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Top spiel on East End Film Festival from Head of Programming, Andrew Simpson

This week sees the start of the 14th annual East End Film Festival, screening a host of exciting and groundbreaking shorts and features from the UK and across the world, as well as various parties and events, over the course of twelve days, all in the heart of - you guessed it - London’s East end. It’s one of the country’s largest and most significant film festivals having gained a reputation for showcasing exciting independent cinema, both homegrown and international, since it was established in 2000. With a philosophy geared toward launching young and emerging filmmakers, with one programme specifically designed to help directors bridge the gap between first and second features, it is at once a vital and indispensable platform for young UK filmmakers, particularly those based in East London, and a great place to get a first look at fresh and exciting filmmaking talent. In anticipation of the event, we’ve caught up with EEFF’s Head of Programming Andrew Simpson to ask him what we can expect from this year’s festival.

RR: Your ethos as a festival centres on championing the work of first and second time directors - what do you think the main challenges are for young filmmakers trying to break into the industry now and how has the landscape changed over the 15 years that you’ve been established?
Andrew Simpson:
I think the main challenge comes from the route to directing films being less obvious than it once was. As well as having unique artistic vision, filmmakers need to be business savvy, embrace international opportunities, work well with different platforms, and be prepared (often) to work in different mediums. There's an 85% drop-off in terms of the number of filmmakers who ever go on to make a second feature. That's partly a reflection of how tough it is to become one in the first place; but also how much more there is to think about than simply the film you want to make. Mind the Gap, our industry lab, is designed to help filmmakers escape that trap, and we're a festival that exists to champion new voices, and celebrate all the brilliant, crazy films that people are managing to make, even in a commercial world. That's what the East End Film Festival is here for.

RR: Which films on this year’s programme are you most excited about?
An absolutely crackers Ethiopian sci-fi film called Crumbs, in which twentieth century ephemera (Michael Jackson records, Mattel toys) have become tradeable currency. The Better Angels is produced by Terrence Malick, and is an absolute must for anyone who loved The Tree of Life. Stand By For Tape Back-Up takes a successful stage show to the big screen, with Ross Sutherland mixing poetry, personal memories and beat rapping over old VHS recordings. Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard star in 1970s-set Diary of Teenage Girl, and Spike Lee produces Manos Sucias, a nail biting thriller about life on the bottom rung of the Columbian drugs trade. It's a brilliant year, and there's so much more! [See the trailers below]

RR: EEFF started off as a platform for East London based filmmakers and over the years you’ve broadened your scope to national and international cinema. How integral is the area you describe as ‘London’s most dynamic quarter’ to the festival’s identity today?
Absolutely central. The East End Film Festival started life as a platform for local filmmakers, and even though we've expanded to become a large international festival, that's still a vital part of what we do. Reflecting the communities, life and spirit of East London is key for us, and also informs the types of films we show, from all over the globe. The spirit of the area is reflected in the festival, which couldn't happen anywhere else.

RR: This year you’re screening various films with local resonance - films set in or somehow connected to the East End. Is this something you prioritise when viewing submissions?
We're a festival that's utterly rooted in the area where we're based. Even though we have an international programme, the make up and spirit of the East End (its diversity, history, creativity and political edge) feeds into and informs the whole festival. A big part of that is celebrating filmmakers and stories with an East London connection, and we'll always show films that reflect that commitment. On that score, Dressed as a Girl is an absolutely rip-roaring tour through the legendary cabaret drag scene in East London, which we'll be screening on a Dalston rooftop with a live performance from Jonny Woo; Estate: A Reverie is a poignant, life-affirming portrait of the decline of the Haggerston estate in Hackney, filled with unforgettable characters; and The Anarchist Rabbi delves into the Whitechapel's radical immigrant history, and how that's being explored by modern development. Lots of our dramatic features are shot in and around East London as well. So yes, we're always looking for interesting portraits of the East End that we can bring to the world.

RR: Both your opening and closing night films involve EEFF alumni - how important do you think it is to establish and nurture ongoing relationships with filmmakers?
I think this relates to the first question, and it's absolutely vital, both to festivals and filmmakers. Festivals are an important way for films that might get a much smaller platform otherwise, and we exist to support and nurture important filmmakers in any way we can. That's why we are opening this year's festival with One Crazy Thing, a really lovely, funny London-set romantic drama starring Ray Panthaki. Ray won our best Short Film Award in 2013 for his riveting, pertinent film Life Sentence, which was about knife crime. He produces and stars in One Crazy Thing, and it's one of the best, funniest films in recent years about life and love in London, as well as sex tape scandals and internet fame! On the flipside of that, closing with 3 1/2 Minutes is us showing a film by Marc Silver, another filmmaker with a long-standing relationship with the festival.

