ON THE BLOG: in conversation with Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival

For the past 15 years, Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (BFMAF) has attracted local and international filmmakers and moving image artists with the opportunity to showcase their work in a unique environment. Take for instance, the presence of Lav Diaz who didn’t attend the premiere of his latest film The Halt at the Cannes Film Festival but travelled to attend the screening in this small picturesque town in Northumberland because (in his own words) “it is much nicer than Cannes”.

Take a look a video from last year's edition to see why that might be!

BFMAF 2019 highlights included a major overview of the work of Ukrainian master Kira Muratova. This year Creative Europe Desk UK worked with the festival for the very first time, allowing BFMAF to invite programmers from European festivals such as Locarno, Vienna Shorts, Oberhausen and FID Marseille to scout local and international talent. 

Alberto Valverde from Creative Europe Desk UK - Scotland had a wee chat with the festival’s artistic director Peter Taylor to get his thoughts on this year’s edition. 

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What has been your main takeaway from this year’s festival?

The 15th BFMAF was a particularly exciting edition that has left the festival team encouraged, excited and engaged when we should be feeling completely exhausted. Feedback from festival guests and participants thus far has been exemplary.

Leonor Noivo, a Portuguese participant in our Berwick New Cinema Competition (and main prize winner this year at FID Marseilles as well as producer with Terratreme Fimes in Lisbon) sums up the thoughts of many (emphasis her own):

"I really loved being at BFMAF! I was very positively impressed by the quality of the programming. All the films I had the opportunity to see inspired me a lot. Also the conversations around the films and the things surrounding the festival [work was commissioned from artists to animate Berwick’s town walls; re-inhabit historic buildings and re-wild the town centre] made it a very, very nice experience!" 

How did support from Creative Europe Desk UK expand this year’s edition?

The support from Creative Europe Desk UK was very timely, encouraging us to think very practically about ways in which we could initiate and incorporate a more formal ‘Industry’ programme within BFMAF’s activities. The festival introduced professional accreditation in 2018, creating a spike in audience numbers and increasing the numbers of professional guests attending. Particularly interesting was an increase in interest from programmers from short film festivals in other countries. Working with Creative Europe Desk UK allowed us to capitalise on this, facilitating a ‘Meet the Programmers’ breakfast as a space for guest filmmakers of the Festival to meet with this international delegation of festival programmers.

How does BFMAF connect UK talent with international festivals?

The Festival’s vision is to become the UK’s leading festival for new cinema. Our priority is to present an artistically ambitious, internationally significant programme of new cinema.

We want to develop the Festival as a national and international springboard for UK-based filmmakers, and a key date in the calendar for international filmmakers seeking a UK premiere. 

Amongst this year’s Berwick New Cinema programme there were four UK filmmakers celebrating the World Premiere of their film in Berwick. 

As well as programmers who attended the Festival and have access to online previews of artists' work and contact details via our use of the Filmchief festival management platform, BFMAF actively supports coverage of the Festival in international critical and specialist press. BFMAF also pro-actively communicates with programmers at major international film festivals throughout the year, sharing programming suggestions. From these suggestions, four BFMAF filmmakers had their work included in New York Film Festival’s 2019 Projections strand.

Tell us more about how the festival is addressing the issue of collaboration between festivals? And more specifically about how you work with the other festivals part of the Festival Network - European (Short) Film and Media Art Association?

Networks are the tool through which most Festival work is done and most knowledge is exchanged! Programming ideas come through collaboration. Rethinking our models is done through collaboration. Our events exist through collaboration. We are constantly thinking from the most local level up about new partners we can cooperate with and new ways we can influence and be influenced by.

With this in mind BFMAF has been very keen to have the opportunity to work with Creative Europe Desk UK for the first time this year, to encourage programmers from other festivals to attend Berwick and experience the Festival here for themselves. We’re hoping this experience allows collaborations to evolve naturally. 

Since October 2018 one such collaboration has been more formally constituted via the European (Short) Film and Media Art Association, an active, project-based network of (short) film and media art festivals initiated by Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen with Go Short - International Short Film Festival Nijmegen, VIS Vienna Shorts and ourselves. 

The main goals for development are:

  • a common strategy to promote and sustain European filmmaking
  • the development of innovative market access opportunities for professionals in (short) film and media arts
  • making short films & media art accessible internationally with particular attention to audiences beyond the festivals current cores
  • expansion of the network to include other members

What are the next steps for the network? How do you plan to plan to strengthen links?

Till now the network has been concentrating on finding common aims and projects that can be developed into next steps, with much correspondence and several face-to-face meetings. 

One immensely valuable opportunity was that the three network members were invited to present focus programmes at Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen in 2019. This type of programme sharing will certainly continue.  We’ve just had a follow up meeting during this year’s festival in Berwick. 

One of the very prosaic things we hold in common is our implementation of the excellent cloud based Filmchief festival management software. This allows the potential development of a curated VOD platform concentrating on short-form work, messaging and meeting services amongst other opportunities. We are already sharing some programming resources and there's certainly a will and interest to support a forum for critics, pitching platforms, masterclasses and much more.

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Find out more about this year's programme on the BFMAF website