NETWORK @ LFF

Dionne gives us the lowdown on this year's NETWORK professional development programme at the heart of the BFI London Film Festival.

19 October 2016
By Dionne Farrell
Dionne spent two years working in factual programming on a variety of projects, before joining the BFI as a trainee Script Editor.
LFF is over for another year, sigh. But save your tears because the good work that NETWORK does for the UK's most exciting emerging talent is only just beginning. A hot topic at this year's festival was of course Diversity, so NETWORK represented by selecting 15 BAME participants from a wealth of extraordinary applicants. Over five days they saw some amazing films, received super advice from some of the industry's very best, and asked the questions that keep new feature filmmakers awake at night. Here's a rundown of the talks. 
 
Day One - Vision, Guidance and Opportunity
 
Having seen Daughters of the Dust, the participants were lucky enough to have the director, Julie Dash, come and share her many pearls of wisdom.  Daughters took over ten years to finance before becoming the first film by an African American woman to gain theatrical distribution in the US, so Dash is a brilliant teacher in the need for resilience. Persistence was a recurrent theme when Ashley Clark then joined us to chat with Dash and Amma Asante, who was herself influenced by Daughters; a film which she said gave her license to create work in an industry from which she would otherwise have felt excluded. Amma is also playing an instrumental part in creating a space of opportunity for other minorities with important films like Belle and A United Kingdom, and Dash's advice that filmmakers “stay true to yourself, to history and culture” felt particularly potent in light of this. 
 
Julie Dash

Opportunity was also a hot topic when we spoke with Michele Turnure-Salleo, consultant producer and former director of Filmmaker 360 at the San Francisco Film Society. SFFS focuses on building long term relationships with artists in order to support them throughout their careers, and boasts credits such as Fruitvale Station, Short Term 12 and Beasts of the Southern Wild, so they are 100% doing something right. Michele emphasised the need for any filmmaker to define success for themselves; not everyone is going to be the next Steven Spielberg, and not everyone wants to be, so it’s important to ask what you want out of the projects you pursue, and the relationships you foster.
 
Michele Turnure-Salleo
 
After lunch we were back to business in the presence of the courageous and brilliant Mohamed Diab (Clash), who joined Michele to speak about his relationship with SFFS and the 4 year development of the film. The key take away from Diab's discussion (notwithstanding the revolutionary power of cinema) was the significance of collaboration and sharing your work. If you're a writer looking for thoughts on a script, “why just work with one mind when you can work with one hundred”? Allow people to read and critique your work, and take any constructive comments worth taking.
 
The day culminated with an exclusive screening of Queen of Katwe, followed by a talk with its director, Mira Nair, and executive producer, Tendo Nagenda. Nair's straight talking, no BS policy was a brilliant note to end on, whilst hearing about their collaborative process of producing Queen of Katwe was both useful and inspirational. To sell the idea Nair made a short that demonstrated the potential of the project, because sometimes people won't get it until you show them.
 
Tip of the day: Be persistent and seize every opportunity.  
 
Mira Nair
 
Day Two - Cast an Open Net
 
The day kicked off in conversation with agents David Flynn and Matthew Bates, who delivered sound advice about the very key relationship artists have with their agent, and how to get the most out of them. Things then shifted a gear with casting directors Tracy 'Twinkie' Byrd and Kharmel Cochrane, who took us to church, celebrating and reproaching the process of casting in equal measure. These guys should write a manifesto on 'How to Cast Responsibly.' (Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan monk? Hmmm...) 
 
Having both experienced being “the only no in a room full of yeses”, Twinkie and Kharmel frequently find themselves speaking up against decision makers whose choices do very little to advance the cause of representation. A black character that happens to be a criminal, or a Muslim who happens to be a terrorist doesn't just doesn't cut it when it comes to diversity. They encouraged the filmmakers to be open-minded, reminding us that the onus is very much on the writers and directors to see the world from a perspective other than their own. 

Twinkie Byrd

Casting was of particular importance to Julia Oh, producer of the breathtaking American Honey, a film made in a very untraditional way. Shooting American Honey was as much a road trip as the film itself, and both cast and crew had to be down for the journey. As such, the crew were 'cast' just as much as the people we see on screen, which became a really useful way to think about the team in light of our conversation later that day with actors Daniel Kaluuya and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Every member of your team contributes to the genesis of your idea, and both spoke eloquently about wanting to be involved in projects that they can learn from and say something through. 
 
Tip of the Day: Cast your crew and be open-minded. 
 
Day Three - Festival Strategy and Being Seen
 
There’s no better end to the journey than the final hurdle a film will face: finding an audience!

Festivals, the hunting ground for new talent, were the topic of the day as we go the lowdown from Vanessa Saal (Head of Worldwide Sales at Protagonist) on business realities and getting your film to market. Festival directors and programmers Rose Kuo, Inge de Leeuw and Tricia Tuttle advised finding festivals that suit your film, whilst critic Kaleem Aftab told us that smaller films are more likely to get reviewed at smaller festivals. 

 
Mohamed Ben Attia

All too familiar with the festival process, director Mijke de Jong then came and spoke about her latest film, Layla M., after another exclusive screening. She clued us up on working with non-professional actors (Nora El Koussour's performance is superb), and the vigorous research that went into the film, which takes an honest look at radicalisation in the Netherlands. 
 
The filmmakers then went on to do what they do best: network. Speaking with the likes of Will Oldroyd, So Yong Kim, Mohamed Ben Attia and Benedict Andrews, the filmmakers put any last minute questions to a group of industry guests, before it was time to dance the night away, celebrating and commiserating the end of our LFF journey. 
 
So Yong Kim
 
Tip of the Day: Make Connections and find your space. 
 
After attending a brilliant few days of screenings and seminars, it felt like we had actually made a film. And for many of the participants, it won't be long until you see their films coming to a cinema near you. 
 
See you next year!