St. Kilda Film Festival and Short Filmmaking in Australia… the Director’s Point of View: Interviewed – Paul Harris Paul Harris June 2000 Festival Reports Issue 7 (1) What year(s) were you festival director? 1999-2000. (2) What kind of activities did you do, or were you responsible for, as festival director? As festival director my basic duties included: creative and conceptual programming for the Festival; facilitating the selection of films; organising judging panels; commissioning and co-ordinating a festival trailer and sponsors reel; and liaison with the Australian Film Institute (AFI) in organising an International Program and National Tour (which was this year the Oberhausen music video program). (3) What were the challenges you faced? Attendances had gradually fallen in recent years and the various funding bodies were expecting some kind of overhaul. (4) What combination of elements do you think makes for a successful short film festival? The most important element is something quite intangible – creating an exciting atmosphere and sense of community. I certainly want to avoid the notion that a festival is merely a bunch of film screenings in which the audience dutifully files in and out of. This year we organised forums and presentations on a daily basis and our Industry Market Day, which we ran for the first time last year, is going from strength to strength. At these events filmmakers from around Australia and the film-going public can meet and feel part of a vibrant community, tossing around ideas. (5) What role do you see the short film as playing within a filmmaker’s career? How important is the short film? Short films serve a specific purpose and should not be seen as hybrids. I really get sick of the comment that short films inevitably lead to features as though you were arguing that marijuana leads to heroin. (6) What do you think are the great challenges that confront the filmmaker when making the leap from the short film to the feature? I feel it’s an artificial problem. All filmmakers should continue to work in the short film arena as a means of revving up their creative batteries. Quite a few contemporary filmmakers occasionally venture into short-form projects and there should be more of it. (7) What role do you think the St. Kilda film festival plays in the Australian short film scene? The festival helps to gain exposure for filmmakers and raise their profile. Unlike a feature film-based festival where shorts are shunted to the sidelines or marginalised, at St. Kilda the short film is celebrated in all its diversity of formats and thematics. (8) How important do you see the festival in the context of the Australian film industry? The Festival is seen as a community event and sends out a message to the wider community that the medium is alive and well. In the last two years, we have succeeded in gaining much publicity in the mainstream media for the work of short filmmakers (no mean feat). (9) How does St. Kilda film festival compare with the myriad of other short festivals in Australia? St. Kilda complements Festivals like Flickerfest in Sydney but cannot be compared too closely to Tropfest which is a one-day event where the work is shown on video screens in a single sitting. We also run numerous sidebars such as forums, an industry day, a program in association with ScreenSound Australia and Fusion, an event which combines film and live performance. It should be pointed out that the Festival actually occurs over a number of days as opposed to many other events which are described as “festivals”. (10) How does it compare internationally? Not having attended any overseas festivals I cannot comment from first-hand experience but we have strong links with Sundance Short Film Festival. Trevor Groth, Sundance curator, attended last year’s event with a programme of short works, which included a film by Spike Jonze. This year’s guests included Megan Weaver, the Vice President of Acquisitions for Pop.com, a digital entertainment company run by Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, and Olaf Karnik, music curator for Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, one of Europe’s most respected and long-running festivals. (11) How has the festival grown since you were director? What would you attribute this to? In the last two years the number of works screening has increased from 90 to 142 and there are plans to expand the scope and size of the festival further next year. (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? I must admit I’m sick of quirky single gag shorts with a plot twist at the conclusion, which seem to be produced for Tropfest. But it is foolhardy to generalise too much; when you receive upwards of 400 shorts each year there’s bound to be a diversity of work that mitigates against the less imaginative and/or poorer standard work. (13) Are filmmakers these days too conscious of prizes, and forgetful of the quality of their films? This might be heretical for me to say but I don’t think that winning prizes is the main game. Surely the opportunity to see your work on screen in a public forum is the main aim and prizes are icing on the cake. Some of my personal favourites are ignored by the judges and there’s nothing wrong with that. The advantage or working in short films is that you can continue to explore ideas without spending a fortune. (14) Do you see any connection between the shorts being made in Australia, and the features? It’s apparent to me that locally produced short works reflect an intellectual curiosity in exploring the medium of film in a manner that is not replicated in the feature film area. (15) What were the highlights for you as festival director (if the highlights were particular films, you can mention them)? In particular this year I was impressed by the divergent range of documentaries. I enjoyed Leo on Leo (Angela Greenaway, 1999), a modestly produced low-tech, observational documentary about a used car dealer in a Sydney suburb and Robin Plunkett’s extraordinary People Reading (1999), a lyrical meditation on the solitary nature of book reading. Neither of these films won anything but they won me over and as I said earlier, that’s the fun of festivals. You make your own discoveries.