Philip Ilson has been involved with the short film scene since the mid ’90s, programming events for the British Council, ICA and various festivals. In 2003 he founded the London Short Film Festival which runs from 7 to 16 January 2011...
I never had any long-term plan to work in film festivals – it became a career by accident.
I ran a short film night back in the mid ’90s called The Halloween Society. The name didn’t refer to anything in particular – it was like when you form a band and have to call it something. We’d been using back rooms of pubs around London when we discovered Notre Dame Hall, an old ballroom that used to do tea dances. We’d hire it and, because of the way the space was set up, we’d also put on live music, performance and burlesque.
It was like a club night with short films. It ran for quite a long time and became popular. We were listed in Time Out and every month a few hundred people would turn up.
In 2003 we had the idea for a short film festival. I’d been running Full Length at the ICA (where bands would perform live rescores to films) and they advised us to keep the Halloween name for our festival. I’m glad we did – if we’d been called London Short Film Festival from the beginning, people might have had an expectation of what we were all about. We’ve built each year and now run 10 days in 25 venues across London. So a few years ago we changed the name to London Short Film Festival. We felt that we’d earned it by then.
I’ve always been about the public live event. Online is great for getting a very large amount of people to watch your film, but you don’t actually get to meet the people. It’s really important for film festivals to have a shared space, and we choose venues with that in mind.
Programming is about personal taste, but also what’s right for that festival. At the East End Film Festival, we’ll program films that appeal to the local audience, while at the BFI London Film Festival it’s always difficult – over 2,000 films were submitted and I only had three 90-minute programs. Our festival has a lot of programs, so can afford to be a bit loose. A film may not be perfectly executed, but if it’s approached in a different way, we might take it.
There is no money in short film in the UK. There is a bit of money in documentary – even with short docs, you can make money – but in the UK, the short film industry is dead. Of course people are still making films, and it’s interesting that filmmakers are emerging outside the traditional routes of film school and shorts – people like Clio Barnard (The Arbor) and Gareth Edwards (Monsters). We run the festival to show that these are exciting times, rather than being negative about it.
My advice is: do something, do it well and see where it leads. It's about creating events, marketing them in an interesting way, with an individual idea that offers an alternative to just going to see a film in the bar. People are out there constantly reinventing those kinds of events.
Philip Ilson was talking to Gus Alvarez.
2011's event kicks off on 7 January. Visit the London Short Film Festival website for more details.
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