RR: On the topic of your closing night film - ‘31⁄2 Minutes, Ten Bullets’ is about the killing of an African American teen by police in California and is one of various documentaries focusing on racial tension in America, a theme which couldn’t be more politically pertinent. Was this a knowing decision on your part, to focus on this issue, or was it party coincidence that recent events should chime so emphatically with your programme?
Well we're always led by what's out there to an extent, but yes, it's an issue that we've been looking to focus on. Obviously recent events in Charleston have brought the issue of race in America to public attention once again, but with that coming after relatively recent events in New York, Ferguson and Baltimore, it's been a huge hot button issue for some time. We're always looking to show films that relate to the really important issues, and I think it's that context that has led to films like Welcome to Leith, a documentary that works more like a thriller, as small town residents realise that white supremacists are invading their town. It's like some kind of horror movie.

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets is just brilliant; a truly shocking exploration of the murder of an African American teenager at a gas station for playing loud music. As soon as we saw it, we knew we wanted to close the festival with it. It's a film for our times, and explores the issue of racial tension in America like few others ever have. Both of those films are unmissable.

RR: Another recurring motif is music with a slew of music related documentaries as well as your Sonic Cinema event which involves the release of a limited edition vinyl - could you tell us about the EEFF’s association with music and how you think the two mediums are connected?
As a festival we're all about pushing the boundaries and embracing cross-platform work with film. They work incredibly well together, and we have a long history of commissioning new scores for films. This year we worked with Blanck Mass (also known as Ben Power from Fuck Buttons, whose music was used in the Olympic Opening Ceremony) to bring in 7 electronic artists to create a brand new score to the beautiful European thriller The Stange Colour of Your Body's Tears, with each artist composing their segment of the film blind from one another. The result is absolutely spectacular, and we unveil the film with the brand new score on 10 July with Blacnk Mass and friends DJ'ing afterwards. This also acts as the launch event for the record release of the soundtrack with Death Waltz records. It's an unbelievably exciting project, and hopefully we'll be releasing a record every year from now on. For a chance to pick up one of a limited edition, blood-spattered vinyl with custom artwork you'll need to come along for the screening!

Music films have always been a big part of the programme, and again fit the spirit of the festival. Salad Days explores the Washington DC hardcore scene that spawned Minor Threat, Derailed Sense - it's about one of the great British post-punk bands, Subway Sect, and Industrial Soundtrack chronicles the industrial scene, with the screening followed by a DJ set from Stephen Mallinder, from the legendary Cabaret Voltaire.

Salad Days Official Trailer from Scott Crawford on Vimeo.


RR: Probably the most notable music related film is Asif Kapadia’s Amy. Can you tell us what it means to you to be screening such a highly anticipated and culturally significant film?
We opened the festival with another film about Amy Winehouse in 2012, so it's appropriate that we're screening this. We celebrate maverick figures here at the festival, and Asif Kapadia is a patron of the EEFF. So it's fantastic to be screening this film about a really significant, tragically departed artist. This screening is already sold out I'm delighted to say!

RR: The gender ratio on your short films programme is heavily weighted towards female directors which is, of course, unusual. As a prominent UK festival, what can you do to redress the gender inequality in the industry?
We're committed to providing a platform for important filmmakers who might not get exposure elsewhere. That includes redressing imbalances in representation, and we're really committed to diversity and access here. That's why we host free community screenings, show films from developing countries, and try to address the gender gap. It's all part of the festival's mission to be totally inclusive.

RR: Finally, you’ve long been established as a platform for breakthrough British filmmaking and this year you have your largest ever line up of UK films. What can we expect to see in terms of emerging homegrown talent?
Politics, snapshots of real life and tearing down the boundaries between film, video, theatre, music and activism. It's an incredibly exciting time for British film, which is more diverse and brave than it's been for a long time. The exciting line up of films from these shores showing at the EEFF shows that the future of British film, and the festival, is very bright.


More from Andrew Simpson: @Andrew_Simpson_

East End Film Festival
at various locations
1-12 July 2015



CRUMBS TRAILER from Lanzadera Films on Vimeo.

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