Saturday, 3 October 2015

My Re-Encounter with Encounters: A Reflection on the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival 2015

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Encounter Short Film and Animation Festival here in Bristol. I had previously volunteered at Encounter 2013, which I wrote about in My Encounter with Encounters, and I missed Encounters 2014, so I was gratified to be able to be a part of Encounters 2015.

However, this year I did not volunteer, I went as just a standard Industry Pass member and it was a very spur of the moment decision; I only decided I would go the day before the festival started! 

I had been suffering from a bit of burnout as a result of my postgraduate 2.0 studies and I reasoned that three whole days relaxing at Encounters would do me a world of good... how only half-right I was!

My Industry Forum Pass cost me £50 - a bargain for what it gave me access to!

I attended the festival on Wednesday 16th, Thursday 17th and Friday 18th of September, as these were the three main days of the festival with the majority of the festival's events happening on these days. 

There was a very impressive spread of screenings, talks and workshops this, I was hard pressed to find something I did not want to attend.

Many of the events I booked a ticket for clashed with one-another.

All of the events I did end up going to I was thoroughly impressed with by the end of them. Even the selection of films and the the way in which they were programmed impressed me a great deal. 

The full festival spread.

Overall, I found this year's offering of Encounters to be vastly superior of that of Encounters 2013 and that is saying a lot considering this year's iteration felt somewhat more downscale than that of 2013.

However, I think the key events for me were...
  • Stories in the Round: Introduction to 360 Degree Storytelling
  • BBC Three at Encounters: The Future of Short-Form Channels
  • Rich Pickings: Attention, Immersion and Psychocinematics
  • Pro-creations: Sex and Love Short Film Programme
  • Widening the Lens: Panel Discussion of Women in Film
  • Carol Morley's The Alcohol Years
  • Desert Island Flicks with Carol Morley
  • Why Life Beats Fiction: Workshop with director Adrian Sitaru
  • About a Girl: Short Film Programme 9
  • Reasons to be Cheerful: Comedy Shorts
  • Concert of Collage: Citation City 

The Attention, Immersion and Psychocinematics talk is one of the events that caught my eye right before I decided I was going to attend  this year's Encounters. Psychocinematics and its related field of study Neurocinematics are two fields I have a great of deal of investment within, as they seek to understand the empirical workings of the spectator's relation with a spectacle, an endeavour which was a key concern of my award-winning undergraduate theoretical dissertation, Ways of Being: The Spectator and the Spectacle, and continues to be a concern of my Ways 2 Interface research project.

Always start with the spectator, that's how you come to thoroughly understand cinema.

I knew that the University of Bristol and the University of South West England were actively involved in the filed of psychocinematics research and this talk presented an opportunity to see what they had been up to. On the whole, it did not present much more than what I had already read about in regards to their research efforts, in particular a focus on tracking eye movement, which was demonstrated during the talk. 

Cinema is us. Two-dimensional images on a screen are just that, they mean nothing without us.

However, the most intriguing insight I gained from the talk ironically came from the audience and their very clear interest in this new field of study. When I went into the talk I had not expected it to be that full, but I barely found a seat! 

As I am discovering in the development of my Breaking Cinema podcast, one of the factors that continually worries me about the study of film is this persistent tendency to focus on the two-dimensional images on a screen without reference or consideration towards anything that exists beyond a film, i.e. towards the reality that actually underpins the cognition and enjoyment of those two-dimensional images on a screen. 

Encounters 2015 was based at the Watershed, as ever.

And, of course, is if you stubbornly refuse to leave the comfort zone of those two-dimensional images, the study of film will stagnate and, as I said just the other day, "If the study of film just becomes film history, then film will be history!"

However, it was immensely reassuring to see so many other interested individuals in this new and revitalising study of cinema!

A focus on new innovations was present throughout the festival, as can be evidenced in the BBC Three's talk about their transition into a fully digital channel and also the 360 Degree Storytelling talk, which absolutely blew my mind! 

I am still trying to get my head around the potential of augmented reality and virtual reality storytelling, so I will not go into a great amount of detail here, but it was hugely invigorating in regards to my passion for future cinema storytelling practice!
Women in Film @ Encounters

Another key focus of Encounters 2015 was of women in film, in front of and behind the camera. This also caught my eye when I was considering attending Encounters 2015, because I do not believe that there are enough female voices in cinema, as indeed there are not. 

There currently seems to be a major drive to change this in-balance of the sexes in cinema and it is something that I am firmly behind and is something I am engineering into my Breaking Cinema podcast project.

Widening the Lens Panel Discussion @ Encounters

The Widening the Lens: Panel Discussion of Women in Film was a fully sold out and insightful talk that dealt with the subject and really set the groundwork for the various related screenings that followed throughout the festival. The About a Girl: Short Film Programme 9, a hugely thought-provoking in this respect; as were the wider programmes , such as the pro-creations programme of short films, that dealt with relationships, but with an emphasis on the female point of view. 

