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Chelmsford Film Festival // Carl Mackenzie

Festival / Interview / by Katie

With the increase of regional film festivals on the UK circuit we have made a lot of friends in this area, and it’s a joy to see them go from strength-to-strength. Carl Mackenzie of Chelmsford Film Festival came to us in the inception of the film festival to pick our brains about festivals, and about the programming and submission process. So now it’s our turn to repay the brain-picking, and ask him some questions about this year’s edition…



Tell us about your festival?

Chelmsford Film Festival will celebrate its second year from 6-9 June 2018.  It’s an annual 4-day event focussing predominantly on the best short films from around the world.  We stand out from other festivals because we recognise multiple aspects of the talent behind making a short film, presenting a total of 12 awards, including Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

Set in the heart of Chelmsford City, the organisers are made up of filmmakers, film lovers and industry professionals, all with one thing in common – a genuine love for what we do.  With that in mind, we want people to love the 4 days of the festival – the entire event is therefore welcoming, entertaining and above all, fun!



What made you start your film festival?

It started out, like all best ideas, as a conversation down the pub about the film industry.  Growing up in Essex, a career in film never really felt like an option that was open to us and this is a view shared by the people I know who currently work in the film industry.  For me and fellow CFF director, Chris Cook, this meant a delay getting into the industry we both love because ‘Hollywood’ just seemed so far away.  This is something we didn’t want future generations hindered by – we wanted to show them that this is a viable career path, whatever your class. This coupled with the fact that our home city of Chelmsford was lacking a film festival, prompted us to set up CFF and bring the glamour of the film industry to Chelmsford.

Following our launch last year, it became evident that the local area had so many talented people from the industry, yet they were all unaware of each other – until CFF2017. We now want to continue to grow the festival and make the event an important addition to Chelmsford, and more importantly, the industry’s calendars.


What are you most looking forward to in your next edition?

It’s hard to pick just one aspect because the 4-day festival offers so much.  As with last year, we expect opening night to be a big event.  Presenting our award for Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema is always exciting – last year this was presented to Alice Lowe and the atmosphere was fantastic.  This will be followed by our specially selected feature film for CFF2018 – a new addition to the festival line up.

If I had to choose though, for me personally, it is always the film screenings.  We have 4 screening session of some of the world’s best short films and I can’t wait to see what this year’s selected filmmakers have produced.  If it’s anywhere near the quality we received last year, we’re in for treat – I think it’s fair to say we were blown away by the quality last year!



What have you learnt the most from being involved with a film festival?

I think what I have learnt the most is that none of us are alone in our love of film.  The support and interest from the city of Chelmsford and nationally has been amazing.  I have also learnt that there is a ridiculous amount of filmmaking talent out there.


How does your selection process work?

We have a dedicated panel of judges who watch every film and score appropriately.  The highest scoring films make official selection.  They then go through a further round of judging to decide who wins one of our many coveted awards, ranging from Best Film to Best Cinematography. There is also an Audience Choice award which is voted for on the screening nights by the festival goers.


What’s your protocol for sending out rejections?

This is the worst part about running a festival.  It may be of no consolation to filmmakers, but festival organisers really do wish they could accept every film.  Being a filmmaker myself, you never want to get a rejection.  However, as a festival organiser, tough decisions do have to be made because there is just not enough time to show every single film. We let the filmmakers know as soon as we can via email and try to keep the We try to encourage the filmmakers not to take this a comment on their work but again, as a film maker myself I know this email is always hard to read.



Length of short film – discuss…

This is completely down to the filmmaker and will depend on the story they are trying to tell and what they are looking to achieve.  My last short film “The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan” was towards the top end with a run time of 23mins, which we knew many festivals would not accept (with max. film times being limited to around 15-20 mins).  However, we believe the story demanded that run time and we couldn’t have told the story we wanted to tell in a shorter period.

If the primary aim is to achieve maximum festival selections, then a good strategy would be to keep the run time short. That said, it’s worth noting that many films at last year’s festival were closer to the top end of the run time, yet they all had one thing in common – the quality. I think if the quality and production value remain high and the run time justifies the story telling, then there is no correct answer to how long the run time should be for a short film.


Describe your festival in five words or three emojis

New, exciting, fun, welcoming, inspiring


What’s a personal favourite film festival of yours?

For me, it’s Manchester Film Festival. Great people running the festival and for me personally, I have very fond memories of the whole event.



What do you wish more filmmakers did, and didn’t do?

I’d like them to keep making great films and enter them into CFF2018!


What questions do you get asked the most by filmmakers?

The most common question asked is whether the festival can waive the submission fee. As I said earlier, we don’t like saying no, but festivals cost money to run and most festivals are run by organisers who are driven by their passion for filmmaking, not what they can earn from the festival.


What’s your favourite film?

I always find this an impossible question to answer because there are just too many great films out there.  From the most recent cinema releases, I loved Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.


And drink of choice whilst the festival is underway…?

It’s the same as when I’m on set – as much coffee as I can!  Although one of our sponsors from last year, Tiptree Jam, provided us with their newly launched Tiptree Fruit Gin at the closing party and it’s fair to say I’m now a gin convert! [* nod of appreciation by fellow gin lover Katie here! *]



Thank you so much to Carl for taking the time to answer our most pressing of questions! Do check out the festival as a punter, and if you’re a filmmaker you still have time to submit – FINAL DEADLINE is FRIDAY 9TH MARCH. And if you’ve read this far then you can have a shiny Festival Formula dedicated fee discount on us…

PLATFORM: Film Freeway

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