Festival Focus: Shooter’s Encounters

Posted September 19th, 2017 by Mark Ryan

Ahead of Bristol’s Encounters Festival we’ve spoken to several of our very own shooters about the festival. These filmmakers with films in the competition told us about their entries, motivations, and what got them to where they are now.

Jonathan Schey is a young writer / director and a graduate of The Royal Court Theatre’s Studio Group, and was a member of the BFI Youth Jury at the 2012 London Film Festival. He has directed 5 short films that have screened at major festivals around the world, in Los Angeles, Berlin, Brest, Timisoara, Amsterdam, and London. His film, Liam Williams’ Valentine, aka The Coaches, was commissioned and broadcasted on Sky Arts as part of their Valentines Day comedy shorts programme, and his 2014 short, I Want To Be Happy Cha Cha Cha, was selected by Jack Thorne as Film of the Month on Shooting People.

His latest work, in competition at Encounters, The Entertainer, follows a party entertainer called Paul (Toby Jones), at a Bat Mitzvah, as the cracks in his persona begin to show when he starts drinking. The inspiration for the film came from his fascination of the concept of the party entertainer; “not the really expensive ones. I’m talking about the cheap ones you find on Google. Most of the ones I’ve witnessed seem to be hating the work they do. When I was researching the script, I talked to a few party entertainers and a lot of these guys are doing two parties a day, driving long distances, downing cans of red bull to keep their energy up. And I found that image – a depressed middle-aged man in a shit tuxedo being forced to entertain – both tragic and really funny.”

The fragility of the human outer-self is a recurring theme in Achey’s work, which he presents both poignantly and humorously. He says he “tries to make work that is both funny and tragic. Balancing on that thin tightrope is a really fun challenge for me. I enjoy searching for the cinematic moments in everyday life. Looking at the mundane and trying to make it magical. I think a lonely man sitting in a greasy spoon eating a bad sandwich can be as cinematic as a dinosaur chasing Chris Pratt.”

For Schey, the short film format is a chance to be bold and experiment. “For me, the key word in short filmmaking is free. Firstly, because everyone is bloody doing it for free. Secondly, as a filmmaker it’s the only time you’ll ever be able to be 100% free in your craft. Short films aren’t made to make money, they’re made to be a statement. A business card. A completely pure, non-tainted, slice of you.”

Indeed, Jonathan has certainly made his distinct mark on the shorts circuit so far. The success of I Want To Be Happy and it’s praise from Jack Thorne “helped massively to get The Entertainer off the ground.” But Schey also attributes his success to simply being open-minded; ‘”100%. Collaboration and community is everything. You’ve got to find your gang and Shooting People is a great platform to help you find them.”

Jonathan is now in the early stages of developing his first feature, which he describes mysteriously as ‘a mundane horror’, and he also has a TV comedy drama that’s in development. In the meantime, you can catch The Entertainer at 4pm on Wednesday 20th September at Encounters.

Natalia Kouneli is an accomplished video editor and motion graphics designer from Athens, Greece, who having established an impressive career in commercials since her studies in Video Design and Documentary in Milan, before mastering in Arts in Moving Image in London. has now directed a short documentary commissioned by the Scottish Documentary Institute. Documentary filmmaking is currently her biggest passion, “since I finished my studies I have always been scanning my surroundings for interesting stories and trying to find ways to bring them on the screen.”

This latest story is one that is both incredible and inspirational. Silent Laughs follows Leah Kalaitzi, “an Edinburgh-based Deaf stand-up comedian who fights for her dream to raise awareness about Deaf culture and issues through her comedy.’ Kalaitzi aims to make deaf culture more accessible to a mainstream audience through her comedy, by performing in British sign language and using an interpreter’s live voice to translate her routines.

The film also has a very personal meaning for Kouneli; “Leah is a childhood friend of mine – we met in Greece, when my parents sought for consolation in Leah’s mother when they found out that I was hard of hearing at the age of three. We spent our childhood years playing board games and hide and seek and then lost contact for 15 years. In 2015 I moved to Edinburgh where Leah happened to live and work and found a flat on her street, facing her sitting room window. One of the first things she told me when we met after all these years is that she was doing stand-up comedy in sign language and my immediate reaction was, “this needs to be brought on a screen”.

For Kouneli, the short film is “a very flexible format for new filmmakers to experiment with, as today’s technology and access to information and inspiration makes it easier than ever to put together a short story on the screen. Emotions can feel very strong when crammed in a few minutes and that’s the magic of short film format in my opinion. We live in a time where 360-degree indie filmmakers are thriving and countless creatives are using affordable mediums and easily accessible technology to produce one-man show short format content completely by themselves, taking care of all aspects of production on their own. However, my first experience working with a small crew made me realise the importance of team work in filmmaking. I feel it’s vital to have a general knowledge of all aspects of production but I think it’s just as important to specialise in an aspect you love and contribute to a team of people where each person covers a specific role. Filmmaking communities like Shooting People can help maintain the sense of team work from the very beginning of a filmmaker’s journey, where a creative might be tempted to isolate and experiment on their own.”

Natalia is now busy mostly working as a tech editor in animation projects, and is currently preparing to move to Tenerife to work on a Netflix animated series for the next year. However, she promise that she’s planning some trips to exciting places soon though, and has few themes in mind that could make interesting documentaries. “I’m hoping to explore them during my travels and meet the right people and stories to bring those themes on the screen.” In the meantime you can catch Silent Laughs in the Deaf Shorts showcase at 4pm, Saturday 23rd November.

