How to run a film festival like a pro

How to run a film festival like a pro

Sean Greenhorn

Morvern Cunningham and Sean Greenhorn give advice on how and where to get into film-making as a student

If you dream of running your own film festival, uni's the best time to lay your roots. Here, two local film festival directors give us their take: Morvern Cunningham, co-founder of Edinburgh's surreal and experimental film collective KinoKlub and VHS Trash Fest, Scotland's premiere trash film bonanza, and Sean Greenhorn, programme manager at Glasgow Film (Theatre and Festival) and co-director of Dunoon Film Festival.

What's the best way to get into film-making / film-curating as a student?

Morvern: Go and see as many films as you can, and volunteer at film festivals. Glasgow and Edinburgh both boast two great film festivals in GFF and EIFF, so just get in amongst it as much as you can!

Sean: With both things it is just as important to make sure you are well versed in cinema history whilst keeping up to date with what is happening right now, particularly in your local film scene – if that is where you want to work. I studied film at Glasgow University but did lots of short term work for Glasgow and Edinburgh Film Festivals, along with others.

How can people find their film community while they're at university?

Morvern: Edinburgh is absolutely teaming with filmic activity! The first stop would probably be Edinburgh Uni's Film Society who run regular film screenings during term time. Next would be Edinburgh's only independent arthouse cinema Filmhouse, which is also home to the Edinburgh Film Guild and Edinburgh International Film Festival, which takes place in June. Filmhouse also plays host to a myriad of film festivals throughout the year including Africa in Motion, Take One Action! and various foreign language-based festivals. Outside of that, there are a number of community cinemas operating in Edinburgh too, including Freeze Frame Film Club at Out of the Blue Drill Hall, where you can see a number of classic films from the 50s to the 80s accompanied by a three course meal!

Sean: I seem to remember it was pretty easy to find them at things like freshers fairs and on notice-boards. But also I can't recommend enough just heading along to festival parties and chatting to people. Every night at Glasgow and Edinburgh film festivals, the venues are packed and people are chatting about what they have seen that day. From there, you can create your own film community.

How to run a film festival like a pro

Morvern Cunningham
What do you like about running a festival?

Morvern: Festivals are crazy mad beasts where you get to present a bunch of stuff you think is worth sharing with the general public. They bring people together, and create new readings by sitting next to one another in the same programme. There's nothing quite so special as experiencing a festival with an audience, as that's when all the hard work comes together and creates a special shared moment in space and time.

Sean: The pleasure I get when something works, when a film that people wouldn't otherwise have seen really connects – it doesn't always happen (in which case I tend to make myself scarce) but when it does it is really the best. Also just the goodwill that people have, and the willingness to go on a journey.

What's been the most influential film for you, creatively?

Morvern: I think watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a kid had a profound effect on me, as I realised that you could make a film about literally ANYTHING. I think it sparked my love of trash and b-movies too – crazy mad efforts from weirdos like myself, just passionate about bringing the most outlandish stories to life, and hopefully making a buck at the same time.

Sean: When I decided I was going to study films I did buy box-sets of everything I thought I should watch – Goddard, Kurosawa, Powell and Pressburger etc – but I think that something more influential would be a cinema experience that was totally unique, as that is what we are often trying to create with festival screenings. Something like a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey I went to as a teen that was followed by a discussion about artificial intelligence that made me see that film wholly anew, or a Hans Richter shorts programme that was scored by an improviser orchestra that couldn't be replicated ever.

What's your number one tip for anyone who wants to run their own film festival?

Morvern: Speak to people – approach supportive organisations such as Film Hub Scotland who can give advice on licences etc. First and foremost, just do it.

Sean: Make sure there is an audience out there for your programming. As much as we all want to, do not just screen the films for yourself – remember cinema is a communal experience.

KinoKlub screens The Beast (1975), Summerhall, Edinburgh, Sun 10 Sep. VHS Trash Fest, Summerhall, Edinburgh, Fri 15 & Sat 16 Sep. Dunoon Film Festival, Fri 10 & Sat 11 Nov. Glasgow Film Festival, Wed 21 Feb–Sun 4 Mar 2018.

VHS Trash Fest

Film festival celebrating the worst of bad films.