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Q&A: Philip Ilson on the London Short Film Festival 2018

Philip Ilson (pictured above) is the Artistic Director of the London Short Film Festival (LSFF), which he co-founded with Kate Taylor after the organisation of the Halloween Short Film Festival at the ICA in 2003. A premier showcase for cutting-edge UK independent film, LSFF is renowned for its innovative cross-arts programming and showcase of the country’s raw talent for 15 years.

Eli Goldstone: This year's LSFF has an incredibly rich line-up. It's also more diverse than ever - tell us about the changes you've made to make sure that certain voices are amplified.

Philip Ilson: I think it's important to do that research and work with a strong knowledgeable team to find those voices and filmmakers whose work we want to showcase. LSFF has always been 'auteur-led', as programmers we love screening original exciting films by filmmakers we love. But I feel it's important to not just rest on our laurels, as it were, by screening work by the same types of people, but to cast the net wide to see what stands out from other voices who may not immediately be on our radar. Tom Grimshaw, Shanida Scotland and Jenna Roberts, who were all on the Festival programming team this year also brought in some fascinating ideas into the mix, which makes the programme richer, and going out to Bechdel Test Fest, The Final Girls and Cigarette Burns Cinema has brought further ideas to the Festival.

Eli: I'm excited to see a line-up of films from Chris Kraus. Most people know her as the author of cult book I Love Dick. Can you tell us about her work in cinema?

Philip: Following on from above, I mentioned it's important to work alongside fellow travellers in curation, and International Programmer Tom Grimshaw brought the Chris Kraus films into the Festival programme. He says: "Her films have a very distinctive sardonic wit and playfulness that’s similar to her prose style, but more chaotic and freewheeling. Documentary, fiction, essay film, and performance art all fused together with each film acting as a breeding ground of ideas and associations that you can see echoes of in her later writing. For me they confirm just what a brilliant, exciting mind she is."

Eli: On the 14th of January there's a programme of shorts to mark the one year anniversary of the EU referendum. In what ways have you seen filmmakers respond to Brexit and the surrounding politics?

Philip: Very little has been done in filmmaking as regards Brexit, but we were excited by this Guardian writers initiative to respond to what's happened, so we're screening 8 commissioned short monologues by various writers such as Abi Morgan, Maxine Peake and AL Kennedy, as performed by various actors including Meera Syal, Penelope Wilton and Kristen Scott-Thomas. Perhaps it's too soon for Brexit to have a response in the films submitted to the Festival via open submission, though the refugee situation still features heavily in many of those shorts, both in drama and documentary. Perhaps we'll see an influx of Brexit stories for the 2019 Festival.

Eli: Tell us about the industry programme and what it has to offer.

Philip: We are aware that a lot of British short filmmakers will be attending the Festival, so the industry programme and its happy hours will give them a chance to learn and engage. We work with many of our partners to present panels and discussions, while also creating original discussions around artist film, raising money, new technology and how to film sex scenes! We're hoping the industry programme will be useful for filmmakers in their on-going work and careers.

Eli: What's an under-the-radar event happening during LSFF that you wouldn't want our readers to miss out on?

Philip: I'm excited by a rare screening of The House is Black, on 35mm film, the only film made by Iranian poet Farough Farrokhzad in 1963 (as she sadly died soon after completion); the film is being presented alongside a live performance of her poetry and a panel discussion on her work. I'm also looking forward to our collaboration with feminist horror collective The Final Girls, to screen a selection of British 'witchsploitation' TV documentaries from the early 70s followed by a fascinating panel discussion on the subject. Also, watch out for Muslim punk rock, female rappers from the 1980s, a look at writer JG Ballard in short film, Black British female director Ngozi Onwurah, and a complete career retrospective of music video director Dawn Shadforth, best known for her work with Kylie - we're expecting special guests at this screening, so watch this space!

Eli: There's a great selection of gothic and horror - I know the background of the festival is the London Halloween Society, so what's your favourite horror film?

Philip: I love presenting the films of directors who are playing with genre, and horror is an exciting genre right now, particularly when it veers into those gothic and fairytale territories (such as the work of French director Lucile Hadžihalilović, who we're also doing a focus on; her 2004 feature Innocence veers from surreal fairytale to dark Gothic imeagery and is one of my favourite films). Our Midnight Movies programme brings together a lot of the submitted films that go all out-and-out horror; Great Choice is an amazing use of 80s cheesy US TV advertising that gets very very dark! I'm excited about our Gothic! shorts programme, as it gives us some really stunning imagery, such as death awaiting souls on a beach in Soul Song, a bizarre vampire surgery in Crave, and great use of The Cure song 'A Forest' in, well, A Forest.

Eli: Do you think it's easier - because of low budgets - or harder - because of the sheer amount of work being produced - to get your work seen by an audience these days?

Philip: To be honest, there has always been a lot of short films out there. When I started doing this work with the Halloween Society back in the nineties, it was the first time high-end video equipment was affordable, so there was a real explosion in DIY filmmaking, which has obviously grown throughout those last 20 years to where even major cinema releases can be shot on a mobile phone, like Tangerine. LSFF prides itself on finding the real low budget hidden gems, showcased in our programmes Lo-Budget Mayhem, WTF, and Sketch Night. Many of these may not get into major film festivals, but may get an audience on-line, but it's great to get them onto the big screen.

Eli: Finally, fifteen years on from founding LSFF - how is this milestone being celebrated during the festival?

Philip: Our opening night of the Festival will see a screening of We Dare To Fail: 15 Years of LSFF, which will showcase directors who have had a history in the Festival and are now making waves with distinctive auteur led features, such as Alice Lowe, Peter Strickland, Jim Hosking, Hope Dickson Leach, Francis Lee, Destiny Ekaragha, and The Desperate Optimists; we hope to have many of those directors in attendance for an on-stage Q&A. Also, a recent programme addition is to focus on a filmmaker who we feel is really pushing boundaries in terms of filmmaking and who I'm personally excited about, while still a fair way into their careers. Following our Harmony Korine focus in 2015, we're turning to France to look at the work of Lucile Hadžihalilović, who will also be attending to be part of our jury. We're screening her first feature Innocence (released the first year of the Festival!) and a programme of her short films.


London Short Film Festival

12th — 21st January 2018