Walthamstow Smartphone Film Festival took place at CentrE17 last year (23 NOV 2018), playing to a packed hall of locals, filmmakers and subjects from several community docs. Playing our part as first-time jury member and media partner, here’s our RADIANT CIRCUS writeup.
As many bloggers will know, some posts take longer than expected to bubble to the surface. So it is with this one, a belated writeup of the inaugural Walthamstow Smartphone Film Festival held back in November 2018.
As a first event, the Smartphone Film Festival was a genuine delight, crammed full of a mixed audience of locals, filmmakers and subjects from some of the community docs made in workshops run prior to the event by the Rainbow Collective. An audience with skin in the game – so to speak – is one of those unpredictable extras of the live experience that brings an event to life, particularly when you find yourself sat next to one of the winners as they are announced….
The festival was organised by Vera Hems Anderson and Natalia Garay Ceron who also run Last Frame Club – bringing regular documentary premieres to Walthamstow – and Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival, the only UK event of its kind dedicated exclusively to short documentary. Speaking before the event, Vera described it as “a night of screenings, discussion panels and networking to encourage those already working in film and those just starting out to come together to appreciate digital storytelling and help make filmmaking more accessible.” And so it was. You can read more in our interview, HERE.
This was our first experience at RADIANT CIRCUS of being on the jury for a festival, screening the films beforehand and marking them on a spreadsheet for the final stage of adjudication. It’s a difficult task and real testimony to the power of live film exhibition. Titles that can seem quiet, even timid, on the small screen suddenly come roaring to life in a bigger room with an enthusiastic audience. Similarly, films that initially seemed strong and self-confident inside a laptop, projected almost apologetically when beamed for real.
Which means to say, the judging experience is far from an exact science, requiring not only an appraisal of the raw material in front of you, but also a leap of faith as you imagine it in the bigger space where the majority of its audience will be sat, a few short days later.
On the night, the films went down a treat. Particular note should be given to the several films made by children with the support of Rainbow Collective. These were compelling accounts of children’s firsthand experiences, animated with an accurate eye for detail and disarming honesty about, amongst other urgent issues, the affect of food poverty on a family’s self-esteem.
Joining the other judges on stage for a Q&A after the films but before the awards, discussion focussed on the ways in which smartphones are both democratising filmmaking and yet proliferating content, making curation and competition important features in finding quality films that have real resonance. Predictably, as an audience-focused site, RADIANT CIRCUS’ comments about the social importance of shared stories and the powerful communal rituals of cinema were politely contradicted by a fellow panellist from the London Experimental Film Festival where the artist is everything and the audience made to feel, well, a bit unwelcome… It’s easy to see why some filmmakers in the audience find that attractive – after all, who wants to water down their creative juices? But if art is an act of communication, why waste it screaming into an empty shipping container?
Which brings us back to the films… Divided into amateur and professional fiction and non-fiction categories, there was a real mix here from stop-motion animation from young first-timers as well as more experienced hands, to films that fully exploited the creative limitations of smartphone filming to those simply that took the 4k cameras in their phones and used them as part of a more of a traditional shooting setup.
Without further ado, here are the winners…
PROFESSIONAL SHORT Winner
WOMXN by Adrien Gystere Peskine & Eden Tinto Collins
The RADIANT CIRCUS view: In a world affected by “time, choices and disco balls”, we meet Jane Dark, street activist by day, defender of the people by night. Transformed by the power of “Spandau Ballet” into avenging angel WOMXN: The Nightmare Of You Know Who, Dark fights to free a victim of racist, violent cops whilst generally throwing serious shade on “white male tears & transphobia”, ably supported by her extra-terrestrial sidekick (who happens to look and sound a lot like a dolphin souvenir from SeaWorld…). This is an energetic, lo-fi super she-ro story where ambitious sci-fi scale gives way to a powerful gut punch in the final replay/credits where the routine real world violence experienced by black people is given full recognition. A worthy winner for its angry dolphin squeal of gonzo urban activism.
AMATEUR SHORT Joint winners
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE by Steven Fraser
The RADIANT CIRCUS view: Brilliantly realised flip animation boxes literally give external voice to the otherwise internal experience of hearing voices that other people do not, voices that can transform from being friendly in childhood to more challenging and malevolent in adulthood. The incessant chatter of the flips, combined with increasingly fragmented editing and claustrophobic visuals, creatively communicate a neurodivergent headspace before conveying in chorus a final message of hope, “because there is a way forward, and it’s with you”.
14th AUGUST 2017: FUTURE by Ahmed Tag M.
The RADIANT CIRCUS view: Moving testimony – told through sincere voiceover and almost abstract, rapid-fire close-up detail – of the harm done to the creative spirit when it’s constrained by seemingly overwhelming oppression. What happens to our internal language of dreams when everything externally is “sealed, broken, censored” and even the simple joys in life – packets of Nescafe instant – “are getting more expensive & crappy everyday”? The universality of the themes here – the fear of living a crappy life, of living most if it with your parents, of being more critic than creator, of becoming a worker drone in an office cubicle – are made achingly more potent by details of social fragmentation, a fear of madness and loss of hope.
OTHER AWARD WINNERS
WOMEN & COMMUNITY Award
DARE TO DREAM by Naima Islam
WALTHAM FOREST FILMMAKER Award
CLEOPATRA THE WONDER DOG by Anthony Barlos
And that’s the meat of it…
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- RADIANT CIRCUS chatted with festival co-director Vera Hems Anderson before the festival about new adventures in handheld movie making.
- Last Frame Club showcases feature and short films shining a light on social issues, underrepresented communities and also festival winners and audience favourites in Walthamstow.
- Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
- RADIANT CIRCUS was delighted to be a MEDIA PARTNER for the Walthamstow Smartphone Film Festival (just so you know…).
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