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!


Professor Angela Smith and Professor Donna Chambers

sunderland shorts

5 Favourite Films: Hannah Matterson, Volunteer Coordinator

Hello, my name is Hannah and my taste in film is dubious at best…

When the Sunderland Shorts team decided we would each write a blog post like this, it seemed like a good idea. I’d be able to tell you all about my role within the festival team and what my favourite films are. Then I realised what my favourite films are and was awash with anxiety about how I’d be judged because of it. But do you know what? I don’t care- I’m Hannah and I have an ‘eclectic’ taste in film (and I’m proud of it!)

Before we go into the good stuff, here are the basics. I work for the MAC Trust in Sunderland and together with my colleague Kristian (you’ll have seen him post on here) we are donated to the film festival as part of the core team. I’ve been with the festival since the beginning and was very enthusiastic about getting it up and running. I am by no means a film buff, but I really do love the arts and have seen just how much they can have an effect on the lives of people. Sunderland needs festivals and events like Sunderland Shorts, to build audiences and interest in cultural activity. Think about how good you feel after you come out of the cinema having seen a good film on a Friday night- I want everyone to have that feeling all of the time. I am the volunteer coordinator for the festival, bringing together and managing our small army of helpers along with recruiting film reviewers, programming community film screenings and just about anything else that needs doing. I’d love for you to read this and think “Hannah seems nice enough to work with, I’ll volunteer”, but I’m pretty concerned it’s going to have the opposite effect. Do get in touch if you want to join our team though!

Now, 5 of my favourite films. I have left out obvious favourites because I assume that we’re all Star Wars/ Indiana Jones/ Toy Story fans, right?

1. ET (My absolute favourite)

At the first Sunderland Shorts Film Festival, we held an after-party towards the end of the festival for all the team, volunteers and filmmakers in a local pub. A gin and tonic (or 3) later and I somehow found myself telling other members of the team about my favourite film and the weird things it does to me. ET is fantastic. It’s been a firm family favourite in our house ever since I can remember. When I was younger I felt a real connection to Gertie (Drew Barrymore), believing that the way she reacts and grows to love ET is exactly what I would have been like, I still do. It is a heart-warming film with just as many laughs as there is suspense and moments of sadness. How can you not feel like you need a friend like ET when he gets drunk, plays tea parties, and wants to learn form you through mutual respect and admiration? There will never be another film that I love and dread watching all in one, because, as my team found out on that night, I cry every time I watch it. And the only way I can stop that, it by eating digestive biscuits. I don’t know why, I don’t know what happened in my life for that to be the case, it just is. But I am more than happy to consume all of those calories, to be sucked into the relationship between Elliot and ET over and over again, to discover the true meaning of friendship and to wish that one day, I’d find my own ET.



2. Untouchable

Based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian care giver Abdel Sellou, Olivier Nackache and Eric Toledano depict an unlikely companionship in this French film between an extremely wealthy paraplegic man and his live-in carer, who is from the ghettos of the city. Philippe finds Driss’ attitude totally refreshing, after years of living in his body that barely works and plain but pleasant carers. Driss is different. He is embroiled in gang culture. He likes disco music. He is sexy. Above all, he really cares and Philippe knows this. Through Driss, Philippe can experience the world again and Driss knows that he can live a better life than the one he currently does. To watch this film and know that it is based on a true story is just incredible. I think I love it so much because it is fun. It tackles some difficult issues (disability, class, gang culture) in a way that makes you feel at ease with it all. The performances are stunning and there are moments of pure joy and others of complete frustration. Life, ey?  If anything, this film represents people at their best- making do with what we have (or don’t) and doing our best for those we really care about. Please watch this instead of ‘The Notebook’ and stuff when you’re feeling a bit rubbish, I promise you it’s a much better option.


3. Sleeping With the Enemy

Julia Roberts is great, isn’t she? I first saw this film maybe 10 years ago after my mam suggested we watched it together. I don’t usually trust my mam on films- not that there’s anything wrong with a Hugh Grant rom com, but I like something with a bit of suspense or grit to it most of the time. Well, I apologise right now mother, because you were right. There’s a scene in this where Laura (Julia Roberts) is in the bath and it makes me jump EVERY SINGLE TIME. I’ve seen it about 30+ times now. This story of a controlling husband and a wife’s journey to escape his hold is full of creepy, eerie, and disconcerting twists right until the very end. It puts me on edge and gets the adrenaline pumping. You’ll never look at how you arrange your tins in the cupboard the same way again.


