Away from all the incredible feature-length and short films on display, there is a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Manchester Film Festival is organised and ran. The Jury Select Panel offered a unique insight for filmmakers and cinema goers alike and was chaired by film critic Tom Percival and featured festival co-ordinator Al Bailey as well as several of the jurors.
How do you decide which films go into the program? The key word is objectivity. We are trying to attract a wide range of people for all demographics. Something for everyone. There is a team of 6 who watch all the films to choose which will make it to the festival. It’s a very long process but we feel it is necessary to give every film a chance.
How do you plan the opening night? We want the people who come here to know they are in Manchester and know what we are all about so all the films have a North-West (of England) theme. A divisive set of films is key too, we want to start debate.
How do you go about selecting jurors? I absolutely hate the word alumni but I guess it’s the right word here. People who have come before and entered films are generally the right type of people. We want people that will get involved. The idea is to get a range of film industry roles such as writers, casting directors, actors etc. For each category we want jurors who have strengths in that area, animators in the animating category for example.
How many jurors are there and what is the process in choosing the winner of each category? There are 18 jurors altogether that are split into teams of 3, with each team getting the same set of 3. Each juror has their own method of critiquing. Some for example use a points system, breaking the films down into categories such as writing, structure, characters, direction, editing etc. We usually advise each film be watched more than once as different moods when watching can provoke a different reaction. Then when the individuals have voted we pool the results together to decide the winner.
What happens in the event of a tie? If a tie occurs then Gareth (head juror) would ultimately decide.
Is there any ‘X-Factor’ qualities you look for in the films? Usually we (jurors) have a gut instinct on the film within the first 10-15 minutes. From that we usually gather whether it will hold our full interest. There are 2 main factors that go into making a great film: script and performance. The best actors in the world can’t make a bad script good, and conversely the best script in the world won’t make bad actors good. More often that not a film will just do one well, or both mediocrely. A great film nails both. You also want to get immersed into the film, that’s a sign of quality.
Is there a difference between watching the films on a laptop where judging and on the big screen here? Oh definitely, this a major reason why we strike to have the jurors present at the festival rather than just watching them remotely. A film is always better on the big screen. The indie film scene is incredibly tough at the moment and getting distribution is so hard. So to see a small film on the big screen is really a big gift.
What is the run time limit on the short films? This question has been a bit of an issue for us over the past couple of years. This year the rule is anything under an hour but previously we weren’t sure how long was too long. A prime example of this was a 32 minute short that we received in year one. In the end we decided to include it and it was a great decision looking back as it ended up being nominated for an Oscar.
How many films are submitted? In year 1 we had 650, year 2 just under 1000. This year is over 1500 with around 75% of those being shorts. From May to November we wind down that number to the 92 you see in the festival.
How much does it cost to enter a film? There is an early bird which is around £30 and the last possible entry is around £100. As each filmmaker is paying considerable money to enter we make sure to watch every single film. From speaking to people at other film festivals I learned that they don’t watch all the films that the receive, opting to watch ones featuring acclaimed actors or directors. This is a completely dishonest way of running a film festival as some of the best films we see are by first time directors. For example we have an incredible debut student film that just wouldn’t have been watched let alone considered at other film festivals. At the Manchester Film Festival we try to be as transparent and honest as possible, something that we feel sets us apart from others.
In summary this was a surprisingly honest look at the inner workings of the the festival. Co-ordinator Al Bailey emphasised the need for transparency in what he called ‘the murky world of film festivals’. There was no doubt that everyone involved was driven by the intense passion that they shared for films and filmmaking, something that was conveyed not just at this panel but throughout the whole of the festival. It was a genuine pleasure to be involved with such a wonderful event and there was not a single negative moment to mention.