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Q&A: Andrew Simpson on the East End Film Festival

The East End Film Festival is underway! EEFF is an annual programme of diverse filmmaking hosted across multiple venues in London. Committed to the work of first and second time directors, the annual EEFF showcases more than fifty feature film screenings, several short film programmes, and a variety of cross-arts events and industry activities across the festival. Head of Programming, Andrew Simpson, chats to us about the festival.

Eli Goldstone: Last year the festival coincided with the EU referendum, this time you’re launching during the week of the General Election. How does the political climate affect the flavour of the festival generally?

Andrew Simpson:Growing out of the diverse and dynamic area that is the East End, EEFF has always been a political festival. East London was a massively political area, even before the Battle of Cable Street. Taking direct inspiration from that spirit, and as a not-for-profit with a commitment to community, social issues are always one of the building blocks of the festival programme.

Given the charged atmosphere as we build towards Election Day, 2017 is no different. The fact that we decided not to open with a traditional Opening Night Gala, but rather a free open-air community screening raising donations for Tower Hamlets Food Bank, is both reflective of the current climate, and the stark choices we face in this election.  We’ve even got a Brexit-anniversary marker in our screening of Brexitannia.

We’re hosting the World Premiere screening of the brilliant Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle followed a debate with activists on election night; the World Premiere of activist portrait Austerity Fight; a documentary on legendary Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner, a number of films touching on important social issues globally; and an event around Post-Truth politics with Buzzfeed’s James Ball and Guardian Documentaries. Art has a responsibility to represent and speak to what’s happening in the world, and we’re really proud EEFF does that.

Eli: The East End is built on so many things – not least of these is immigration. What cultures are represented in the festival?

Andrew: As well as taking inspiration from the political spirit of the area, EEFF represents and celebrates the diverse communities of East London, one of the most culturally dynamic parts of the UK – again it’s something we’ve always done, and something that’s central to the 2017 festival.

We meet Ghana’s ‘fantasy coffin maker’ at our screening of Paa Joe & The Lion, meet the Bangladeshi children making activist films in Animated Activism; get a taste for what life in London is like for an Iraqi refugee in Dana Dana….and see UK musicians Saskilla, Terri Walker, Shakka, Diztortion travel back to the lands of their parents (Jamiaca, Senegal. Dominica and Suriman) to make new music in Homelands, with Saskilla coming to our screening to perform afterwards.  We also get an insight into the Syrian crisis in the terrifying City of Ghosts, which might just be the documentary of the year. So we’re celebrating the communities of East London, and beyond, this year, both in terms of social issues and cultural celebration!

Eli: You’re running Films For Food, a scheme where entry to screenings can be paid for with a donation of a non-perishable food item to Tower Hamlets foodbank. It’s a wonderful idea, but doesn’t it seem utterly absurd that we have got to this point?

Andrew:In short, yes. Films for Food are an organisation we’ve worked with before, who were set up by the East London based filmmakers the Rainbow Collective – they do great work, and it was amazing to see over 500 people turn out at Old Spitalfields Market this weekend and donate to the First Love Foundation (Tower Hamlets Food Bank).

When the Conservatives were elected, the number of people using food banks was in the thousands. Now it’s more than a million. Food poverty is at absolutely shocking levels, and I’m frankly amazed that we’re even discussing who to vote for in this election. It’s wonderful to be able to help with the unifying power of film and community, which are core values for us as a festival. But the fact that this is happening in Britain in 2017 is heart breaking. Vote Labour. 

Eli: On Election Night itself you’re screening Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle followed by a discussion. What issues does the film raise?

Andrew:Paul Sng, the director of Dispossession, was inspired by the collapse of social housing provision in the UK over the past 30 years. People forget, but the proportion of the population who lived in social housing in the 70’s was 42%. Now it’s 8%. The film is a brilliantly insightful, shocking exploration of how social housing provision has been pulled out from underneath us. The lack of affordable housing in the UK is one of the major social issues affecting this country, and the film exposes this brilliantly. There’s no better time to show the film, and we’ll be joined by a variety of East London housing activists to discuss the problem. This film is going to have a big impact, and we’re delighted to host the World Premiere.      

Eli: If you were to arrange a private screening of one film for Theresa May, what would it be and why?

Andrew: I’m tempted to say any of the above! But in reality, it would be , a brilliant new film that speaks to people up and down the country bout their thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of the election. It’s powerful, sensitive, addresses complex issues, and is a truly representative insight into the will of the British people. Theresa May would learn a few things from it, and she’s very welcome to join us on 23 June, the anniversary of the vote, when we screen it, we’d love to debate the film with her!  

Eli: Where and when can visitors go to party and let off some steam during the festival?

Andrew: Going back to Dispossession again, we’ll be having an election night knees up at Little Nan’s, which is downstairs at the Rio Cinema. Anyone who comes to the film is welcome, and we’ll have some screens set up for election night. We’re also hosting a party with Channel 4/Random Acts at the gorgeous Curzon Aldgate on 17 June, a Tom of Finland-themed party on 30 June, and our Closing Night Party on 1 July. It’s a great way to meet people, celebrate cinema, and have a great time. If you’re feeling generous, buy me a drink. I may need it!   

Eli: Finally, what do you have planned for the future of the EEFF?

Andrew:The future of EEFF is extremely bright. The festival’s reputation is better and better, as are audiences and the level of support from the film industry and the community. EEFF is going to be moving to a new base on campus with our Official Education Partner the University of East London, and we’ll be introducing year round education/filmmaker development programmes from there. We’ve also just introduced our new £10,000 Transit Award to support second time directors. So as well as the festival going from strength to strength, we’re increasing the support we’re giving to the filmmaking community, helping to nurture the important voices of tomorrow. We’re looking ahead, and thinking big. 


East End Film Festival is underway at various venues until the end of June.

Full programme here