Adrian Barber is Festival Director of Bolton International Film Festival. BIFF is two years old this year and we wanted to catch up with Adrian about the ins and outs of running an international film festival in the UK.
What made you start your festival
We fancied doing a film festival for sometime but it only became viable when the Light Cinema was built in the heart of the town. Before the Light all the cinemas were on the ring roads. The Light is different as it’s in the heart of the town in a beautiful Victorian Market building and has it’s own licensed bar, there are shops, restaurants and an art gallery in the same building too. If you were a lover of alternative films before it was Manchester you looked, Manchester is only twenty minutes by train from here and it’s that proximity that is Bolton’s strength but also it’s weakness. We don’t want to live in the shadow of Manchester, we have The Octagon an award winning theatre here and a food and drink festival that attracts 300,000 people, also an annual Ironman event that has a huge audience so we knew that if an event or cultural offering is done properly then people will come here. What surprised us in our inaugural year is it turns out that a lot of people in this area are interested in short film, our audiences were huge. The other thing we discovered is a lot of industry people from the nearby Media City live in Bolton, so what we ended up with is a great mixture of people attending the festival.
What are you most looking forward to in your next edition?
We’ve expanded the festival to three days this year so as well as the cinema we’re also screening at three other venues in the town. Although that means a lot more work for us it will mean we’ll be offering more films, more industry talks and more options for our audience and film-makers. We’re doing lots of free talks including you guys on festival strategy, we’ll be covering Drama, Documentary, VFX and Animation too, so in theory there should be something on offer for everyone. So personally what am I looking forward to ? The day after the festival ! Ha Ha ! I hope that the festival will all run smoothly and be a huge success, but it’s really only after the festival that I get the feedback from the audience. People tell me their personal favourites and I receive emails asking for more information about the films and the film-makers. I also get the feedback on the festival itself from the film-makers, last year we got a “Top 100 reviewed” award from FilmFreeway and obviously we’re keen to achieve that again.
What have you learned the most from being involved with a film festival?
You don’t exist as a film festival without the film-makers – it’s that simple, they are number one. I sometimes think a lot of festivals forget that it’s the film-makers that make the films they screen. BFF is here to support those film-makers before, during and after the festival. I get e-mails everyday from them asking advice and I always answer their enquiries if I’m able. When I see festivals restrict film-makers by demanding exclusivity or demanding the premiere of a film I frown on it. I don’t care whether another festival got the premiere of a film, I’m glad when a film is successful in other festivals even if they are close by to us. Personally I only care about selecting and screening great films, I care about the people who make them and I care whether my audience engages with those films – get those things right and I think everything else falls in to place.
How does your selection process work ?
We have at least three people look at every film before they get whittled down. At Bolton the jurors are also part of the programming team so we listen to their arguments for why a film is of importance as well as their overall scores and opinions. A decision is reached democratically from the short list and the finals selections are notified, it’s then the jurors take one more look and they come to a decision on the award winners.
What’s your protocol for sending out a rejection ?
We have a fixed date of notification, this year it is August 27th . Everyone gets an e-mail notifying them on that date one way or another.
Length of film – discuss.
There is no right or wrong length for a film, but in general for a short film festival I would lean toward the “Less is More” option. So many short films I’ve seen are self indulgent – they simply pace themselves all wrong or simply don’t know when to stop. I saw a film that was the best I’d seen all year the other day, absolute genius film-making in under ten minutes and then what I thought was a clever, understated, poignant ending turned out to be just the beginning of the end… minute after minute drifting on and on, continuing and spelling the end out with an almost “they lived happily ever after” ending.. at that point I hated the film. “The Silent Child” for example, I know they took three minutes off that film in the edit – that’s 15% of the duration. Sometimes a film needs every second of the twenty minutes and sometimes it needs even longer, but I think many times that same story could be told in a lot less time and in most cases it will be all the stronger for it.
My Film Festival in Emoji or Five Words.
Emoji ? I can only do a smiley face so I’ll go with the words – passionate, down-to-earth, diverse, rewarding and enjoyable.
What’s a personal film festival of yours ?
Aesthetica is great, the films, the industry talks, the venues, the backdrop – it’s hard to find fault with it apart from it’s in Yorkshire. Ha ha.
What do you wish more filmmakers did and didn’t do ?
I think I’ve covered the first part of that question in my “Less is More” answer, but I often wish film-makers would spend a lot more time on their scripts. When you’re asking an audience to buy into a “reality” that you’ve created it needs to be “believe-able”. Often I watch films and think “Oh come on !! Nobody would ever say that !” or “Nobody would do that !” or “Nobody would act like that !”As soon as that “reality” you’ve created is questioned the film begins to break down. It can be any element, a simple continuity mistake, or a poor supporting actor, poor location, or really poor sound, but many, many times its the script itself. There’s no excuse for that – don’t pick up the camera until the script is rock solid.
What questions do you get asked the most by filmmakers?
Can I have a waiver? Here’s a link to my film, will it be selected if I enter the film festival? Will you ask Maxine Peake to be in my next film?
What’s your favourite film ?
That’s impossible to answer. Recently it’s “The Square” for drama and “Notes on Blindness” for documentary. They’re both available on VOD, genius and stunning in every way possible.
What’s your drink of choice when the festival is under way ?
Valium and coke
There’s still time to submit to Bolton International Film Festival. Deadline is Wednesday 4th July. Event is hosted on October 2nd-4th. Happy submitting!