Note: the profiles of the films Quick Draw and York Needs Feminism below did not feature in the print version of this article owing to space limitations
Question: Where can you watch over fifty films about everything from a surreal journey through the First World War trenches to a man who transfers his consciousness between bodies? Answer: this weekend at Heslington East, where the LUMA Film Festival will showcase the variety and originality of University of York Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV) students’ short films.
The TFTV course at York has been running for just four years, and this year’s class will be the second group to graduate. The festival was founded a year after the course, and has grown bigger and more popular each year.
“This year we had over fifty submissions, which is two-thirds more than last year”, explains Harry Woodman, third-year Theatre, Film and Television student and Festival Director. “We feel like we’ve got a fair reflection of the best work produced this year, not only in technical quality but also in great storytelling.”
As well as film screenings, LUMA will feature workshops on how to write a script, film a fight and make a live TV show. “The workshops are for the public to find out more about what we do in the department”, Woodman. There will also be talks from Charlie Higson, writer, director and producer of TV shows such as The Fast Show and Agatha Christie’s Marple and author of the Young Bond children’s books.
All films submitted are showing, but the daily Gala Screenings will offer a pick of the best work in the festival, chosen by scores from TFTV students who’d watched their peers’ submissions. Although there will be two prizes for the best films at the Gala Screenings – the Orillo Pick Award, chosen by the festival’s sponsors Orillo Productions, and the Audience Choice Award – the festival is about collaboration, not competition. As The Trench director Alex Campbell (see below) says, “It’s just nice to go and have that celebration with everyone who we’ve worked with so closely over the last three years to make the degree happen, but also to make all the films along the way happen.”
Gala Screenings Highlights
A Thousand Cranes
Director Clara Cornish describes A Thousand Cranes as “All about company and finding someone who you belong with. I’ve done a lot of things which I hope people don’t notice. Things as simple as the pacing of how they walk and the way it cuts together are about showing how they’re pieces in the same puzzle.” One of the unusual aspects of the film is the complete absence of dialogue. Instead, Cornish explains, “There’s dialogue through dancing because one of the main characters is a dancer and the other is a pianist. It’s more natural for these people than just talking could be.” Cornish gave her lead actors, University of York students Steven Rowan Jeram and Isabel Hawkins, a lot of freedom to explore their roles: “I didn’t want to confine the performance too much because they know better how to do it than I could direct them.”
Writer Abigail Henry’s inspiration for No Surrender came from a photograph. “It was a suffragette stood in her uniform in the prison. But then there was a woman in a black uniform who was clearly a prison guard, and her character was more interesting for me, because why would a woman choose to fight against the woman fighting for freedom?” No Surrender’s lead characters are Jennifer, a middle-class woman involved in the suffragette movement, and Maggie, a working-class prison wardress. It was filmed at the deserted Dean Road prison in Scarborough, where the filmmakers were shocked to be shown the underground cells where women prisoners were kept. “There was no ventilation, no windows,” Henry remembers. “Even in the prison women weren’t as well-regarded as the men.” She believes that the suffragettes still have the power to inspire modern audiences. “I do still think that women are oppressed. What I hoped to achieve in the end was that the audience would think, especially with movements and fights and struggles, if you commit to it, keep on following it through.”
“It’s a sci-fi thriller following a man called Sam that can transfer his consciousness from one person to another,” director Andrew Kueh explains. “It’s his mission in the film to find his original body.” The Internet was crucial for making Prime Contact, as it is for many independent films today, most notably Veronica Mars. The producers used Casting Call Pro to find actors and Kickstarter to fund it, offering rewards for donations such as DVDs, posters and the chance to be an extra in the film. Director of Photography Robert Frost is balanced about the benefits of Internet fundraising – “It’s a good way of reaching your audience straight away because they are invested in it, literally. If you were going to do anything more ambitious than this, I’m not sure whether Kickstarter would be a good way of getting massive amounts of money.” Making a sci-fi film on a limited budget required them to be creative, editing the film so an actor moving in and out of frame looked like he was switching bodies, using an iPad as a hand scanner, and turning the TFTV building and the Ron Cooke Hub into the headquarters of a futuristic company!
As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War, The Trench depicts one man’s physical and psychological quest for survival amid the horrors of the Western Front. Described by its producers as a cross between Saving Private Ryan and Pan’s Labyrinth, it tells the story of a soldier who is trapped in a collapsing tunnel and journeys through an underground world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur. It’s an ambitious project and production was sometimes challenging. “We were meant to go film at a trench that was already built,” says producer Lucy Shepherd, “but we had this really bad weather the week before, so on the first day of production we got a phone call from them saying ‘Sorry, it’s collapsed, we don’t have it anymore’. So we had a panic for a day and then we decided we’d build our own trench.” Director Alex Campbell adds: “It made it look much more filmic by transporting people back in that time, but it was incredibly tough. As with all of these films, I think that the only way that they really succeed is that there is an element of luck. Luck and a lot of hard work.”
Quick Draw is a ten-minute silent tale of rough justice and revenge in the Old West. “I love Westerns as a genre”, says director Attila Molnar, “and I wanted to do an authentic, real gritty Wild West flick. I just wanted to get the genre out of my system.” Making the film has taught the second-year a lot about directing: “You need to step back and look at the whole bigger picture and look at the project objectively. I got lost in the details loads of times.”
York Needs Feminism
For a documentary-making course at the City Screen Picturehouse, Luke Tolen asked York passers-by three questions: “Do you believe in equality? Are you a feminist? What do you feel about Page 3?” He got a variety of answers: “A lot of people say that they believe in equality, but when you ask if they’re a feminist, they say no. There’s a lot of misconceptions about what feminism is. There were some that I really had to grit my teeth talking to because of the things they were saying, but it was for the purpose of the documentary.”
The LUMA Film Festival takes place on June 21st and 22nd at the TFTV Department. For more information, see www.lumafilmfestival.com.