University Professors reflect on short films and long life

The first weekend of May saw the much anticipated return of the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival which features screenings of a diverse genre of short films from all across the world. This is the festival’s third year of screening and, as usual, showed just how innovative, moving and entertaining short films can be.

Amazingly, some films are as short as 1.5 minutes (for example Dots directed by Jody Oberfelder and Eric Siegel), with the longest film this year being 20 minutes (Four Day Weekend directed by Nicole Jones).  Each screening lasts for about 90 minutes during which time you can watch as many as nine different films (depending on the length) for a bargain price and with free popcorn thrown in as well!   We opted to go to the third screening on Friday evening 5th May at 19:00 and were enthralled by the stories in all seven  films.

These ranged from a light-hearted view of teenage underachievement (One Under, directed by Ruth Pickett) and a four-minute animated film about a traffic jam on the A19 (The Slow Lane, directed by Fin McMorran), to a moving story of the way grief can tear apart a family, in Heather’s Painting (directed by Freddie Connor).  The last film of the night was one that sparked our interest more than any of the others, as it presented an unusual account of old age.  Mismatched Eyes (a drama directed by Nathaniel Hill) showed an elderly lady, Mrs S (played by the excellent Margaret Jackman) who lives on her own.  Rather than the usual trope of lonely old age, the film showed the twinkly Mrs S enjoying the company of her home-made soft toy collection (her ‘companions’), who we find out have been made from stolen fabrics and buttons.  When home-help Claire arrives on the scene, she sees only an elderly lady who is living on her own in a large flat, and soon hatches a plan to persuade Mrs S to swap homes with Claire’s daughter who lives in a smaller flat.   Mrs S is wise to this and so plays up on her ‘dotty old dear’ reputation to wreak revenge on Claire for what was essentially a blatant attempt at bamboozlement of a seemingly vulnerable old woman.  Leading actor, Margaret Jackman was present in the audience on the night we were there and she made time to answer some questions.  She said that it was refreshing to be given a part that was active, as parts for older actors tend to be of the passive sort where things are done to them or for them.  This is especially so for older women who are often portrayed as ‘little old ladies’ – Margaret in her role as Mrs S certainly disabused us of that notion!

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Professor Angela Smith and Professor Donna Chambers

sunderland shorts

What’s  a Short Film? 

In the early days of capturing and projecting moving images, ‘short’ was the norm. Everyday activities depicted on screen for just a few seconds, or a few minutes, captivated or terrified Victorian audiences in equal measure.  The most famous of these is L’arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat (Arrival of a Train) by the Lumière Brothers (1895).

As technologies improved throughout the 20th century, full length feature films took precedence in commercial cinemas but the short film remained a useful tool as newsreels and in disseminating government information, particularly in wartime.

By the 1980s, shorts had just about disappeared from High St cinemas, although their popularity as an art form remained strong with visual artists who weren’t constrained by production values and deadlines and brought a sense of freedom to the medium.  The Oberhausen Short Film Festival, now in its 63rd year has been celebrating and supporting innovation in short film since 1954.

Today, thanks to the arrival in the 1990s of lightweight, portable, recording equipment and ever advancing digital technology, along with the arrival of the internet, the making of short film is enjoying a renaissance.  Short films are no longer the poor relation to the full length feature film in the world of cinematic story telling but are being celebrated in film festivals, TV (Channel 4’s 4Shorts), media (VirginMedia Shorts competition) and of course online via YouTube, Vimeo etc.

In the world of film festivals there seems to be a general consensus about how short a short film can be. Most film festivals agree that a short film needs to be at least 1 minute long – otherwise, blink and you’ll miss it.  There isn’t, though, any official definition of how long a short film can be.

At the Sundance Film Festival any film shorter than 50 minutes qualifies as short film, while at the Academy Awards, any film of 40 minutes or under is eligible for the shorts categories. Here at Sunderland Shorts we ask for films which run for no longer than 20 minutes including all credits.

