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Sam Cullis of Barnes Film Festival

Festival / Interview / by Festival Formula


Sam Cullis, Barnes Film Festival Director


  • Tell us about your festival


Barnes Film Festival a dynamic three-day event is now in its third year.  It launches on the 28th-30th of September 2018 with a gala evening followed by a weekend of film and filmmakers events. The festival showcases the work of young filmmakers from across the UK, offers workshops, talks by industry professionals, as well as boasting an exciting program of films from around the world. Barnes Film Festival celebrates diversity, passion and creativity connecting young filmmakers – and anybody interested in film – with key industry professionals. Our festival is well supported by the film industry as well as local and national media. We are backed by Film4, Vue Cinema, BFI Future Film and UKTV who together with Barnes Film Festival want to celebrate the next generation of filmmakers in the UK.




  • What made you start your film festival?


I am head of Media Studies at the Harrodian School in Barnes, and founder of the Barnes Film Academy, a local film-making school for young screenwriters, actors, and cinematographers aged between eight and 15. I normally teach GCSEs and A-Levels, but I realised that there was a real buzz for filmmaking at an even younger age, so I set up the Academy in 2012 for students who didn’t want to do sport and other camps that were out there. The popularity of the Barnes Film Academy continued to grow, so much so that it now runs courses over most of the school holidays, enabling young students to experience the entire filmmaking process from start to finish. The festival was a natural progression from the Academy and was primarily started to give opportunities to young people who perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have had it, to get a foot in the door of the industry. I realised it is a really hard process to actually get your film shown at a festival, so that’s when I started thinking about setting up a new film festival in Barnes. It was really important to me that we were creating something unique that hadn’t been done in the area before. I realised there were lots of competing festivals in London but after visiting several over the years I found that a focus on more youthful contributors was something really important to future of film in Britain. This is where our slogan, ‘Celebrating the next generation of filmmakers’, comes from.




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


This year as part of their ethos, celebrating the next generation of filmmakers, Barnes Film Festivals screenings will focus on ‘first time films’ by local and international directors, actors and producers. We hope to highlight the challenges of taking a film from production all the way to exhibition.  I have been working closely with the head of Film4 Daniel Battsek to select a fascinating program of films for every age group. We also have some really exciting Director Q and A’s (currently top secret!), industry events and panel discussions and I can’t wait to announce the program.



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


A film is nothing without an audience. Filmmakers get a chance to have their films seen by a large, captive audience with relatively few restrictions. I know you can distribute your film all over social media, but there is nothing like seeing an audience watching your film on the big screen and experiencing their initial reaction to your piece of work.



  • How does your selection process work?


We have a team of experienced film selectors from industries such as Film4, the BFI, UKTV, who have have a tough job on their hands to mark each film on different criteria including: directing, production, writing, casting, editing, sound and camera. Entries with the top scores will be shortlisted to be screened at the festival. At the festival judges will select the winner for each of the three genres for each age category and we have some incredible prizes up for grabs. Past winners have recieved film kit such as a 2.5K Blackmagic Camera, high spec Sigma lenses, Audio recording equipment from Senheisser and work experience at a variety of production houses around London including Twickenham Studios and The Farm. I want to stress that judges are not looking for the best lenses or special effects, but the ability to tell a story well. For this reason, you could enter a film shot on the most basic equipment and still have a chance of winning the competition (in each category). Obviously, technical ability will be a major factor, but anyone can make a film in 2018, even on your iPhone. Get out there and do it!



  • What’s your protocol for sending out rejections?


As I say we carefully consider each submission, and just by entering all our entrants automatically get filmmaker status on IMDB, with a profile on their film as well as free entree into some of our filmmaker events.  So it is well worth entering even if you are not shortlisted!


Length of short film – discuss…

3 minutes for under 12

5 minutes for 12-18

10 minutes for 19 and over

Our competition is for short films because realistically as festival over a weekend, we can’t show feature length films. Each age category has a slightly different length due to the time, and crew needed to make a longer film. It has to be said that short films aren’t a lesser form of storytelling, making them requires the exact same skills as feature film but on a smaller scale. With new technology, shorts films have a lot more interest among filmmakers starting out, because so many people are making them and putting them online. Finally the shorter the film, the less costly it will be!



  • Describe your festival in five words or three emojis

🎬 #barnesfilmfestival2018

👊 #nextgenfilm

🔥 Passing on the torch to the next generation of filmmakers!



  • What’s a personal favourite film festival of yours?


The BFI Future film festival due to its support of young, emerging filmmakers. They provide you with the industry insights to pursue a career in the film, TV and creative industries and support our ethos of celebrating the next generation of filmmakers. There networking events throughout the year are really great, I often go along with some of my students and they have really gained from the experiences that they offer. Go on their website and check them out.




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


Focus more and narrative. A strong narrative is really important. An old teacher of mine used to say that a movie needs to ‘move the audience’ and often people get to tied up with creating incredibly visual films but the film fails to tell the audience a story. Let your stories come from you, because you know yourself best and you have a unique perspective on this world nobody else has. When you’re behind the camera, just let your feelings flow. All films, big or small, should have a distinct feature that makes them different from every other. To be a successful filmmaker, you need to develop your own style and flairs. If not, you’ll be stuck copying other people’s ideas. Film is like a blank page to a writer; it is up to you what you put on that page.




  • What questions do you get asked the most by filmmakers?


What other festivals should I enter my film in or how do I get my film seen by the biggest audience? I hope our festival helps to answer some of these questions, especially the industry panels which are fantastic for giving young people advice about a variety of different job roles in the industry.



  • What’s your favourite film?


I love teaching the film ‘City of God’ due to the dynamic nature of the filmmaking. It is highly visceral, thought provoking but at the same time entertaining film. A great film shot on a small budget proving that, due to the filmmaking style, a foreign language film can be accessible to all audiences.


  • And drink of choice whilst the festival is underway…?


These days I am pretty much a non drinker, far too much going on with festival organisation, I think some of my younger team might be better qualified to answer this question! Coffee throughout and if I get a chance on the final Sunday of the festival, the Olympic Studios members bar where we have some of our films showing, does a fantastic Mahito!




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