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Interview: Philip Ilson, Artistic Director, London Short Film Festival 2023

IMAGE: Philip Ilson, Artistic Director, London Short Film Festival


Starting the film year wouldn’t be the same without the London Short Film Festival which celebrates its 20th anniversary. Kicking off the programme this year is a special event of shorts that not only reflects on the past and where the festival started, but looks to the future. Taking place at venues across London, with exciting special events, curated new shorts programmes; homegrown and international and industry events for those keen to learn and network, London Short Film Festival is only growing to new heights. We spoke to Philip Ilson about how far the festival has come, what to expect from this year’s line-up and what events not to be missed.


Katie Hogan: As the festival celebrates 20 years, have you had a chance to look back over the previous years and see how far the festival has come? How has it evolved?


Philip Ilson: The Festival received a record number of submissions for this latest edition, reaching over 5300. We are also expanding our international selection, as we only opened to international filmmakers in 2018. The Festival has grown in both the amount of events and screenings and the amount of audiences attending year on year on. It’s also been great to see the amount of filmmakers who have come through the Festival to receive success with their subsequent features and winning BAFTA and Academy Awards. 


Katie: What have been your favourite events/programmes at the festival over the years?


Philip: With 20 years to choose from this is a difficult question to answer. At the first ever Festival in 2004, we showcased the short films of Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey), so it was exciting to be at the start of her career, and it was great to re-visit the shorts of established filmmkers Ngozi Onwurah (Welcome II the Terrodome) and Lucille Hadzihalilovic (Innocence, Earwig). But I’ve also enjoyed those one-off strange events that LSFF has been known for such as our cat-themed event with Stealing Sheep performing a live score to Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage cat films alongside cat themed commissions from filmmakers Jennifer Reeder, Nicholas Abrahams and Vivienne Dick. In 2019 we had an inflatable barge on the canal at Hackney Wick with films and a memorable live performance from Lone Taxidermist and her inflatable performers!


Katie: Can you tell us what your highlights are from this year’s programme?


Philip: Again, too many to mention! The LSFF team all feed into the overall programme with specific ideas that excite them within the current film climate. For me personally, I selected to screen a 1993 video magazine Getting Close to Nothing which documents the British lo-fi  indie and riot grrl scenes (Huggy Bear, Cornershop) and there will be a panel discussion with artistes from that era, plus two contemporary live bands that draw on that lo-fi style, Sassyhiya and Breakup Haircut. We have guest programmes from Stone Club (focussing on the folk tradition and stone circles of Britain’s ancient landscapes), Zodiac Film Club (who bring us the astral occultism in film) and a programme of queer and trans radical shorts from Brazil to screen at Fold nightclub in Canning Town. We have overall shorts retrospectives from Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, Flux Gourmet), Mark Jenkin (Bait, Enys Men), Miryam Charles (Cette Maison) and Kazik Radwanski (Anne at 3000ft).


Katie: Previous collaborators, TAPE Collective are back and are hosting industry focused events, with mention of networking and 1-2-1 sessions as well as a zine library (fantastic!) – is LSFF taking inspiration from all things DIY and bringing them into 2023? Is there something to be learnt from doing things DIY, whether its filmmaking or creating a festival?


Philip: I believe this is a tradition that goes back to the roots of the Festival. The Festival itself grew from a very grass roots independent film club called Halloween Society, and the early festival brochures were in a lo-fi fanzine style. We have an exhibition of early flyers, posters and other ephemeral materials at Rich Mix throughout the Festival. The Festival has always championed low budget filmmaking specifically in our Lo-Budget Mayhem programme which has existed since the first Festival, and has an award attached to celebrate that grass roots filmmaking.


Katie: It’s exciting to see the Tour de Moon x PXSSY PALACE event as part of the programme, this feels like something new for LSFF, can you tell us how this collaboration came about?


Philip: This will be taking place at the BFI Southbank, and the initiative came through the BFI events team there who were already talking to Tour de Moon, so it made sense to include them as part of LSFF given it is a showcase of commissioned short films having their London premiere. Pxssy Palace have a relationship with the venue through their club nights at BFI Flare. 


Katie: One of the industry talks that stand out amongst the programme is Let’s Talk: Intimacy Coordinators, was this a role that you felt needed to be discussed an included at LSFF?


Philip: Very much so, as this has been on the filmmaker agenda over recent years. T A P E Collective curate the industry events and this one stood out when first discussing the programme with them. Filmmaker Emmeline Hartley will be hosting, as her short Keep Breathing was one of the first a few years back to address the subject of consent and use Ita O’Brien as intimacy co-ordinator, and the film is now used as an educational tool in schools. 


Katie: Although it is the ‘London’ short film festival, is there a possibility that the festival will branch out beyond the capital, similar to how the BFI London Film Festival has over the last couple of years?


Philip: The Festival, although using a core selection of Central London venues every year, which includes the ICA and Curzon Soho, also has strong links to East London at the Rio, Rich Mix and Genesis cinemas, as well as Fold in Canning Town this year. The Festival has been known to be in other parts of London including south and west in previous years, but it all depends on specific programmes. In terms of touring, the Festival has done so post-Festival with guest programmes across the UK and to other international festivals, but it depends year on year on. 


Katie: As the film exhibition landscape has shifted over the last few years to include online content and now reverting back to how it was before, can you tell us about the importance of cinemas and being present in person events?


Philip: LSFF never bothered itself with the online world, as we feel there will always be room for the physicality of audiences within a venue or cinema. There has never been a premiere policy at LSFF and we are happy to screen films at the cinema already available online. Of course, Covid lockdown saw international festivals, including LSFF, engage much more with the online space, and also made us think a lot more about accessibility. Post-lockdown, people are very keen to get back into communal spaces and meet face-to-face, but it still feels there is a need for an online element, but the flipside is that it would be running two festivals side by side simultaneously. Of course, this is definitely something we’d like to explore in the future.


London Short Film Festival 2023 - 20 Year Anniversary

20-29 January 2023

Various venues across London 


LSFF 2023 Trailer by Andrew Kötting from London Short Film Festival on Vimeo.

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