Gaia Meucci is the Short Film Programmer at Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, which kicks off in Bristol this week. She tells us how she built her career – and explains why there's no set path in film...
Gaia Meucci, Brief Encounters Short Film Programmer.
Please give us an overview of your average day.
When working for a film festival, identifying an average day is very difficult – the work is varied and often unpredictable! In my first year as Short Film Programmer at Encounters, during the programming time my average day involved watching lots and lots and lots of short films to get through the submitted films and curate the programmes. Once that was done, I moved on to the more organisational aspects of making the festival happen, particularly dealing with programming and pulling together the festival’s panel discussions and industry events.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
I suppose there’s a misconception around the dedication and time it requires. I guess people presume you just sit around and leisurely watch films, which is only a small aspect of the truth. When confronted with something like 500 or 600 short films to watch in a few weeks time then programming requires a great deal of time and motivation to be able to do justice to the final selection.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
It’s very hard to have a breakthrough as a programmer and have a long-term position in this role, so having to deal with the instability this profession entails can be hard. In the last two years this has meant relocating a few times to be able to grab the best opportunities to develop as a programmer. In terms of the role itself, when putting together a festival programme it’s very difficult to make choices and inevitably have to reject brilliant films that simply can’t make it into the final selection. That’s always, always painful.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I always wanted to work in the arts although I wasn’t sure in what capacity, so mine has been a real journey of discovery. I moved to Edinburgh in 2004 where I worked in theatre and animation production until it became really clear to me that my real passion was film – not making them, but watching them!
That’s the moment I decided to re-focus my career, move away from animation production and start shaping a career as a film programmer by taking any opportunity to volunteer for festivals as a short film pre-selector, starting with Encounters, then joining the team of short film viewers of the Edinburgh Film Festival and eventually getting a job as short film programmer at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2009, which was my first real breakthrough, from which all my subsequent work as a curator followed. I can’t really say “I fell into this profession”; quite the opposite – I actually had to single-handedly pursue it!
What can you do to get a head start?
You have to prove yourself and your ability to have a good eye and sensibility for strong film content before a festival or organisation will trust you with making decisions. Even before being accepted as a volunteer in the pre-selection team of the Edinburgh Film Festival, I had to prove my approach to watching film and discuss it with the festival programmers.
You have to be passionate about watching films; all kinds of films – old and new, and many of them, and be able to express this passion. Be curious and open-minded about films; everything you watch will shape and refine your taste and make your approach to films more stimulating.
Then, on a practical level, try and become a pre-selector for a short film festival, to help them watch the hundreds of submissions they receive – that will provide you with your foot in the door. Make contacts and don't be afraid to ask for people's advice and bring your interest for this profession to their attention. If you are not too invasive and manage to express your genuine interest, you'll be surprised to see how many experienced people are happy to give you their advice; and if you create a good connection with them, they'll remember about you.
Also, it has been crucial for me to have experienced working in many different sectors of the film industry and film festivals, which has given me a precious all-round understanding of how this industry works in terms of film festival organisation, film sales and distribution all the way to print transport.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
A programme of short films is a bit like a journey – the films that go into it are juxtaposed in a very thoughtful way. Being in the position of choosing certain films and arranging them in a specific order to create a mood, explore a theme or simply create unexpected resonances is creative in many different ways. When creating a short film programme one makes a proposal to an audience, and discovering the way the audience will react to it is always very exciting for me.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That every single experience will make sense once you can look back and join the dots. There's no set way to find your path to what you want to do as a profession, and every life experience you have will prove incredibly useful in the end; especially as a curator, since you constantly have to stimulate and nurture yourself with watching things and keeping up to scratch with the new and the old. You do create your professional path in a very personal way and this ultimately makes you unique.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
The Independent Cinema Office website regularly lists all the openings in the UK film industry. Other good websites are ArtsHub and of course IdeasTap. I also check the individual websites of film festivals and organisations, and I’ve tailor-made my Facebook page in order to follow all the organisations I’m interested in. I was very reluctant to join Facebook at the start, since I’m not overly keen on its personal use, but in terms of work opportunities and staying abreast of the news in the film industry it has proved to be very useful.
Encounters International Short Film and Animation Festival runs from 18 to 23 September in Bristol.
For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Film hub.