St. Kilda Film Festival and Short Filmmaking in Australia… the Director’s Point of View: Interviewed – Judy Schreiber Judy Schreiber June 2000 Festival Reports Issue 7 (1) What year(s) were you festival director? 1996. (2) What kind of activities did you do, or were you responsible for, as festival director? Too numerous to mention – everything! (3) What were the challenges you faced? Ditto, see above. (4) What combination of elements do you think makes for a successful short film festival? Batch of good quality films, stimulating forums, retrospectives and sidebar events. Healthy attendance by filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors, and industry representatives, including funding bodies, sponsors etc. All these people, mixed with a passionate film audience, makes for a successful event! (5) What role do you see the short film as playing within a filmmaker’s career? How important is the short film? Vital! I have not seen many successful feature filmmakers make it without cutting their teeth on one or two shorts. Actually, some of them should have kept to the short medium, as their transfer to features has not always proved successful. Sorry, tact will not allow me to name names. Anyway, who says features are the ultimate career move for all? Sure features have more potential to turn a profit but as far as a valuable viewing experience is concerned, many short films succeed where the big format fails. I relish in the good short, that is, a small idea, well scripted and which is visually creative. Short filmmakers should keep in mind that they have a better chance of succeeding when heeding to another short film principle, i.e. don’t try to make a short into a trailer or mini feature! (6) What do you think are the great challenges that confront the filmmaker when making the leap from the short film to the feature? Script – Script – Script. Take in all the elements pertaining to the story-script. Good feature story (as opposed to a short) – Develop it – Edit it! Surround yourself with like-minded and competent people who understand your vision and will work on the SAME film as you. (7) What role do you think the St. Kilda film festival plays in the Australian short film scene? Vital. Showcases the largest selection of shorts that Australia has to offer. (8) How important do you see the festival in the context of the Australian film industry? It is the oldest and largest; it promotes our industry and is of great cultural significance, so what more can I say? Only that short films are not usually given much exposure and festivals like the St. Kilda Film Festival opens them up to a wider audience. Maybe, if lucky, there is a distributor or exhibitor in the audience that can pick up a film theatrically or for a TV network. (9) How does St. Kilda film festival compare with the myriad of other short festivals in Australia? See above. Top marks for endurance and forever evolving and opening the Festival to international programs. But keep screening the Australian retrospectives! It is vital that emerging filmmakers are forever made aware of their rich cultural history! (10) How does it compare internationally? I have attended Clermont-Ferrand in France. The buzz and a good percentage of the films were outstanding. Everyone from the Festival organisers and interpreters were courteous and charming. Let’s face it, it’s France so what more can I say? The buzz at the St. Kilda Film Festival is good but generally contained within Australia. Inviting overseas guests to attend the Festival opens up the Festival by creating more international awareness. It also gives filmmakers the opportunity for broader networking. The Clermont-Ferrand market place was an experience to behold. Filmmakers stalking you and shoving their VHS tapes in your face, pleading for you to watch their precious films that did not quite make it into the festival. A booth was set up to enable filmmakers to show their rejects! Interesting thought…I wonder how this would go down at St. Kilda? (11) How has the festival grown since you were director? What would you attribute this to? I had a record number of 152 shorts selected for screening in 1996 so the Festival has grown from strength to strength. Side bar events, forums etc. have also attributed to opening up the Festival. Introducing International programs is a healthy new initiative as long as it does not diminish the number of quality Australian films selected for screening. Given the programming restraints, I would not like to think that good Australian films are “bumped out” in favour of the International programs. This may be overcome by expanding the festival to one week. (12) Do you think that the tremendous growth in short filmmaking since the early ’90s has made any impact on the kind of films now being made and screened? Is there any real innovation or real accomplishments in short filmmaking going on? Has the format’s function become solely as a training ground or a calling card for feature filmmaking? Tricky question! I guess in my diverse capacities as director of the Festival, independent film producer, various other roles in the industry and general film lover, I am most discouraged by the quality of most shorts being produced over the last decade. In the main, quality has been set aside and replaced by the one gag, gimmicky, formulaic and, yes I’ll dare to say it, quirky film. Festivals like Tropfest have a lot to answer for and can be directly responsible for this dismal approach to a lot of short filmmaking. Unfortunately this disease is even infecting our feature film industry. Good scripts appear to be passed over for commercial, financial and marketing concerns, thus effecting the calibre of films exhibited. Over the last two years, I can only name three Australian feature films that I can be truly proud of. The light, however, for short filmmaking seems to be in animation and documentary. These are forever growing and evolving. Let’s look at why these forms are thriving whilst the short drama is floundering. Maybe the answer lies in that short animation and documentary are, in the main, primarily not chasing the “future feature deal”. Their commitment to their craft and subject is of prime concern. This also goes for experimental films. Where has the experimental film format gone? Experimental films in exhibition have seen a slow death over the years. It appears that funding is favoured towards multi-media projects. How sad for the great experimental filmmakers out there who wish to express their vision and shoot and present their works on film! They are still out there but most are self-funded and are left to work under most difficult circumstances. This format is not seen as commercial product and we, the film loving audience, become the losers. When did you last see an Australian feature animation, documentary and experimental film in a cinema near you? Still thinking, well there is your answer! It seems to me that the commercially motivated formula for short drama seems to be: Make it snappy; Make it fun & quirky; Make it into a feature. Very sad. I would not however like to suggest that all short drama filmmakers fall into this category. I still have faith in thinking that there are a number of discerning short drama filmmakers out there valiantly resisting to buy into this formula. But the gap has been filling over the years. (13) Are filmmakers these days too conscious of prizes, and forgetful of the quality of their films? I would like to think not. (14) Do you see any connection between the shorts being made in Australia, and the features? Refer to Q. 12. You will not have to struggle too hard to read between the lines. (15) What were the highlights for you as festival director (if the highlights were particular films, you can mention them)? Communicating with a tremendous wealth of talented filmmakers Australia has to offer. In my year as the festival director, I look forward to following the filmmaking careers of Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Michelle Mahrer, Stephen McGlashan, Lawson Bayley, Rebecca McLean, Chris Backhouse, Sarah Watt, Denis Tupicoff, Colin Mowbray, to name just a few. I also cannot help yearning for the short films of our past, enriched with a wealth of ideas, supported by well conceived and fleshed out scripts and highly evolved visuals. To name but a few: Teenage Babylon & Miss Taurus (Graeme Wood), Kitchen Sink (Alison Maclean), The Illustrated Auschwitz (Jackie Farkas), Girls Own Story & Passionless Moments (Jane Campion), Bonza (David Swan), This Woman Is Not A Car (Margaret Dodd). Last but not least, precious experimental films like The Lead Dress (Virginia Murray), Mystical Rose (Michael Lee) and Shadows (Royden Irvine) and the numerous to mention films of Paul Winkler, Nick Ostrovskis, Dirk de Bruyn, The Cantrills, Melanie El Mir, Michael Lee and the late Stephen Cummins, to name just a few. Some of these filmmakers have gone on to make features, others are still working in the short film format and all I can say is good for them!