A brief discussion with Debbi Lander, Festival Director for Encounters Film Festival.
What’s your hometown? Liverpool
So firstly, what is the Bristol Encounters Festival? Encounters is the UK’s leading short film festival. It has been running for 19 years and this year it celebrates its 20th anniversary. Its primary aim is to showcase new high quality short films from all over the world. It’s one of the UK’s largest competition for film makers with 2000 submissions from 80 countries and we select the ones that are most topical and are the best. We put these in front of the industry and audiences to develop opportunities for film-makers and show the people how good shorts films can be.
Bristol is often mentioned as being a hotbed of emerging artists and creative types. Do you think that the Encounters Festival is fortunate that is set in such a great setting? In terms of having a film a short film and animation festival, yes being in Bristol where the animation industry and the digital film sectors are really strong is great as it means we can bring that talent into the festival. Also short film is used by filmmakers to experiment with left field and alternative cinema. You can thank Banksy for that image of Bristol that is really perfect for what the films are trying to portray.
This is a big year for the Encounters Festival celebrating its 20th anniversary, is there anything particularly special happening to signify this achievement? We are running a bit of an experiment in this year’s festival by hosting a perpetual cinema event. It is the first time we have done it. Every evening for 3 hours and all day on the weekend we will take over a cinema and run the Encounters Retrospective. This is a unique collection of 20 short films from 20 years of the festival. Individually each one champions the form of the short film, while united they show the full breadth of diversity and freedom which the festival has had the pleasure to showcase over the last 20 years. So it acts as a drop in and is free. We are doing this so local people can come during their lunch or after dinner and just pop in. Another thing I want to mention is the project Vinyl Requiem – anyone who has a passion for records or a love of turntables and the analogue era then this is an ode to that.
Do you find that the Encounters Festival provides and experience unmatched by other film festivals? It depends on which film festivals we are being compared to. They fall into either one of two categories: they can be audience focussed whereby they are about screenings or they are more industry focussed where there are workshops and masterclasses. Traditionally we have been more at the industry end but also we have quite an extensive public program as well which I am growing. It’s multifaceted.
Are there any filmmakers or animators that you are particularly excited about this year? In the Retrospective is John Smith – I absolutely love his films. I particularly enjoy short films that get into that non-narrative, nonlinear, weird territory. I have been programming the live AV (Audio Visual) performances at the Arnolfini, so I’m looking forward to Philip Jeck and Lol Sargent’s remake of Vinyl Requiem.
Do you feel fortunate that Bristol has some fantastic venues like the Watershed and the Arnolfini that can only add to the experience that the festival provides? The Watershed, Arnolfini and The Cube are great venues. We benefit as they have audiences all year round and they benefit because we bring in internationals and different kind of audiences to their venues. In the future I’d like to be more site specific. In Bristol there are some great industrial sites and forests. There are some really interesting non funded spaces, but that requires a lot more money of course. There is a lot more demand for event based cinemas like rooftop cinemas and picnic cinemas.
Do you feel the UK has real talent for small films and animation and that Encounters promotes that talent? It’s hard to say for me personally but what I do know is that filmmakers from other countries feel that Britain very much sets the standard for short films. I think it depends what you are looking for; the craft, the story. British films have won both the animation grand prix and the live action grand prix in the last year, which is the first time they have been won by the same nation. Also over half of the filmmakers at our festival are British. I think it’s safe to say that we are pretty good.