11 February 2009

Guest Blogger: Stephen Irwin on Clermont-Ferrand

My Animate Projects film, The Black Dog’s Progress, was selected for the Lab Competition in this year’s Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival so I went along for a couple of days to see what goes on at a festival of this scale.

Two days definitely wasn’t enough time to see the huge amount of work on show. Luckily there isn’t much else to do in Clermont-Ferrand (other than the festival it’s also famous for being the home of the Michelin tire company), so I spent most of my time in the many screening rooms and cinemas and managed to squeeze in dozens of short films.

I mainly stuck to the Lab Competition after I’d been warned against the National Competition by a veteran of the festival who wasn’t too kind about the usual selection of French films each year. As it turned out I didn’t have time anyway. There was more than enough in the five Lab programmes and in the couple of other special programmes I fitted in.

For the most part I sought out animated films that I hadn’t seen yet or had only viewed on Vimeo/YouTube. It reminded me how rarely I watch short films with hundreds of other people in the cinema. Watching shorts has become a solitary experience and one that I have control over; if I don’t like something I can skip through it or move on to the next thing, and alternatively if I love it I can play it again and again.

I was particularly keen to see Muto by Blu on the big screen after watching it repeatedly on Vimeo and it didn’t disappoint (and it quite rightly went on the win the Grand Prix in the Lab Competition).

Other inspiring animations included Stand Up by Joseph Pierce which was uncomfortable to watch and contained some of the most beautifully animated ugly images I’ve seen in ages. The same programme also included Inukshuk by Camillevis Thery. Something so detailed and perfectly animated can only be appreciated fully when projected (and even better from a 35mm print).

Also memorable was Rabbit Punch by Kristian Andrews and Cartographie 9 – La Boule d’Or by Bruno Deville, a live-action film about a bowling club and a team of pensioners which I thought was a documentary but according to the programme notes is fiction.

The quality of the films in competition was extremely high (even the ones I didn’t like), and each programme was very well put together. I thought I saw themes running through each programme but Calmin Borel who works on the Lab Competition told me that they just make sure there is a good mixture of genre, subject matter and length. They construct a programme based on the idea that it might be the only one that particular audience will see.

What impressed me the most about the festival was the size of the audiences. I arrived towards the end of the festival and all the screenings were still selling out. You have to arrive in good time and queue for at least twenty minutes to ensure you get a seat. At a couple of screenings there were even some people who couldn’t get in and were turned away.

It was nice to see several hundred people queuing up in the Maison de la Culture on Saturday afternoon to get into the Lab 4 screening that included my film, and for it to play to a packed auditorium. Plus the quality of the projection and sound was perfect which was a relief. There is obviously a lot of time and money spent on organising the festival and making sure it runs smoothly. It was a great experience to be part of it in some small way and if I get the opportunity to go again it’ll definitely be for longer.


Image: Clermont-Ferrand, Stephen Irwin (click on the image to see it full-size)

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