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Culture Q&A

How to set up a film festival

Film festivals are being sliced into ever more specific niches (surf, Super 8 and mental health to name a few examples). Underwire festival is unique in the UK, as the only event entirely based on female filmmakers. Since it started in 2010, it’s become a showpiece for emerging female talents in film, growing from its first award ceremony at Shoreditch’s Book Club, to this year’s venue the Hackney Picturehouse. Its founders, Gabriella Apicella and Gemma Mitchell, and festival producer Anna Bogutskaya, talk Courier through the festival’s first seven years.

24 Nov 2016

Courier: How did you get started? 

Gemma Mitchell: It all started over a cup of coffee at the Breakfast Club in Hoxton. We wanted to give female directors and everyone else involved in the film process a platform to show their talent.

Gabriella Apicella: It turns out we’re the only film festival in the world doing what we do; on a short film festival level there’s virtually no recognition of women’s contribution in the range of skills that go into the craft.

In that first year there was a lot to think about; the design, the venue, the music, and of course what films we were going to play.

How did you go about securing partnerships? 

GM: We looked up what organisations were doing to engage with women and emerging talent, so we could share a common ground. In our first year, we only had a few categories – this year we’ve grown into 12 competitive categories.

GA: It was also easy because we asked for training and mentoring, not cash. In our first year we got support from the big organisations like Kodak; they gave us film for the cinematography.

GM: If I were to give advice it would be to not be intimidated by big companies. You’re doing outreach for them too, it works both ways.

Is it hard to make a profit?

Anna Bogutskaya: Everything the festival makes is invested back into the festival. We all work on the festival for the love it, and the support our sponsors give is hugely important to make the festival happen. If you want to make money, you should just go into banking!

How did you market yourself?

GA: We’re a grassroots festival, so we did a lot of plugging ourselves, giving out leaflets, sending emails, getting our friends to come; it was like we were in a band. The partners were brilliant, they helped a lot with mailing lists and reaching out to the community.

GM: In short films there’s a natural community that forms around it: filmmakers, audiences and everyone they know. It’s a unique thing to have your work on the big screen, so people [bring their circles with them].

What are the key priorities when putting on a film festival?

AB: Watching the films take an immense amount of time. Every short film is watched by at least two people, someone from our pre-selection team and someone from our programming team. You have to leave enough time to set deadlines for submissions and for the decision-making, as well as securing partners and the venue. All the practical stuff. We booked the venues in January for the festival this November.

Why did you decide to hold the festival at this time of year?

GM: People often shoot in the summer, so we thought we’d get the best work if we started after that. In London, there are so many events, so if you clash that’s not good for the filmmakers or the audiences.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before?

GA: Don’t be afraid to approach those who have done this all already.

AB: Work with people in the film community and organisations you admire. Filmmakers are really welcoming and keen to collaborate.

How do you manage growth?

AB: There’s a danger of growing too quickly. There are opportunities you get along the way and you need to decide whether they’re right or not for you. You have to stick with your core mission.

Underwire film festival kicks off on 30 November. For the full schedule, click here.