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Interview: Philip Ilson, co-founder and Artistic Director of the London Short Film Festival

Image: Photograph of Philip Ilson, co-founder and Artistic Director of the London Short Film Festival

With nearly two years of virtual events feeling like the new normal, when it is announced that a staple of the film calendar is back and will include talks, screenings and industry-meets in-person, you know that things are finally starting to look up. London Short Film Festival is returning, kicking of the year with a curated short programme in collaboration with artists, collectives and filmmakers. The unofficial theme of the festival is all about working collaboratively alongside the official slogan ‘What Golden Joys Do We Need Now’, reflecting on the past and looking to the future. We spoke to the festivals' co-founder and Artistic Director, Philip Ilson about what we can expect from this year’s line-up.

Katie Hogan: Can you tell us about the highlights of the festival this year? Are there particular filmmakers and creatives to look out for?

Philip Ilson: The festival has always championed filmmakers as part of our regular annual focusses and retrospectives, catching filmmakers at that stage of having a strong body of work under their belt before moving onto another stage of their career whether that be features or bigger recognition. This year we have a varied and diverse bunch for our retrospectives. Glasgow based filmmaker Bryan M Ferguson has been making his name in promos and visual short films as he moves into narrative based work, while filmmakers Aneil Karia and directing duo Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli have completed their debut features while having an incredible back catalogue of award-winning short films. Anna Maguire is forging a path as an actress and a writer/director. From the art world Onkeya Igwe has been making significant waves in the gallery and film festival space. This is just a snapshot, as we also have some amazing up and coming new directors in our UK and International Competition programmes who we’re looking forward to see what they do next.

Katie: The trailer for the festival is fantastic, it takes you straight to the heart of what to expect from the programme, can you tell us more about its creators and how this was conceived?

John Ogunmuyiwa has been on our radar for a couple of years with his debut work for C4 Random Acts before his move into promos. His 2021 BFI funded short, Precious Hair and Beauty, which premiered at the BFI London Film Festival just a few months ago, really stood out when I first saw it earlier this year; it’s a locked-on single-shot snapshot inside a South London hair salon and is full of the characters and voices that pass through across a single day, and a perfect magnifying glass onto modern London. It captured a vision of London and thereby the ethos of the Festival, and we approached John to come on board to deliver a trailer with a similar London outlook. With his production company, Blink, we got an amazing collage that really represents our city and sums up LSFF.

LSFF trailers have always been creative as opposed to clips from the films showing, and we have previously worked with filmmakers such as Alex Taylor (Spaceship), Ani Laurie, and Ivana Bobic, visual artistes SweatMother and Julian Hand, and digital animator Charlotte Tatham, to make creative trailers that become like short films in their own right.

Katie: In the ever-changing landscape of film, what importance do you think short films has currently?

Short film has been around since cinema began; the first films were shorts before the 90 minute plus running time became the norm. But shorts have always been relevant to start filmmakers off, for them to experiment and try out new ideas. Of course, it’s not always about a calling card, as many filmmakers we showcase have no interest in feature film, and are working with gallery spaces and documentary spaces. But that’s the exciting thing, that there’s no remit to what a short film should be.

Katie: There is an emphasis on working with various collectives, clubs and curators outside of the LSFF, do you think this is the way forward for other festivals and events, programming from outside organisations?

LSFF’s roots began in the late 90s when there was a vibrant underground film club scene away from the mainstream. My film club was called the Halloween Society and with others such as Exploding Cinema, Omsk and My Eyes My Eyes, we held the Volcano Underground Film Festival in opposition to the bigger commercial festivals. When I began the London Short Film Festival in 2004 there was always an interest to work with new curators and film clubs; both Club des Femmes and Kino London launched at subsequent LSFFs. It’s important to bring in new voices within curation, which we’ve also done with our programming leads and pre-selectors to really get a wide perspective on the submissions that we are being sent.

Katie: From the programme, T A P E Collective are a frequent collaborator, can you talk about how this partnership began and how it has impacted the festival this year?

T A P E Collective were formed a few years back when Isra Al-Kassi, Angie Moneke and Nellie Alston met on the Barbican Young Programmers scheme, and they have been curating strong work to counteract the lack of representation on screen at various venues from BFI Southbank to touring programmes and at other festivals. They did an event at LSFF in 2019 called ‘hey baby! smile for me’ to examine women’s vulnerability within public spaces, with a series of short films and discussion. When in early 2021, we were re-structuring the programming team, we spoke to them about ideas and out of that discussion came that we would bring them into LSFF to programme many of our special events and retrospectives alongside our industry programme. It’s an experiment that has worked brilliantly as it’s exciting to see what they’ve brought to the Festival.

Katie: When finding filmmakers and artists who have a spotlight on their work, (such as Bryan M. Ferguson, Anell Karia, Anna Maguire) in the special events programme, what do you and your team look for in their work?

Any filmmaker we focus on via a retrospective is someone that we’ve been screening and tracking the work of for a few years. It’s exciting to see those filmmakers coming back to the Festival with new films each time, and then we get to a point where they’re ready to present the work as a whole perhaps before they move to the next stage of their career. All those in this year’s programme are filmmakers whom we’ve had an on-going relationship with. Then we hope that filmmakers whom we love screening for the first time in 2022 may be back with a full retrospective in five year’s time.

Katie: It’s exciting to see events featured this year focusing on subjects and communities (Otherness Archive: the forgotten archives of the trans masc experience, My Eye is My Ear) that have not had a large platform before, are these events you hope to continue and expand in the future?

We expanded the programming team at LSFF a number of years ago, particularly for the submitted work that comes in, and we had a re-shuffle again back in early 2021. As I mentioned before, this is to expand the programming remit beyond a small elite team to create a much more diverse Festival, and by bringing in programmers who specialise in D/deaf work and queer and trans work, means we can give those curators carte blanche to showcase work that we may not be aware of, and then to present that work to those communities, as well as to the wider public.

Katie: Collaborative working/creating is something that naturally comes with filmmaking and to an extent, art. Do you think that individuals can still be recognised for their work and can stand out amongst group creatives?

Yes, individual names are very important within creative practises, but those names also need to know how to collaborate and listen to others. We’ve seen collectives championed at the Turner Prize this year and as mentioned before, we’re working with a number of collectives, including T A P E, on our programme this year, but it’s important to have someone to guide things in exciting directions.

Katie: This year’s festival slogan ‘What Golden Joys Do We Need Now’ seems to be about reflection on what has come before and what we look to in the future, what does this mean for the LSFF going forward, beyond this year’s programming?

The phrase came from our International Programmer, Qila Gill, and I understand it’s a hybrid of phrases and words from a couple of poems she liked. Of course, it’s very relevant to the current worldwide pandemic situation, particularly as we’re nearly two years on and hoping to emerge from it soon. Of course, we know that the pandemic is still an on-going concern, but we also feel we’re in a better place than the 2020 winter holiday season when we were in full lockdown in the UK, and LSFF in January 2021 was presented in the on-line space. Unfortunately, winter 2021 did bring further restrictions following the opening up earlier in 2021, but it’s important for us to present LSFF in the physical public space; with the Festival just a few weeks away, we are hoping we can move forward to present in person and celebrate those golden joys.


London Short Film Festival
14—23 Jan 2022
Various venues, London

LSFF 2022 Trailer from London Short Film Festival on Vimeo.

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