For the grand occasion of judging the 2011 Film Northants entries, there was no better place for fellow judges to get together than the splendid Winwick Hall in west Northamptonshire.
Tim Coley (film lecturer), Becky Adams (producer) and Stacey Swift (film-maker) gathered at the historic home of fourth judge Bruce Green (film reviewer) to verbally tussle over the 47 short films entered into the competition this year.
Four hours and several cakes later a shortlist of 12 finalists had been drawn up. But what a heated four hours…
Luckily enough Bruce Green has a fantastic cinema in his house so judges were able to watch the films on the big screen. Bruce has converted his cellar into a miniature cinema kitted out with a large screen, surround sound and several rows of actual flip-down cinema seats. There is even a microwave at the entrance to the cinema for making fresh, hot popcorn.
The judges began with the Under 16s films, a new addition to the festival, which proved a roaring success (in more ways than one – see The Tiger Escapes). The category was launched this year due to demand from film and animation groups wanting to level the playing field by competing with their peers. In previous years Film Northants has struggled to get many youth entries and a previous Schools category had to be dropped in 2009 due to lack of entries. But now the festival is four years old, independent and has a growing committee and team of volunteers, word seems to be spreading further. The new category saw 26 entries this year, even more than the Adult category for over 16s upwards.
The judges came to the meeting fully prepped having watched all the films several times in advance and having made copious notes about every single one of them. For some films they were largely in agreement, noting the pain staking work of the stop motion films, the inventive special effects of many of the shorts and the impressive improvisation of some of the actors. But for some films there was a lively, animated and often loud debate as the judges loved/loathed a particular short in equal measure. Judges tried to convince one another of the merits of their favourite film and battle to get it into the final six. Finally after many hours of discussion and re-watching of the films, a shortlist was drawn up – this included the winner and runner-up who will be announced on September 19.
Following advice from youth film clubs Film Northants decided not to open the Under 16s category to a public vote to avoid aggressive voting tactics and rivalries amongst entrants, particularly in the era of cyber bullying. However this will be under review in 2012 so we welcome any feedback on this judging approach.
After judging the Under 16s films the judges took a sandwich(a selection of tuna, egg and prawn, no less) and tea break before moving onto the over 16 entries. There were 21 entries in the Adult category – again a much higher response than previous years. Overall entries were up 130% compared to 2010 and there were 50% more films than the previous highest total set in the 2008 launch year. This enabled the judges to increase the number of finalists to 12 in total instead of the usual eight.
The judges commented on the exceptional standard of the Adult category films this year with many of the entries filmed on SLR high definition cameras making for a crystal clear picture and excellent depth of field. As prices of cameras come down the quality of filming is invariably and inevitably going up. But the judges did not judge the films on picture quality alone. They were interested in the whole package with creativity and originality being key. Fierce comments, criticisms and compliments were made about the standard of acting and the judges’ eager eyes and ears spotted continuity errors, lighting problems and sound malfunctions.
The judges were impressed with the number of films scoring their own soundtracks and using music to great dramatic or comical effect. There were also plenty of laughs and jumps to be had in all the right places as the films entertained the judges with their cinematic twists and turns. The judges also remarked on the preponderance of entrants which showed a liking for filming in parks particularly Abington Park and The Racecourse in Northampton.
Surprisingly however the over 16s entries were easier to judge than the Under 16s category, and there were only a couple of films that warranted heated debate. The top six shone through and all judges agreed that they readily deserved a place in the final. The six films will now be voted on by the public and a winner and runner-up will be announced at the red carpet awards ceremony.
The final task was the selection of the Judges’ Choice award from all 47 entries. This was the greatest moment of clarity in the whole judging process. The judges immediately agreed unanimously and wholeheartedly on the winner and all had nothing but praise for this outstanding film. But you will have to wait until September 19th to find out who the winner is…
The 12 shortlisted films will be announced on August 20th on www.filmnorthants.co.uk and you can vote for your favourite film in the Adult category via the website until September 5th.