It’s a fast changing world we’re living in; so fast that I quite often question the need for such speed. It’s easy to sit back and reminisce about the good ‘ol days before we were on the end of a mobile phone, we had just 3 TV channels and if you wanted to go shopping you had to actually go to the shops. But at the same time it’s pretty cool! Spending too much time languishing in the past and accidentally missing the opportunities of today is a waste.
I run a fairly large adventure film festival in Sheffield (funnily enough it’s called the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival). You may wonder what the speed of technological progress has to do with the importance of visiting film festivals. Let me explain.
Go back 25 years to when the original mountain film festivals started up. There were far fewer people taking part in the activities that form the core of mountain or adventure sports, therefore there were fewer people making films about them and subsequently fewer film festivals. It was a small world and a no-brainer to send your film to the festival who would consider screening it. Compare to today: every adventurer and his adventurous dog has a video camera of some description (plenty of them all singing all dancing high definition beauties) and a computer to edit with. It still takes a lot of effort to knock out a film, but it’s not rocket science. That said, the best films clearly have an element of craft to them that does not come on the back of a cornflake packet or a Youtube tutorial. Thus there are a lot, lot, lot more films. Thus there are a lot, lot more festival. You’d think it would be easy to sit back and wait for the films to come rushing in as filmmakers wanted to screen their films, but there are a few hurdles. Festivals don’t make much (if any some years!) money so don’t pay filmmakers much and filmmakers need to make a living. If you want to get your film shown to a large audience sending it to a festival with an audience of a few hundred isn’t really going to achieve that. Video-sharing websites are a much better way of achieving the latter, and with a little bit of nouse on the sponsorship front, can achieve much better returns than a cash prize from a festival if your film manages to beat the opposition. As a result plenty of filmmakers are now doing both: submitting to festivals and uploading to the web. You’d have thought on the face of it that would kill the festival crowd, but it hasn’t and it won’t.
Why? Partly because even if you have a 42” screen and are downloading HD films via the net it’s never going to compare with a big screen at a cinema, with a professional in-house sound system. Even if you get a few mates around to watch at home with you, the atmosphere won’t compare to a full-house of mildly inebriated small groups of friends who, once one person laughs or sighs, sets off the rest of the audience. In the same way that I hope technology won’t kill the good old paperback, I don’t think that big screen cinema will die either. No amount of technological advance can replace a crowd of real, living, breathing, laughing, crying people.
Another reason is that we do the work of finding the films for you. Sure, you could spend a few days trawling Youtube for the best clips, but a) you haven’t got the time, b) when you find them, or are sent them by a friend, they quality is often lacking and you might get some buffering, and c) you certainly won’t find as many as we festivals can. We’ve spent years developing mailing lists for as many film makers as we can and are pretty good at ferreting out more every year. This year ShAFF is negotiating with some 200 filmmakers and I’m pretty excited at the line up that’s taking shape. Some you can see at other festivals, some will be on the net, some you can buy, but rest assured that there will be some premieres, plenty you have never heard of, and they will be all shown on a big screen and you’ll be able to share them with other people from the community you love.
I guess there’s also the other stuff that takes place at a festival. The speakers, the kit sales, the exhibitions and the competitions. You don’t get them on a DVD!
Kendal Mountain Festival kicks off tonight.
There will be a selection of the best films from Kendal showing at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham on Dec 5th and a selection of the Best Of ShAFF 2010 at The Showroom in Sheffield on Dec 6th (and another on Feb 7th) ShAFF itself is on the weekend of 4-6 March.