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Doing It for Ourselves: The Makings of a Student Film Festival

Posted: 27/02/2013 09:01

"You're a what?"

The incredulity with which the phrase "I'm a finalist" is now met, is something of a new phenomenon if I'm honest. Having become accustomed to many a conversation concerning undergraduate life at Cambridge, meetings wearing my 'Festival Director' hat are rather novel.

"Yup. We'll be graduating soon."

And indeed we will. Julia (my co-director and long-time friend) and I are both history students, and both about to sit our finals at one of the most demanding universities in the world. But that's the boring part. We also run what is fast becoming the world's leading international student film festival: Watersprite.

Established only four years ago by some scarily ambitious students who noticed a real lack of film-related activity within the University, Watersprite has grown rapidly since its inception. After gaining the attention, and patronage, of Hilary Bevan Jones (award-winning producer and first chairwoman of BAFTA), what was originally a small and localised endeavour has fast become an event that not only global student filmmakers, but also industry professionals from around the UK - and the world - recognise, promote and attend.

But the impressive growth of the festival is, perhaps, not all that surprising. Whilst I, personally, can take no credit for the achievements of previous committees, I can attest to the fact that hard work and what fans of The Holiday (you know who you are) might call "gumption", are very clearly the underlying factors. Get up early, go to bed late. Very late. Call every contact and use every email address. Fill every hour, wisely. Be selective. Be assertive. Don't settle for second-best. Use a carrot and a stick (our 40-strong committee can attest to that one...) Listen to Churchill, because he was right: "Success consists of going from failure to failure without lack of enthusiasm." Failures will occur. Frequently, annoyingly, but then you find a Plan B (or C, or D...) and you keep on smiling. Think big, but also think practically. And, above all, learn to love your inbox. Get used to the fact that every time you leave it alone for an hour it will fill up with at least 50 new messages, and you'll then have to devote double that amount of time to clearing them out.

I guess all these lessons are really just life lessons. Take them out of a festival context and they could apply anywhere. Maybe this is what's so great about running Watersprite; it will, hopefully, help prepare us all for the real world. At university it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of the essay crisis and the reading list, but when you're doing something as time-consuming and all-encompassing as this, those issues suddenly shrink in magnitude and become much more manageable. You gain a little perspective.

You also begin to appreciate the hard work and dedication of filmmakers. Filmmaking is hard, much harder than I'd ever imagined. Having interviewed several successful industry figures for our online Watersprite Interviews series and having spent lots of time with others who kindly devote some of their time to improving our Festival Programme we have seen first-hand what goes on in the background. Producers are incredibly busy people, as are actors. Directors, for all their creative woes, are only successful because they are 100% committed to their project. Editors, production designers, runners, scriptwriters, researchers, everyone is passionate about what they're doing and for all the complaining witnessed on film sets, everyone really does love the madness of it all. I've yet to meet our nominees - who will be flying to Cambridge with the help of our bursaries for the festival this weekend - but I can only imagine their commitment to the films they've made is exactly the same. The only thing lacking for the student filmmaker is budget, which surely only makes short films like these even more impressive.

Hopefully, our nominees' efforts will be rewarded when we reveal the winners on Saturday at our Awards Ceremony, and hand over some once-in-a-lifetime prizes from ARRI, Vimeo, Shooting People, and Directors UK. As for the committee, Julia and I will have to find some way of rewarding their months of hard work - hopefully the chance to hang out with Olivia Colman and John Logan during the festival weekend will go some way to making up for it, but I'm sure personalised poems of thanks, coupled with a heck of a lot of chocolate will also do the trick. That, and eternal gratitude, perhaps.

 

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