NOW SHOWING: Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival [17 to 20 MAY]

Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival is the only event dedicated to short form documentary in the UK. The 3rd edition opens this week and runs for four days at Rio Cinema and Hackney Attic. We caught up with Directors & Programmers Vera Hems Anderson and Natalia Garay Ceron to chat about this year’s event.

LOVE CHILD screens at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.
LOVE CHILD screens at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.

Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival is the only event dedicated to short form documentary in the UK. The 3rd edition opens this week and runs for four days at Rio Cinema and Hackney Attic. Showcasing “the very best of British and international short documentary talent”, the friendly festival throws the doors wide open to “a real mix of creatives, professionals, students and the curious”.

Since it started in 2016, the Cheap Cuts programme has grown and this year features several bold strands – including CONFLICT & IDENTITY, DISPLACEMENT, MY FAITH & ME, HYBRIDS & UNCONVENTIONAL STORYTELLING and DIRECTED BY WOMEN – as well as a story-telling masterclass with award-winning documentary editor, Ariadna Fatjo-Vilas (THE ACT OF KILLING). Films are judged by an international jury for prizes including Best British Short, Best International Short, Best Unconventional Storytelling, Emerging Talent and the Audience Award.

RADIANT CIRCUS caught up with Vera Hems Anderson and Natalia Garay Ceron – the festival’s Directors & Programmers – as they prepare their clipboards for this year’s screenings. We chatted about what goes into curating the programme, where storytelling boundaries are being pushed and whether wider social movements are starting to increase the diversity of filmed voices.

LEMBRI UDRUU screens at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.
LEMBRI UDRUU screens at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.

[RADIANT CIRCUS]:
For people that don’t know about Cheap Cuts, what got you started?

[CHEAP CUTS]:
Cheap Cuts started as an idea to hold film screenings locally in our area that focused on documentary and DIY filmmaking from new or underrepresented filmmakers. We go to quite a lot of film festivals and we often felt that documentary, especially short docs, were really lacking.

[RC]:
How has the festival grown since your first edition?

[CC]:
Our first edition took place in a gallery space in Hoxton. The space was wonderful but it was completely bare, meaning we had to buy everything, including the chairs! This year the festival takes place in 2 very established venues and both are accessible, which was hugely important to us. Our first festival was 2 days, last year’s was 3 and this year we are running for 4 days. Our space is also physically much bigger and able to accommodate more people. The extra space and additional run time means we’re able to show more of the films we want to. We see an increase in submissions each year and are reaching wider audiences by hosting screenings further afield, most recently in Amsterdam and Berlin.

[RC]:
Cheap Cuts is committed to diversity: of stories, of filmmakers and filmmaking: Are wider social movements starting to propel distinctive new voices and stories?

[CC]:
For all its flaws, social media platforms have allowed these stories to be more accessible. Available and affordable equipment such as mobile phones mean people can get their stories out quickly. An interview, protest or meeting can easily be filmed, edited and uploaded onto YouTube etc. So the social movements that may often be overlooked are gaining more media space and people are becoming more aware of what’s going on around them.

[RC]:
You welcome films made on VHS, miniDV, phones… what is it about these lo-fi/low-cost approaches that appeals?

[CC]:
It can mean that there’s nothing to hide behind; if the story is engaging, then the audience respond to that, not to the price tag of the camera, which is irrelevant. It also allows filmmakers with restricted access to equipment or budget to submit their films. One of the winning films from our first year was shot on a GoPro and filmed predominantly by kids in Kobane, Syria. It was super simple but the story was pure and eye opening in a way that no other film that we saw on the same subject was. The approach of the filmmaker using small and unobtrusive equipment made the whole film much more intimate.

[RC]:
Where and how are storytelling boundaries being pushed, for example, in the experimental strand?

[CC]:
We believe that attitude to documentary is massively changing due to platforms like Netflix making it easily accessible. This is mostly a positive because it’s making content that is engaging and appealing and people are appreciating that documentary can be creative and entertaining. Documentary is still absolutely a creative filmmaking process and we’re always excited to see filmmakers that aren’t afraid to play with the idea of what a documentary is.

We’re always really impressed with the techniques filmmakers are using to change our preconceptions of factual filmmaking. This year we have films that incorporate aspects of reconstruction (not in a Crimewatch sense..) to play with the lines between fiction and reality, we have films that use animation to represent what can’t be recreated and we have films that use stunning cinematography in an observational approach to let the story guide itself.

[RC]:
What goes into finalising the programme selection for the festival?

[CC]:
A lot! Each film is passed through several rounds and all submissions are viewed by the screener team before being sent through several rounds of reviewing. We take a lot into account to decide whether a film goes through. We get a lot of wonderful films and it’s a very considered process.

[RC]:
Are the programme strands pre-set, or do they emerge?

[CC]:
They mostly emerge organically as the films are selected. We try to put films that complement each other together.

[RC]:
Have there been any unique challenges in finalising this year’s selection?

[CC]:
As always, losing good films. It’s just not possible to screen every film we want to, unfortunately.

[RC]:
What about this year’s programme excites you? What should audiences be watching out for?

[CC]:
We are very excited and proud that this year’s programme continues to promote and support women directors from across the world. Over 60% of the films are directed by women. You can catch our dedicated DIRECTED BY WOMEN strand on Sunday evening at Rio Cinema. This screening in particular highlights some of the very best films of this year’s festival and are bold stories by and about women.

[RC]:
What impact of this year’s event would be a sure sign of success?

[CC]:
Audience enjoyment – if we know that the audience are responding positively to the films, then we know it’s all worth it! We hope the audience discover something new and that this encourages more people to support short documentary as an important and creative genre.

SNACKBAR screens at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.
SNACK BAR – IMBISS screens at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

  • Head to Cheap Cuts for the full programme and box office/venue links. The festival runs from 17 to 20 MAY 2018 at Hackney Attic and Rio Cinema.
  • Follow the action on YouTubeFacebook, Twitter & Instagram.
  • From the team behind Cheap Cuts, Last Frame is a new project that showcases feature and short films shining a light on social issues, underrepresented communities and also festival winners and audience favourites in Walthamstow.

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Featured image: 100 WOMEN I KNOW (2017).

Radiant Circus