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Sunderland Shorts’ Film Festival 2017

Sunderland Short Film Festival 2017 – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

Lights, Camera, Action.

Filmmakers and fans were elated in equal measure recently at the return of the popular Sunderland Short Film Festival earlier this month. The event, in its third year, was created in collaboration with ‘sister festival’ DC Shorts in America and provides a platform for filmmakers and enthusiasts to showcase their work on a national stage.

Creating a festival which celebrates the uniqueness and storytelling of short film, only films less than twenty minutes in length can be submitted for consideration, with screenings taking place over three days and each featuring a variety of shortlisted competitors.

Carys Watford, whose film ‘Theatreland’ screened at this year’s festival, spoke about the importance of an event like Sunderland Shorts, saying: “it’s always great to get your film seen in as many places as you can…if you can go to the festival which is screening it, all the better”. Bernie Mooney, whose seven minute drama ‘Thief’ tackles the topic of sex trafficking in the United Kingdom, was quick to add that “I’ve been at festivals before where nobody has turned up at all to watch your film…so to be here in Sunderland with a full audience like this is very gratifying”

As well as jury and audience based awards; films were nominated for several categories’ with a selection of the finalists films due to be shown to attendees in Washington at the DC Shorts festival this September. This offers locally based filmmakers the opportunity to have their work seen by an international audience and the offer is reciprocated when DC Shorts shortlist was screened on the last day of the festival in Sunderland. Finalists also received a free upload for their film courtesy of Modyst UK, an international digital platform and online cinema.

In 2006 Sunderland became the first and so far only city to sign a Friendship Agreement with Washington DC. This occasion was paramount to the establishment of Sunderland Shorts, as festival director Anne Tye explained. “Sunderland’s friendship status with Washington DC has brought about some real successes, and Sunderland Shorts Film Festival is chief among them.” adding further, “Learning from our friends in the US, and gleaning the knowledge they have gained over several years – growing their event from a standing start to one that is hugely popular and a key part of the city’s cultural programme – has allowed us to replicate this and quickly create a fantastic festival for Sunderland.”

In previous years, screenings occurred at various ‘pop up’ locations across the city, with each screening providing audiences a unique insight into both the artists work as well as a local venue they may never have visited. This year all screenings were localized centrally in ‘The Place’, a creative business hub in the city centre. Hannah Matterson, festival organizer, said: “Since the start of the festival in 2015, Sunderland Shorts has always had the aim of supporting local, small and medium sized businesses across the city.”

“We’ve been known to use coffee shops, art galleries and even boardrooms as cinemas in the past. By doing this we hope to encourage more young filmmakers to take up the art and to become the directors, cinematographers and producers of the future.”

As well as film screenings the event also presented several free workshops, delivered by established professionals in the industry, imparting advice and wisdom. Roar Motion’s Rob Parsons, who operated an informal showcase with business partner Matt Eyre told us: “It’s very important these workshops happen, when I was a student at University I would have loved to do something like this, get hands on with the technology in this way and see it all up close and in person, it’s invaluable”.

Councilor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said: “Sunderland is a very warm and friendly city and I’m certain this army of filmmakers, writers and actors will be afforded a fine Wearside welcome. Sunderland Shorts is helping put our city on the filmmaking map, and not only bringing exciting new talent in, but helping our city’s creative bight sparks showcase their own work to a whole new audience.”

Personal screen highlights included ‘Pebbles’, a drama from Jonathan Shaw which saw a woman return to the hotel where she spent her honeymoon fifty years hence. ‘Four Day Weekend’ was a superbly acted American drama about a married couple on a self imposed relationship break, animation ‘The Slow Lane’ was an incredible undertaking in both creation and design, a simple film about a tiny village and the damage of a fallen tree and the surreal ‘Dots’ was less than 91 seconds long, but also provided a unique interpretation into the genre of dance from filmmakers Jody Oberfelder and Eric Siegel.

As in previous years, winning films were announced on the last night of the festival, with Irish drama ‘Pebbles’ capturing both Best International picture and a Jury’s Choice award. Best North East regional film went to ‘Mordecai’, a truly original comedy drama from Benjamin Lee about two brothers at their father’s funeral, made with the permission and involvement of an orthodox Jewish community in Gateshead. There was also an audience choice award for James Cookson’s horror, ‘Panic’ while Best UK National film went to the picture that had proceeded it in that screening, comedy ‘Rhonna and Donna’ from director Diana O Pusic about two women conjoined at the hip.

“You make the film you feel passionate about” Carys’ told us, and this mantra can easily be transferred to the positive work Sunderland Shorts are doing making a festival in an area they truly feel passionate about.

“Each year, it is growing, and as we move into our third year, we look forward to creating something that is bigger and better than ever” Anne told me of this year’s event, “establishing a reputation of being ‘the friendliest festival’” making it obvious the team has no plans to slow down. “Short films aren’t an easy sell” Hannah confided, reflecting on the festival overall, “but we’re making steps forward each year to increase our audiences and to engage with more filmmakers from all over the world.”

With such a unique platform and a plethora of talent signing up, there’s no reason to imagine we’ll see the end of Sunderland Shorts anytime soon.