4. The Muppets Christmas Carol

Controversial to throw a Christmas film in here? Probably. There are a lot of worthy films that could have been in this 5 for the fascinating, thrilling and beautiful storylines, the cinematic quality and award winning performances. That’s just it though- this is the best acting you will ever see from Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy! They way Kermit plays Bob Cratchit, the loyal employee of Ebenezer Scrooge is second to none. His doting wife (Miss Piggy) the perfect mother, both just wanting to make their Christmas a special time for the rest of the family. Sometimes, I think film adaptations of books lack the pleasure you get from actually reading the book, but The Muppets Christmas Carol absolutely transforms a Dickens’ classic into something we can all enjoy. I’m not claiming it’s Michael Caine’s moment of glory, particularly with that singing towards the end, but it’s stood the test of time as a festive favourite and you can’t ask for more than that.


5. The Artist

This French film won every award going when it was released in 2011 and rightly so. The black and white silent film was the perfect marriage of hope and misfortune for its lead characters, Peppy Miller and George Valentin. Even the dog, Uggie, delivered a perfectly timed performance. In a time where the big blockbuster is all about action and special effects, this film reminded me of why I love film so much. It took everything away but the music and the image and that was the most special effect of all. I also fell a little bit in love with Peppy as a character, so much so that I once went to a music festival that had a fancy dress day where you had to dress as a character from a movie, and I went as her. In hiking boots, not tap shoes I’m afraid. Photographic evidence supplied, as George would say, “With Pleasure”.


5 Favourite Films: Kristian Foreman, Programming Director

Hello internet people, my name is Kristian and I’m part of the programming team at Sunderland Shorts. This is the second in the series of blog posts from the festival team about our favourite films. I hope you enjoy my recommendations!

As a film festival programmer, I think the most important thing to possess is an appreciation of film. It is essential to hone that appreciation and hone your ways of trying to express that to other people. So as a bit of an introduction to myself, I thought I’d write about my top 5 favourite films and the reasons I enjoy them. The internet loves a good list, right? I believe you can tell a lot about a person through their favourite films. Hopefully my enthusiasm and passion for cinema will be communicated in these short reviews.

So here lies – in no particular order – the most formative, resonating, and thought provoking movies I have seen (or at least what came to my mind when I was asked to write this):

The Apartment (Dir: Billy Wilder, 1960)


Whenever I talk about my favourite movies with my friends, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment always comes up. It is such a bittersweet, heartfelt, and clever comedy about real people. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine star as two essentially good souls trapped in a tangle of office politics. Even though the plot is slightly predictable, it is a deeply involving dramatic romance with some great dialogue and three-dimensional characters.

In-spite living in a time where fantastical, multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters are coming out every week, I always prefer seeing plausible characters on screen who are just trying their best to make their way through life with all its struggles. This is not to suggest I don’t also enjoy big blockbusters, I mean who doesn’t love living vicariously through the eyes of a Spiderman swinging from building to building in New York?! I am just a big fan of movies that take very small situations and make them feel more epic. I like movie experiences that tend to oscillate between comedy and drama, and The Apartment does that to perfection.

Hannah and Her Sisters (Dir: Woody Allen, 1986)


Woody Allen changed my life and is undoubtedly my favourite filmmaker. Like The Apartment, the way he seamlessly drifts between frivolity and pathos appeals to my taste.

At the youthful age of 17 I had no idea who Woody Allen was, only that I heard his name crop up in radio interviews of comedians and writers I admired. One afternoon as I was aimlessly wandering through a second hand DVD store I passively picked up a copy of Annie Hall for 79p. Later that night, with limited expectations, I popped it in the DVD player – and it genuinely transformed my cinema experience forever.

Woody Allen was the first person I saw who combined humour with big ideas. I’d never seen anything like that before. He was silly and funny whilst still talking about something legitimate. To a 17 year old angsty, romantic Sixth Form student who had just discovered reading philosophy and questioning whether the table was really there or just a sensory illusion (I still have no idea), it filled a perfect cinematic hole in my life. I immediately became a mega fan and began working my way through his interminable oeuvre. It was fantastic (even the not so great ones).

