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Sam Cullis // Festival Director of Barnes Film Festival

Festival / Interview / by Festival Formula

  • Tell us about your festival

Barnes Film Festival a dynamic week long event is now in its fifth year.  It launches on the 19th June 2020 with a gala evening at the beautiful Olympic Studios followed by a week of film and filmmakers events. The festival showcases the work of emerging 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 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, the BFI, Working Title, Radiant Productions, Filmwave, Vue Cinema, BFI and UKTV who together with Barnes Film Festival wants to discover and support filmmaking talent in the UK.

  • What made you start your film festival?

I realised it was a difficult process for filmmakers to actually get their film shown at a festival, especially an emerging filmmaker who perhaps is at the beginning of their filmmaking career. So that’s when I started thinking about setting up a new film festival in Barnes where I work teaching Media and Film. 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 nurturing new talent and film 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?

I have been working closely with the head of Film4 Daniel Battsek to select a fascinating program of feature films (fiction and documentaries). We also have some really exciting Q and A’s (currently top secret!), industry events and panel discussions and I can’t wait to announce the program. One of the events I am most looking forward to is one that you are supporting – a gathering of filmmakers, I hate to use the word ‘networking’ but an opportunity for those interested in seeing what the indie film market has to offer and meet our festival founders, patrons, industry experts and mingle with like minded filmmakers.

We are continuing to grow other areas of the festival and as part of our commitment to being a sustainable festival we are at the London Wetland Centre again for an afternoon of impact producing another insightful film event and panel discussion.

  • 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 animation, fiction and documentary backgrounds who 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 had some incredible prizes up for grabs. Past winners have received 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. 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 2019, 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! Filmmakers are notified through filmfreeway but will also receive an email from our selection committee to let them know if they have been successful.

Length of short film – discuss…


All genres welcome

All levels of skill and experience welcome

UK and INTERNATIONAL film categories


Age: 18 yrs and under

All genres welcome

All levels of skill and experience welcome

‘UK based’ filmmakers only

We are also encouraging feature length submissions.

FEATURE FILMS (over 60 mins)

We focus on debut filmmakers for the feature films that we screen.

  • 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?

Last year I was invited to judge the best International Short Film and Best Greek Short Film at the Aegean Film Festival in Patmos, Greece.  It is an incredible place to visit and as a festival it has this wonderful vision to create a summer meeting point in the Aegean as a platform for creative development. I will be returning this summer with my family and cannot wait!

  • 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 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! Oat Milk latte throughout and if I get a chance on the closing night of the festival, the Olympic Studios members bar where we have some of our films showing, does a fantastic Mahito!

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