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Looking back and moving forward: an interview with London Short Film Festival’s Artistic Director, Philip Ilson

Co-founded by Philip Ilson and Kate Taylor, the London Short Film Festival started its cinematic life as the Halloween Short Film Festival at the ICA. Now in it’s 16th year, LSFF takes a look at the past, now established filmmakers’ first films, while looking to the future filmmakers through their British and International short film strands. Run Riot talks to Artistic Director Philip Ilson on what to expect from this year’s programme.

Katie Hogan: With the London Short Film Festival now in its 16th year, it has become a staple in the UK film festival calendar. With new British and international talent being showcased, can you tell us how the festival is pieced together, ready for January.

Philip Ilson: The Festival is now a year-round concern with a dedicated team on board that start work straight out of the gate as the previous Festival finishes. We open for submissions a few weeks after closing night, and films start coming in straight away. Also, the start of the year is when we're looking at the new international shorts programmes being announced at Berlinale, Go Shorts (in Netherlands), Sundance and other festivals in the first few months of the new year.

LSFF has a dedicated team of programmers, specialising in documentary, animation, international and British work, so we're all on the lookout for the new stuff coming through. Also, we start thinking about our special events, focuses and crossover events, as it can take many months to get things in place.

Katie: Each year LSFF creates a very different tone for the festival, and this year the focus seems to be towards the music scene with Derek Jarman's music videos and a look at underground label, Hyperdub. What inspired this year's line up?

Philip: To be honest, music has always been a big part of the Festival since its inception, when we used to partner with record labels to present club and visual nights, and this is still an important part of the overall programme.

We like to research what's out there and what fits with the ethos of the Festival in terms of new and alternative music, and how that can collaborate with a visual medium whether via live cinema events or with focuses on music video. The music themed events this year came out of programming discussions throughout the year. The late artist filmmaker Derek Jarman is not widely known for his commercial music video output, mainly in the eighties, when he worked with the Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths, so it's great to get those films up onto the big screen, followed by a disco inspired by that era. The Hyperdub event came about as one of the Festival team is a fan, and we saw that the label has a strong visuals and video identity, so the focus made sense.

Katie: The hint of nostalgia is felt with the strand 'Now That's What I Call '80s Short Film' screening shorts from the established names in the British film industry. Was there a particular desire to go back and look at the beginnings of these filmmakers' careers?

Philip: The Festival never goes out of its way to have a theme, but this can emerge organically as the programme comes together, and it definitely felt like we were looking back to the eighties across some of the programme. Because of the Derek Jarman event, the opening night live event looking back to Scratch Video genre of the eighties, and a programme of films from across the GDR, the opening night screening titled 'Now That's What I Call Eighties Short Film' made sense, and it was fun researching those early films by name directors such as Harry Potter's David Yates.

The Festival has always looked back at early careers, as most established filmmakers started in shorts, so going back even further outside our comfort zone (as obviously this was a time long before the Festival was established) was a fascinating project bringing up some real gems.

Katie: LSFF is UK based but accepts and awards international films as well home-grown talent - do you believe that world cinema has good enough coverage in UK cinemas?

Philip: I personally think that UK cinemas and distributors do showcase a lot of world talent throughout the year, but it's sometimes difficult to catch, as many films are only on the big screen for a few days. Online distribution and Netflix are obviously important to help get international films out there, but it's exciting for us to get international short films onto the big screen at major London cinemas.

Katie: With such a diverse programme, films wise and the industry talks, can you highlight any events in particular that we shouldn't miss out on?

Philip: It is a vast programme, but the core of the Festival relates to the films that are selected from submission, titled 'New Shorts'. These take in the eight competition programmes, plus programmes dedicated to documentary, animation, experimental work, drama, comedy and music video. Most of these screenings will be attended by the filmmakers, and it's a chance for audiences to see the new talent that's out there.
 
Elsewhere, we have a weekend on an inflated barge in Hackney Wick, screening fun colourful short films alongside a live performance by Lone Taxidermist, who performs with grotesque inflatable costumes herself, for a really unique experience.

Katie: Short films seem to be making more of an impact on a wider scale, with more festivals popping up over the UK as well as independent programmers showcasing new and established talent. Do you think short film is more than just a filmmakers' calling card and what do you believe festivals like LSFF can do to bring shorts into the 'mainstream' eye of cinema lovers?

Philip: There are a lot of festivals out there showcasing all sorts of varied work. But I like to think we curate really strong programmes of work by filmmakers who will go onto further things in film and television. We are focusing on the short film work of Prano Bailey Bond, who we've been screening for many years, and who is now embarking on her first feature, so it's a chance to see the next generation. But her shorts and music videos are still relevant to her practice as a filmmaker.

Katie: Seeing video nasty, Basket Case in the programme, in association with Cigarette Burns Cinema, feels like a homage to the festival's original roots. Do you think it’s important for festivals/programmers to evolve?

Philip: The screening of Basket Case was inspired by the work of Prano Bailey Bond, mentioned above, as her debut feature will be looking at the video nasty era of the eighties. We asked her to select a favourite feature, which we'll follow with a panel discussion. We asked to partner with Cigarette Burns on this as we like what they do with cult and horror screenings that they hold regularly in London. We always look to other film groups that hold regular events and if we like their work, we ask to partner with them, so this year we also have Club des Femmes, Nobody Ordered Wolves, Underwire, T A P E Collective, Superkino, Another Gaze, straight 8, and the Stuart Hall Foundation.

Katie: Lastly, with streaming services from Netflix to the curated MUBI, offering films you know and those you've never heard of, what do you think the impact on film festivals will be in the future and what plans are there are LSFF?

Philip: I think such streaming services are incredibly important to get films out to audiences, but festivals and cinemas can work side by side and complement each other. The live experience of being with an audience is still important, and the social aspect of the Festival at our networking and live music events, so Festivals are still very relevant and important to film culture.

London Short Film Festival 2019
11-20th January 2019
Various locations, London.
shortfilms.org.uk | @LSFF | facebook.com/londonshortfilmfestival