A short film can be a great way for both script writers and directors to show their skills. Whether a drama or a documentary, an animation or a comedy, an art or a sci-fi film, a short has to grab the audience’s attention straight away and tell its story concisely and beautifully to carry the viewer on the journey.

Programming Sunderland Shorts

As a huge film enthusiast, amateur filmmaker and Sunderland native, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to attend and volunteer at the very first Sunderland Shorts Film Festival in 2015. It was a thoroughly entertaining weekend full of emotional and exciting short films. I was even more delighted when an opportunity arose for me to be part of the team for the 2016 festival, which I eagerly jumped at.

My main responsibility has been leading on the programming for this years festival. The festival’s team of excellent volunteer reviewers watched each of the 240 films that were submitted from all around the world, and together we whittled them down to the best 50.

Due to the high calibre of films it was very difficult (and time consuming) process deciding which ones should stay and which ones should go. But we’ve done it and are very pleased with the final selection. We can’t wait for people to see them!

I thought long and hard about how I was going to programme the festival. Fundamentally at the base of great programming is all about communication and flow. Even though we’re screening 50 films about 50 different stories, it’s about taking the audience on one journey. Creating a flow of emotions that feel natural and is easy to watch.

Sunderland Shorts Film Festival 2016 will be a four-day festival showcasing 50 short films (under 20 minutes) by filmmakers from all over the world, in venues across Sunderland.

There will be a total of 10 screenings with an average run time of around 80 minutes each. The festival will open on Thursday, June 30, and screenings will be taking place at various times through Friday, July 1; Saturday, July 2; and Sunday, July 3. Throughout these dates there will also be family-friendly screenings to ensure everyone can experience the entertainment of short film. As well as a horror/sci-fi only screening for the people who don’t mind the more scary and intense films!

In every screening there is broad mix of themes, genres and tones so that there will (hopefully) be something for everyone in the audience to tap into. There will be highs and lows, laughter and sadness, reflection and relaxation over the course of every 80 minutes. I am very excited to watch the audience react to this year’s films, and can’t wait to talk with people afterwards about their thoughts.

Kristian Foreman

Introducing Sunderland Shorts Festival Sponsor: See it Do it Sunderland

seeit-doit-cmykIf you’ve made it this far you’re probably a bit of a film buff. So there’s a pretty good chance you’ll understand exactly what the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival is all about. But why a film festival in Sunderland; what’s the city all about… and what else is there to do here?  See it Do it Sunderland talk about some of Sunderland’s treats on offer to our visiting film buffs and filmmakers.

If Sunderland was a film, it’d be one of those tricky works that you couldn’t place into one genre. Where the story line grips you and reels you in, is never as you expected it, but leaves you with a feel good factor that is hard to put your finger on.

Sunderland is a city by the sea with miles of golden sands and all the traditional fun of the seaside. But it’s also on a major river, the Wear. It’s got a busy and vibrant city centre. But it’s also within minutes of rolling countryside. It’s home to new and exciting creative industries. But it’s got a phenomenal heritage ranging from early Christianity to heavy engineering.

The city’s twin resorts of Roker and Seaburn have been a favourite spot to relax and unwind, or let off steam, for generations. If you’re coming with the family then it’s a sandcastle builder’s paradise. Either way you’ll have no bother finding refreshment to suit regardless of whether ice cream or a full meal take your fancy.

Just a short stroll through the marina and onto the riverside brings you to the National Glass Centre  Sunderland has been big in glass since the 7th Century when Bede brought glass making to the Britain… and modern Christianity for that matter. As well as taking in cutting edge glass and ceramic arts, there are opportunities to get hands on in glass making demonstrations.  Right next door lies St Peter’s Church , which incorporates parts of the original 7th Century monastery created by the aforementioned Bede and Benedict Biscop. For fact fans, it’s right here where the date of Easter was set.

Even in the middle of Seaburn’s sandy beach, you’re only minutes away from the city centre where Sunderland Shorts is hosted.  Obviously you can expect a good choice of pubs, bars, restaurants and shops. On top of that there’s the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art to investigate. If you want a sneak preview of the next big thing in contemporary art then this is the place to be. Names like Sam Taylor-Wood and Adam Chodzko shot to prominence after early exhibitions here.

