The future of the festival

It’s like cooking a great meal. You spend hours preparing and cooking it and then it is all eaten in five minutes. Not to the mention the time you spend hunting out ingredients in the supermarket and pouring over your cookbooks. Film Northants is a similar affair. A year of planning and preparation goes into the festival and then it is all over in three hours, leaving you a little shell-shocked. It is also a bit like planning a wedding – year after year.

But it’s worth it. This year the feedback on the night and afterwards has been the most motivating to date. The word ‘inspirational’ has cropped up a number of times and the community emphasis has also been applauded. The very fact that literally anyone can have their film potentially screened at a mainstream cinema is the reason people enter the competition. It also inspires film-makers to believe in themselves and move forward onto bigger projects.

Each year I have the conversation with people about where the festival should go next. You should charge for entries they say, you should broaden the remit to cover outside Northamptonshire, you should make it international. Although I am always grateful to hear people’s opinions and feedback I think all of these remarks rather miss the point. There are hundreds of national/international festivals out there which appeal to professionals film-makers. Film Northants is not, and does not ever want to be, the next London Film Festival or Leicester International Short Film Festival. What would be the point? They do it well, so leave them to it.

The unique selling point of Film Northants is that it is parochial but that does not make it insular. It is a community event, not a commercial one – and it is about Northamptonshire not about film-making more generally. It is a festival for the film-makers rather than the audience. It is about raising the profile of Northamptonshire as a film location but also a place of talented film makers and film education courses. Take the Media Production degree at The University of Northampton which saw two of its students pick up top awards at Film Northants this year. The festival is also about being a starting point, a platform to showcase aspiring and up and coming film-makers from across the Northants community and most importantly inspire them to continue their great work whether it be as a hobby or a profession.

And to be honest the lines are blurring. The brilliant book Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe explores how all areas of society are harnessing the power of the crowd, and how in turn this is causing the lines between professional and amateur to disintegrate. Should Film Northants have an amateur and professional category? That is a discussion that the committee must have, but my feeling is that the two cannot be separated. What is a professional film-maker? Is someone who works in IT but films weddings for money at the weekend a professional? They are getting paid for their filming after all. And anyone who claims the “professionals” have an advantage have not seen our statistics. The winners of the Public Vote and Judges’ Choice award have been won by “hobbyists” just as many times as people making money from film-making.

This brings me onto the next point. Part of the reason the playing field has been levelled is technology but also the use of social media. The most proactive finalists will campaign for their film via social media, trying to get in as many votes as possible. Some may say fair play to them, whilst others may think this debases the prize. But think of the Oscars. Actors and directors actively court members of the Academy, whether it be indirectly through massive media campaigns or unashamedly direct by taking them out to lunch and telling them to vote for their film.

Again it is an issue that is raised with us in the feedback each year and the committee will discuss it once again this year, but the key thing to remember is there is always the Judges’ Choice award to counter the Public Vote. The prizes for both are now the same in monetary value and the trophies are the same size. They have equal weighting, they are simply voted for differently. The reason the Public Vote is entered to the Berlin Favourites Film Festival is because this is a festival for people’s choice winners only.  It is the favourite film of the people (Jeff Howe’s ‘crowd) and not the judges. But that is not to stop Film Northants making partnerships with other festivals which may accept entry from a favourite film of the judges.

On a last point of clarification, in relation to some of the feedback we have been getting re: the judges’ comments film. Some of you may have noticed the editing was a little strange in this film. This was not the fault of the editor. This was due to a technical problem with one of the cameras which meant that two of the judges were not on camera most of the time, although their audio was. The editor actually did a very clever (and time consuming) job of overlaying the audio on top of images that did not match. We could not go back and film the judging again because a) it would not have been spontaneous or authentic and b) we could not literally get the four together for a whole evening again, especially since the public vote was launched just a few days later. However lessons have been learned and next year we hope to improve upon the judges’ comments video again. That being said it was still a vast improvement on the basic judges’ comment film launched in 2010. However it is important to say that Film Northants is learning, improving and developing all the time, whilst trying to retain our ‘inspirational’ community ethos.

If you want to get involved or just find out more please come along to our AGM at the Cineworld bar, Sixfields, Northampton at 3pm, October 16th.

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