with The Dress actor Aislinn De'Ath (who was genuinely reading ghost stories by a fireplace when I caught up with her!) and her partner Rob Dukes. As well as lots of exciting planning for our next project together, we attended the late night screening of the 'Gothic' category of short films. 

   As the title would suggest, this screening comprised of a mixture of genre and styles: some horror, some fantasy, and some 'slightly odd drama'. It also gave the relatively lower budget films opportunity to share their stories - but, on the other side of the spectrum, we had a film by renowned photographer Tim Walker, in which Ben Wishaw poured out lyrical prose over memories of a stunningly-executed mermaid. I was keen to catch Rob Savage's latest offering, the short-but-perfectly paced Absence (starring none other than Paul McGann!), and Whisper by Jo Lewis was another highlight - terrifyingly jumpy at times, but featuring another well-realised, brilliantly crafted CG character.


Follow LSFF on Instagram for more photos from the event

   Sunday was Night Owls day, and so I was reunited with writer Tommy Draper, producer Lauren Parker and DOP Neil Oseman. Jonny McPherson, one half of the film's great cast, also made the screening, and Beeston Film Festival curator John Currie joined our party. I always get nervous when my films screen anywhere, but knowing how high the standard of the other films was, my nerves were worse than usual. (Not to mention the fact that the ticket sales were doing so well, they bumped it up to the biggest screen in Hackney Picturehouse, which was HUGE.) So I was very much glad of the company this time round.

   In spite of the fact that mine was one of the lowest-budget films screening in the 'Girlhood' line-up (apart from the simple but perfectly executed and charming Jellyfish by Sophie Littman), I think it held its own. I won't ever be 100% happy with any of my films, but I think Night Owls looked beautiful, even on a massive screen, and I heard people talking about Jonny's amazing performance afterwards.

  We couldn't help but feel like stowaways amongst the line-up. So many of them had prestigious funders attached, and a couple had named actors. As Neil put it, it was like we were 'new money' within a rich elite. Every single film in the Girlhood line-up was executed well and is worth a watch, and both Jellyfish (my personal favourite from the screening) and Offside by Jimmy Dean featured really accomplished performances from very young leads.


Lauren, Tommy and I looking very sleepy but happy after the screening.

   Is there anything I didn't like about LSFF? Not really; I could wax lyrical about it. As I said, the lack of signage was a little odd (after watching just three of the screenings, I thought there should be more of a commotion about the festival). And there was little opportunity to network with the other filmmakers, unless you attended some of the parties; the screenings were so popular that there was a crush to get in, and out, before the next line-up started. But ultimately, this has become one of my favourite festivals, and I hope I'm lucky enough to be part of it again one day.

   Myself and my team felt incredibly sleepy, but also incredibly proud by the end of the weekend (I had a late train home, but by an absolutely ridiculous stroke of luck, Tommy and I were booked on seats next to each other!!). None of us can believe what Night Owls has achieved already, slotting itself into a prestigious festival like a gate crasher at a party. I hope that we will get more laurels to our name soon. But even if we don't, we will always have LSFF.

Sophie

ps. Want updates about Night Owls as they happen? Simply 'like' the film's Facebook page.

London Short Festival is running until the 17th January, so you still have chance to catch some of their screenings (and I strongly recommend you do!). Check out the full line-up here.