Having been gradually attending (and now covering) more film festivals in recent years, I’d been starting to despair that there was nothing like Mayhem, etc. in my home city of Coventry. And then, as if by magic (or algorithms), Facebook reminded me that the International Coventry Film Festival was coming up in a few weeks. Granted, I knew it wouldn’t be a “genre” festival like the others I’d enjoyed, but I was keen to support local cultural events, and it might even be what I was looking for…
The Festival took place over two evenings in the laidback Backhaus & Co, Fargo Village; the first evening showcasing a selection of short films from around the world, and the second dedicated to a feature film. The organizers, guests, and attendees were all clearly passionate about film, and welcoming; and the films, in general, were very engaging… But there was something off balance about the event.
The media about the event presented it as something big, or at least bigger than it turned out to be; it included a few short films from other countries, but does that qualify it for “International” in the title? I would expect an event with that name to have people traveling from around the world, and covering it for the global press. There were specially commissioned large awards for several winning filmmakers and actors, as well as Prosecco on arrival, and programmes that cost £4 on top of ticket prices: all the type of characteristics I would expect of a large, prestigious affair.
And yet there was little marketing (that I was aware of), there were fewer than fifty attendees over both evenings, and the venue was an artisan “bakehouse, bar and cookery school”, whose coffee machine was close enough and loud enough that at times the films could not compete. Most unfortunate was the equipment, both screen and sound, which were inadequate for the acoustics and large space in Backhaus, and did not live up to expectations in the slightest. I don’t doubt it is difficult to find an ideal venue in Coventry, one which combines film presentation equipment with social and eating space; but I am confident there are some (such as EGO Performance, which hosted the festival a couple of years ago), or that collaboration between a couple of venues might be possible. Hopefully, the various sponsors can help with that before 2021, Coventry’s year to be City of Culture.
The other slightly odd aspect to the event was the Driver Awards. The films were judged before the event, rather than during; and the best feature category included some films which were not shown to those present, so there was no way to appreciate why the winning film won. The awards for shorts were given at the start of the first evening, and the feature awards at the start of the second; presentation at the end would have felt more logical, and in line with other festivals I’m familiar with.
That said, I would certainly attend again. The atmosphere was intimate and friendly, and I have hope that more fitting facilities might be found in the future, especially if the City Council got more involved. The same organizers also present an LGBTQ festival later in the year, and it will be interesting to see how many of those letters are represented and what the films are like.
Day One: Friday, 12 April
Of the twelve short films, six came from the UK, two from the USA, two China, and one Turkey. The selection included two different styles of animation, romance, family dramas, and a music video. I’ll not go into all the shorts, but here are the ones which made the most impact for me.
Autumn Patrol (10:54, UK, directed by Robert Cohen) was described as “an elegy to passing time”, and essentially took the form of the day in the life of a traffic warden, musing on the way his job is changing with technology and the seasons. It was beautifully filmed, showing real, gritty city life, but with a middle-aged melancholy well suited to the autumn backdrop.
Knock at the Door (8:51, directed by Michael Constable) was a Tales of the Unexpected style mischievous horror story, starring Doreen Mantle (One Foot in the Grave), who won the award for best performance in a short film. It was filmed with a sharp eye for the claustrophobia one can feel in one’s own home, as well as a tense score. The ending may have been a little predictable, but I didn’t mind: it was perfectly apt.
The Ever Changing Entity of Wood Hill, England (3:46, UK, directed by Jack Cuckson) was beautifully creepy and gave me goosebumps from the start. The rather abstract main character wears a mask which reminded me of Creeped Out straight away, but this is more folk horror, and quite mystifying… it’s available on Vimeo if you want to take a look.
Victor (4:08, directed by Sam Tipper) won the award for best animation and was an animated story about a well-loved vacuum cleaner, wary of being replaced by new tech. The film has a very affectionate style and seemed much longer than the four minutes while watching it. And it was very, very funny: and that’s not just me; the whole audience loved it.
Celebration (Turkey, directed by Elif Sözen) won the festival’s best short award and starred a very striking child actor. There wasn’t a great deal of dialogue, and when it did crop up it seemed unsettling at first; though towards the end, the context became apparent, and it was clear that we had simply been seeing a domestic scene from a child’s point of view, which is clearly different from everyone else’s.
Day Two: Saturday, 13 April
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton (UK, directed by Luke Cutforth) won the best feature, so naturally was the film shown on Saturday night. It was made clear to the audience at first that production was not completely finished, but near enough that I was told it would not be premature to write a review.
The small audience was completely rapt throughout, giving it the respect of a pre-release screening. There was no formal Q&A afterward, as I had been half expecting, but Cutforth made himself available to chat casually with those present. He was especially keen to receive feedback and pointed out a couple of places in the screenplay which he was planning to sharpen. He told me how difficult it is to prove himself as a filmmaker from a standing start: this was the first of four films he has been working on but is unable to get meetings with the right people about distribution unless he can make a convincing argument that he and his film will make money.
Hopefully, this small award will help: The Drowning of Arthur Braxton may not be perfect, but it certainly shows a great deal of talent, not to mention the commitment in working with a novelist to get an adaptation just right. And once it does get out there, he has a prequel in the pipeline to follow it.