Rosie Westhoff is an Australian born, UK based Writer-Director. Her first short film Crush, about a 14 year old girl’s first crush, premiered at BFI Flare, before playing Edinburgh International Film Festival, TIFF Kids and more, as well as being a part of British Councils FiveFilms4Freedom programme. Her second short film has recently been completed and she’s now submitting it into festivals, and she is simultaneously developing a 4×30 minute coming of age drama series and her first feature film, so we can expect to see more from her soon.

Crush was inspired by Rosie’s best friend, who had a crush on a boy she saw on the bus. “I don’t think she ever even spoke to him! Then through that simple idea I really wanted to explore those emotions you have with your first crush. It’s such an intense moment and so formative for a teenager who’s going through all those feelings. It’s easy to forget as you get older how intense and awkward those feelings can be when you’re dealing with them for the first time. As it was my first short it was important for me to make something I identified with so strongly.”

Indeed, for Rosie the short film format is a chance to showcase an insight into personal experience, “I love short vignettes and being able to show a small moment in time from someone’s life. I have so many short stories I want to tell, so many characters I want to explore.” Beyond this though, it has a more direct purpose. “Short film, I think for me in particular, is a stepping-stone to directing features and television. I think it’s important to learn your craft and you can only do that through writing, creating and actually directing. With short films, I get the chance to develop and write these characters I love so much so that’s just really fun. If I could make a living out of short films I’d love to just continue to make hundreds.”

She has a few more coming at least. “I’ve just finished my second short film Blue which I’m currently entering into festivals, so hopefully people will be able to see that soon. I’m prepping my third short, which I plan to shoot in March next year and I hope to then develop that into a children’s series. I’m also working on a TV drama pilot, a feature film and a comedy pilot if you can believe it! A lot of writing, a lot of characters!”  Crush will be shown at 10pm on Thursday, September 21st at Encounters.

Rebecca Manley has been directing commercials and shorts since 2002, designing spots for some of the world’s top brands including Stabucks, Hershey’s, Google, and Sony.  Represented by Independent Films/Indy8, she has begun branching her portfolio to live action, while maintaining the tactile art design and handcrafted quality that makes her filmmaking style unique. In 2016, she was selected as a BAFTA Guru Pro Emerging Talent in Film. Her short films have screened all over the world and have picked up awards including Best Animated Short Film at Kino Fest and the DepicT! Audience Award at Encounters.

Now You See It, features the voice of Ewan McGregor as it explores environmental damage.  This passion project is influenced by Manley’s love for the natural world and desire to contribute to the urgent global conversation about climate change.  “Considering the devastation caused this month by abnormally strong hurricanes hitting the Caribbean and the USA and the recent revelations about micro plastic contamination in tap water around the world, I am convinced that visual artists need to do more to spread awareness of climate change and pollution.”

Manley believes with such a topic, the short film format is important in order to keep audience members engaged in the core message.  She hopes the film delivers eye-catching colour, design, and an emotive soundtrack that makes you want to watch it again to catch any details you may have missed.   “Collaboration is absolutely key,” she says as she emphasises the need to lean on dedicated crew and other talented individuals in order to create any piece of work like this one.  She also believe a community is necessary to help filmmakers improve and address problems they cannot solve on their own.   “The fact that communities like Shooting People provide support both online and through regulars events is great.”

She is currently on final rewrites for her first live action drama short, hoping to go into production later this year.  Its working title is ‘Of Thread and Almonds’ and will be produced by Sonya Sier.  You can catch Now You See It at 12pm on Wednesday, September 20th at Encounters.

Sophie Ansell and Annie Jenkins co-directed Funemployed, with Jenkins as screenwriter and Ansell as production designer.

Annie Jenkins, originally from North London, graduated with a degree in Drama from the University of Manchester in 2013.  She has previously written two full-length plays, Staying at Stacey’s and In Lipstick, which was shortlisted for the Theatre503 award last year.  “I think the tone of my work is a kind of surreal domesticity, a kind of skewed normality.  Sophie Ansell got her start in film through working in Art and Hair & Makeup departments after attending art school.  She has grown to love the visual aesthetics that can be used to encourage a visceral reaction.  She also enjoys the use of humour and everyday absurdities as a political tool, aimed to “playfully disjoint the powerful fictions that govern our lives.”   

After sharing a mutual experience at the Tottenham Joe Centre, Sophie expressed an interest in making a film called Funemployed.  “That place was so bleak, we had to make a film about it,” states Ansell, who got to thinking about the kind of person who would actually enjoy their type of experience.  Gladys, Funemployed‘s protagonist, was named after Gladys Horton of the Marvelletes, whose song My Daddy Knows Best was their early inspiration.  “I’m interested in both delusion and the role of performance so it felt fitting to make Gladys a ‘prolific’ Vlogger,” say Jenkins.

“Experimentation,” is what Ansell believes is the greatest advantage of short film format.  “I feel like people are more open to sit through something sort of ridiculous or unfamiliar if they know it’s only going to be for 7 minutes rather than 2 hours.”  While Jenkins believes short formats gives amateurs an achievable platform to learn and work out what stories they’d wish to tell.

Annie Jenkins is currently working on a new full-length play comprising of four intertwined monolgues set in and around a London Karaoke bar.  She has also written a short play titled My Son is in the Kitchen Eating a Biscuit, which will be performed as part of HighTide festival in Walthamstow at the end of the month.  Sophie Ansell is currently developing a couple of shorts, one a modern-day fairytale and the other a black comedy.  She is also excited to return to production designing for the second year of Overnight Film Festival in February 2018.  Check out Funemployed on 8pm on Thursday, September 21st at Encounters.

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