#industry is a behind the screens look at the EIFF. Alongside cinema attendance at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, there are talks, events, networking drinks, parties – and people, who for such a visual, visible media one otherwise might never see. What happens when we look at the industry behind the event, from the novice perspective of those trying to break into it?
Behind the curtain if not behind the camera, poised like the magic man Oz – and too often happy to remain there ticking cogs over as the big, ethereal faces speak on screen above – are those rare, exquisite animals, the festival curators. The EIFF this year has 132 new short films and 130 new feature films, all of which have been watched and loved and deliberated over, arranged into themes, chapters, orders and screening dates, fixed into place in the wider narrative arc of the festival itself, and are now being celebrated and springboarded in the EIFF’s good name to whomsoever may endeavour to take a seat.
The curator, despite her seismic – indeed, leading – role, is not one who immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the film industry. Those interested in film may toy with the idea of becoming a director, a screenwriter, a producer but, excusing my generalisations, how does one first fall upon the role of film curator? Sonja, co-responsible for ‘Out of Bounds’, the Student Shorts screening at EIFF, studied architecture at graduate level in Croatia, and now uses the exhibition components of its six-year masters programme to her advantage as she develops a curatorial voice in film. Meanwhile, Steven intended to study a Masters in Film Journalism at Glasgow University – before they discontinued the course. Their colleague Carys describes film curation as the perfect mix of creativity and logic, a comment which resonates with all of them. Curation, they explain, is an applied and incredibly creative process. Not least ensuring films get the audiences they need and deserve; the process of selecting and then arranging a cohort of films into the wrong order could change the meaning of the screening as a whole, and films can get lost if mismatched in terms of theme, duration and gravitas with those surrounding it in a programme. Thus, if you don’t have the interest or the ‘flair’, as Steven self-deprecating puts it, for production itself, curation is a surefire way to inject film theory and knowledge into creative muscle – and then use that muscle to hit home.
‘Out of Bounds’, the shorts programme at the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival curated by Steven, Carys, Sonja and their Edinburgh University coursemates, is one such product of this creative muscle, and it was screened this weekend at Edinburgh’s Cineworld. Featuring the best and newest works from the likes of the London Film School, Edinburgh College of Art, Napier University and the National Film and Television School, the programme is notably unique in that the crew are made up exclusively of student filmmakers and the event is by student curators. Toting films and languages from across the globe – from the animation ‘Sea Child’ in Korean to the British ‘Transit Zone’ whose themes of immigration pertain to its Arabic/English dialogue – Lydia Beilby (EIFF Shorts Programmer) describes the screening as an exploration in ‘what it takes to exist without compromises in a world marred by boundaries’. It is a statement, and a set of themes, remarkably poignant in light of the week’s events and their implications for young people.
This internationalism was not a necessarily a conscious move, Sonja says; neither, what I notice looking through the credits, is a markedly even match between men and women behind the camera – something the rest of the festival has had to combat with initiatives such as the shorts programme tellingly named, ‘Bridging the Gap: Women’. Instead of focusing on what the industry may want to see – the marketable film – they chose to focus on what the audience will feel engaged and provoked by, and on an allegiance with budding filmmakers who are trying to break into an underfunded and occasionally hostile industry.
This feels like a pretty positive prevailing attitude for the next generation of curators to be, well, curating. It certainly seems that curation itself is becoming increasingly recognised as an art form in its own right at an institutional as well as industry level. Sonja, Steven and Carys are enrolled at Edinburgh University’s MSc in Film, Exhibition and Curation. When they applied last year, this newly renamed course was pretty much the only one of its kind. Now, Glasgow Uni is rolling out a course under the same name, and London too. Sonja is attending the US film festival Telluride this Autumn and it will be interesting, she mentions, to be representing this course in new territory; there is nothing of its like across the pond.
Of course, the additional draw of studying Film, Distribution and Curation in Edinburgh, Steven suggests, is that the ‘city is saturated’ with film culture, from the short film festival to the numerous independent cinema events, to the Fringe festival, and EIFF itself. The general attitude from the three young curators is that within this setting each of the students ‘has been carefully curated themselves’, and they will graduate with impressive portfolios including programmes at the Glasgow Film Festival and North Berwick Shorts Festival – the question, as with most young people right now, is where to go from here. There are plenty of work opportunities, Carys states, but as is pandemic within the creative industries, they require you to work for free. And with ever increasing restrictions on funding and free movement, the student these days is not exactly young, wild and free. ‘Out of Bounds’, therefore, has been a resoundingly convincing and prophetic start and demonstrates the talent of the ones behind the curtain. If only Oz really could wield magic.
Hannah O is the Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TV at PTL. She really likes camera equipment, long words, and anything she can deep fat fry. Do not approach Hannah when she is eating fried food in the early hours; she will be drunk and convinced she knows everything. Elsewise, these days she may be found in Edinburgh University Library with her head in a book – probably Facebook.
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