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

So I feel I have to include a Woody Allen film in this list. It is hard to pick a definitive one, but I always seem to go back to and re-watch Hannah and Her Sisters. This seems to be his most literate movie, and as an English Literature graduate it resonates with me. It is filled with universal themes such as fear of death, desire for love, transient lust, and hesitant decision making.

Boyhood (Dir: Richard Linklater, 2014)


Richard Linklater’s epically constructed masterpiece Boyhood. It is nearly 3 hours long. There is almost no plot. But I loved every minute of it. It was absolutely fantastic. Again, it is very similar in tone to the other films I’ve mentioned in the list. A sort of domestic comedy-drama, but very, very truthful, and brilliant performances again.

It is just a story of a kid living his life between the ages of 6 and 18. And that is it. No crazy plot twists. No mad adventures. No kooky characters. It is not building towards any sort of plot twist or cathartic ending. It’s just about a group of people aging, with significant and insignificant things happening in their life. Like Linklater’s well-crafted Before trilogy, it is filled with smart, but natural dialogue.

The actors playing the young children at the beginning of the film are the same actors playing those characters as adolescents and young adults. Which makes it all the more special because you really get to know these characters and feel a connection to them. I am a sucker for teenage coming-of-age stories. Movies like Stand By Me, Almost Famous and The Breakfast Club invariably have my eyes glued and my emotions on the edge of a precipice.

I went to see Boyhood on the last day it was playing in the UK at the cinema. It was a matinée showing at there was only four people in the movie theatre, including me and my friend. After about 90 minutes in, the other two people in the room said ‘Why is nothing happening!?’ and walked out of the screening. Although rather distracting, I quite liked this moment as it practically mirrored a line from the movie during a scene when the mother character is talking to her son about being disappointed with how her life has turned out:

“I just thought there would be more than this…

Boyhood is a refreshing escape from the monotony of real life, to the monotony on a big screen. However Linklater somehow manages to make those everyday moments feel magical and special.

The Truman Show (Dir: Peter Weir, 1998)


How prophetic this film was. Jim Carrey gives a remarkable performance as a man learning that his entire life in an idyllic coastal village has been the subject of a live, 24-hour-a-day womb-to-tomb television drama. The premise of this movie is both reasonable and ludicrous, with a sublime execution. It is as endearing as it is provocative.

The bigger themes of media manipulation, authenticity, reality TV and the American Dream it tackles are just as relevant now (if not more so) than they were when the film was first released theatrically back in 1997. 

The colour of the film is perfect, the pace of the editing is exemplary, and there is an attention to detail that you rarely see in a film. I’ve seen this film many, many times and each time I watch I notice something new and interesting.

The Darjeeling Limited (Dir: Wes Anderson, 2007)


Amazing soundtrack, beautiful locations and a great cast. Wes Anderson is another favourite filmmaker of mine. His unique and quirky directing style is always refreshing to my eyeballs and I believe The Darjeeling Limited is one of his most underrated films.

Themes of brotherhood, travel and spirituality are something I ponder over a lot. Being a person who dabbles around in spirituality, watching this movie is always a comfort to me. The characters set out on a spiritual journey and find closure at the end in India. The ride along the way to this enlightenment is hilarious and fun, in only the way that Wes Anderson can show. The rich colours of southeast Asia combined with the wonderfully aesthetic talent of Anderson makes the entire experience a pleasure to watch.

There is an extraordinary amount of incident and observation perfectly squeezed into a mere 90 minutes. The brothers bicker, fight, reminisce, and accuse each other of trivial things. Very relatable family moments.


Hope you enjoyed reading about my opinion on films. If you live in the North East and are remotely interested in film then I encourage you to find out more about Sunderland Shorts: Film Festival at and come along in 2017. Also, if you haven’t seen our new promotional video you can check it out here.


Kristian Foreman, Programming Director

My Experience Volunteering with Sunderland Shorts

With preparations for the third Sunderland Shorts Film Festival now underway, it’s clear that the event has proved to be a great success and an important addition to the cultural scene in Sunderland as the city bids to be UK City of Culture 2021.