If history is more your thing, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens  is just around the corner. You can meet local icon Wallace the Lion, see the first Nissan car built in Sunderland or study works by LS Lowry and others. The glass rotunda of the Winter Gardens is home to over 2,000 species that can be appreciated from the ground or an elevated walkway too.

Another of Sunderland’s cultural gems is Sunderland Empire Theatre . It’s the biggest theatre in the North East and the only one capable of hosting the biggest ‘West End’ style shows like Billy Elliott, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, or The Sound of Music. Beautifully decorated in true theatre style, it’s a favoured venue for all manner of big name performers.

Or, if you’ve got time to travel slightly further afield, Penshaw Monument  is a must. Modelled on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, it was built as a memorial to the Earl of Durham, John George Lambton. In summer months the National Trust offer the chance to climb to the very top where the views across almost the whole of the North East are simply phenomenal.

That’s far from an exhaustive list of course; we haven’t even mentioned Washington Old Hall , the ancestral home of George Washington, of United States presidential fame, for example  If you’re not already convinced, we hope that the warm welcome you’ll get when you visit Sunderland Shorts will change your mind.

Sunderland Shorts FREE Taster Sessions

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If you didn’t make the festival last year, here’s a way to find out what you missed.

Are you wondering ‘just how short is a short?’  Then come along to one of our FREE Taster Sessions and see what all the fuss is about.

We want to spread the word about Sunderland Short Film Festival throughout the city and  the region and get more people coming along in July to watch our new selection of brilliant short films. Over the coming weeks we’ll be appearing at a community space near you with a selection of some of our best films from last year’s event.

We’ll even stand you a cuppa and a cake and if you do well in our quiz – Famous Lines from the Movies – you’ll win tickets to a festival screening.

Evening screenings are suitable for 16yrs+.  Each screening lasts about 1 hour and will feature a mixture of drama, comedy, animation, sci-fi and documentary.

‘Family Friendly’ screenings are about 30 minutes long and the films are specifically selected for  young people under 16yrs.

Where better to start than at Pop Recs Ltd?  Join us next Friday 18th March at 7.00 pm for some chat, films and a bit of a laugh

Oh and by the way …..it’s FREE !!!

Here’s the schedule to date, but there’s more to come:

18th March  7.00 – 9.00pm  Pop Recs Ltd , 27 Stockton Road, Sunderland  Over 16s

29th March  3.30 – 4.30 pm Back on the Map, Villette Road Hendon, Family Friendly

5th April       6.00 – 8.00 pm Back on the Map  Villette Road, Hendon, Over 16s

6th April       2.00 – 4.00 pm City Library, Fawcett Street, Sunderland   Family Friendly

7th April       5.00 – 7.00 pm City Library, Fawcett Street, Sunderland   Over 16s

5th May       7.00 – 9.00 pm Canny Space, Holy Trinity Church, Hendon,

1st June      3.45 – 4.45 pm Pallion Action Group, Eastmoor Road, Sland, Family Friendly 

Submissions have closed and it’s looking fab!

Lots of amazing films are in the bag and the 2nd edition of Sunderland Shorts is well on the way.

Our small army of volunteer reviewers is being nothing short of heroic, working diligently through the very high calibre submissions to sift out the very best films for you lovely people.

Once again, we have received films in a really wide variety of genres from all around the world, from 28 countries in fact , including South Korea, China and Nepal! Equal top though were the U.K. and the U.S.A and it’s fantastic that several of last year’s filmmakers have returned to the festival with brand new projects. Several filmmakers are keen to travel to join in the festival and do audience Q and As or workshops while they’re here.

There has also been a great response this year from regional filmmakers who have submitted work ranging from brilliant to thought provoking.

We’ll be announcing the full details in early May when we will have the final selection but we can promise we’ll be bringing you some really impressive work with the odd famous face or two to spot!

There’s so much more to tell in the weeks ahead so stay with us !!!