I recently finished reading The Female Brain, a book which explores the latest neuroscience and psychological research into the female mentality and I have to say, after reading it, I now a vastly greater respect for females as whole!

However, another key component of Encounters focus on females in film was Carol Morley and I have to admit, at first I brushed her aside... until I realise who she was - the woman who had made Dreams of a Life.

Dreams of a Life trailer

Dreams of a Life, a film that is on my list of favourites, had a huge influence on me when I watch it back in 2013 as research for my participation in the Short Form Documentary Making module as part of my final year of my BA (Hons) in Creative Writing with Film and Screen Studies.

Dreams of a Life affected me from the jaw-dropping true story it tells, but also it also highly impressed me as a seminal piece of filmmaking, it was without a doubt one of the best constructed films I have ever seen!

Therefore, when this clicked, I dropped what I was originally going to do and headed to the free screening of Carol Morely's The Alcohol Years.

The Alcohol Years trailer

Aside from being a very bold reflexive piece of filmmaking, in many ways The Alcohol Years reminded me of an early accidental hour-long reflexive documentary I made about myself, Down A Word: The Story of NEXT FRIDAY, which I am in the course of dusting off because I want to put it on my personal website, as well as this blog, so stay tuned! 

Although, even if they share a common reflexive study of alcohol, I still think The Alcohol Years is much better than Down A Word.

However, when two films from a filmmaker both have an effect on you through their subject matter and the way in which their stories are actually told, then you should probably pay attention to that filmmaker.

Carol Morley - the boss!

Therefore, I booked myself a ticket for Desert Island Flicks with Carol Morley and the person I discovered in that talk is hard to put into words, but suffice to say Carol Morley is a truly fascinating human being, who is now one of my favourite filmmakers and who I will be keeping an eye on!

Another filmmaker who caught my eye or rather my eyes and ears was Adrian Sitaru. Why Life Beats Fiction was a workshop in which he discussed his filmmaking approach of working without a script and capturing the first, raw improvisation of his actors and how he goes about constructing a film out of this process.

The process of Adrian Sitaru especially appeals to me because it is akin to Mike Leigh's system of crafting a script from a series of improvisations; another process I have always admired and which, like Adrain Sitaru's method, I think makes for a much more astounding and involving result. 

A process along the lines of what Leigh and Sitaru do is also something I have been considering for the web series I am currently in the process of scripting... a series of scripts that will hopefully not have too much bearing on the eventual result!

The To Be or Not To Be a Character workshop with Adrian Titieni, from the actor's perspective, was also insightful in this respect to the Why Life Beats Fiction workshop, but I was somewhat at a loss because I missed the first ten minutes of this workshop.

I have to say throughout the festival I found myself thinking about my web series idea a great deal, as the its storyline deals with many of subjects explored in the festival. 

There was one key programme of short films that was instrumental in my thinking about my web series. The Reasons to be Cheerful: Comedy Shorts programme reminded me just how funny the short form can be in its application! This was important because my web series is a comedy.

I only wish I had attended the other comedy programme the festival showcased. I wish I had attended a number of the festival programmes; including the The Bristol International Festival of Cinematography that was running in conjunction with Encounters 2015 over at the Arnofini, but I could not go to everything, it just was not possible.

The events I did not attend - how I would love to have a clone!

However, the icing on the Encounters 2015 cake came fittingly in my final event at the festival, Concent of Collage: Citation City, which in addition to including the spell-binding feature length audio-visual work of Citation City also included various other equally entertaining short subjects before the main presentation.

Citation City trailer

Aside from being something very different, I enjoyed Citation City so much because  it epitomises what cinema has now become, or rather what it has always been, but which we are now starting to latch onto - cinema is a summation of us all. And cinema's future development and evolution requires us to pro-actively embrace that concept, because if we do not, we will get stuck in reboot heaven.

Ultimately, I applaud Citation City as a brilliant piece of audio-visual art and as a testament to the longevity of our greatest art form.

I can not describe it here, just go and see Citation City.

I could not ask for a better end to Encounters 2015.

However, my time at Encounters 2015 did not prove to be exactly the relaxing break I had initially planned for. Increasingly throughout the festival I found myself feeling more and more lethargic and, two weeks later, I know now that I was starting to get the flu while I was there. I had gone to Encounters to regain my composure and ended up being even more worn out than how I had started! 

That glazed look was not intentional, bloody flu!

Admittedly, I would have like to have been on top-form much more so throughout the three days I was there, so that I would have been able to actually have had some proper interactions with people; as well as actually possessing the effort to capture a great deal more footage and photographs than I did capture. And I must admit I did doze off at certain points, but, meh, it was still worth it and I am still glad I went.

Will I go again next year?

Most definitely!

Post a Comment