My own involvement with the event began when I responded to an advert requesting volunteers to help out at the inaugural festival in July 2015 – being new to the area and myself a filmmaker, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved and meet like-minded people who shared my interest in film and culture. The prospect of an international short film festival being held in the city was also an exciting one.

Arriving at Sunderland Minster for the launch event, I was greeted by a friendly festival team who immediately made me feel welcome, and I was extremely impressed by the quality of films being screened, ranging from light-hearted comedies and animations suitable for children to dramas and films with much darker adult themes.

My experience at the first festival was such a positive one that I put myself forward as a volunteer reviewer, which involves watching and reviewing a selection of the films submitted by filmmakers from all over the world for inclusion in the festival. The diversity of genres and subject matter, reflected in the final programming for both the 2015 and 2016 festivals, ensured that this was an entertaining and stimulating experience, and seeing films that I had reviewed being screened at the 2016 festival was very satisfying.

13592198_1723657987906115_4798011597117694563_nVolunteering with Sunderland Shorts has been hugely rewarding, which is why I returned this year and continue to volunteer as a reviewer. The link with DC Shorts Film Festival in America, as well as the visiting filmmakers from all over the world and the inclusion of foreign language films, all add an exciting international element to the festival, resulting in a rich and engaging experience.

I’m convinced that the festival will continue to gain momentum and has a bright future ahead of it, becoming a key event in the city’s cultural calendar, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in film and arts to consider volunteering as a reviewer or to help out at some of the events. With work on Sunderland’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2021 now in progress, this is a particularly exciting time to get involved with Sunderland Shorts and a great way of supporting culture in the city.

- Sarah Winslett

Become a Reviewer

With Sunderland Shorts: Film Festival entering its 3rd year, we’re looking forward to seeing our Film Freeway site filling up with new and exciting short films, all hoping to be screened at next year’s festival. Regular submissions have now opened and we’re expecting hundreds of films to be submitted to us over the next couple of months from all around the world and covering every genre imaginable. We’ve seen it all here!

But how do we whittle those films down to the final 50 or so that will be screened in the festival itself? Of course we have our programming team who are responsible for putting together the screenings and making sure the flow of them is just right, and they have the final word on all the films that we screen. These guys are not alone though! We are very lucky to have, what can only be described as, a small army of volunteer reviewers as part of our team.  

c0082-mp4-07_53_01_49-still002Reviewers are assigned several films at a time to watch, casting a critical eye over every film that is submitted to us. With the help of a trusty reviewer’s guide and support from the core team, each film is watched by at least three of our reviewers and marked on various criteria such as the storyline, production quality and overall rating. This stage is also the opportunity for reviewers to make any constructive comments about the film. It is not possible for us to screen every film that is submitted to the festival, but we are dedicated to giving valuable feedback to filmmakers who don’t quite make the cut. You won’t find things like ‘OMG best film EVER!!!’ as part of these comments or ‘This was rubbish’, but you will find comments based on plots, characters and overall quality.

So it’s pretty easy really. You don’t need to have any qualification other than an interest in film and let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy a Friday night in with some popcorn and a good thriller/comedy/drama… ?

c0077-mp4-07_51_58_02-still001Is it a big commitment? No. Well. Not really. We appreciate all the help we get when it comes to reviewing the submissions as sometimes we find ourselves swimming in a sea of shorts, but we understand that not everyone will have the time to watch 50 short films that are anything between 3-20 minutes long! All we ask is that you do what you can and let us know how you’re getting on. We know some of our reviewers almost binge watch their allocation, whereas others prefer to fit one in on their lunch breaks over the course of a week or two. It’s totally up to you! We want our festival to be catered to our audience, so it’s important we have a wide range of people volunteering to be reviewers. We’ve got people of all shapes and sizes as part of the team!

Once all the ratings are in, we pick the films with the highest marks to go into the festival competition. That’s when the responsibility is handed back over to our programming team.

So if you fancy yourself as a bit of a film buff and can spare some of your time to help Sunderland Shorts: Film Festival 2017 be the best one yet, then why not sign up to become a reviewer today!

Email the team at or visit the website for more details