Abla Kandalaft provides a close look at the largest short film festival in the world and introduces its support initiatives
For the largest short film festival in the world (and the largest French film festival after Cannes), the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival doesn’t always get the widespread coverage it deserves. The festival has played host to early shorts by now very-well-established British directors, from Peter Mullan to Lynne Ramsay. Most impressive is not only the respect and opportunities the festival affords its participating filmmakers, but the means and efforts the team puts into drawing huge crowds from far beyond the usual cinephile audiences, democratising access to film and fostering a love of cinema.
Five years ago, to my utter delight, the Clermont-Ferrand press office got in touch. I had been writing and editing a web-based film magazine, Mydylarama, alongside an all-female team of film buffs. We all worked different jobs but shared a love of film and a true appreciation of it as a platform for underrepresented voices. I have a Syrian-Lebanese background, so for me personally, film and documentary has been a privileged medium through which to communicate and share the complex and often emotionally-charged history of the region and experiences of its people. We used the website to highlight filmmakers we liked, write reviews and pursue more ambitious initiatives, from founding an after-school film club in Paris to teaming up with the Human Rights Film Festival. One of our writers enjoyed covering the Clermont-Ferrand Festival. The press team, impressed with her writing, offered us a partnership. Part of the idea was to have an English-language platform give the festival some level of coverage. They were also keen to hire us as journalists to interview all the filmmakers in competition for the festival’s platform and Mydylarama to give the shorts more visibility and allow them to live on after the festival ended.
Every year, we get to attend the festival and witness the warm welcome, perks and opportunities given to emerging filmmakers. When asked about their experiences of the festival, most invariably express sheer delight at having their short films – often their first or second filmmaking projects – screened in the huge Salle Cocteau auditorium. The screen, which sits 1400, is usually full. Stragglers hover outside, checking which session they might still get access to.
Director Daniel Mulloy, whose film Home, starring Jack O’Connell, was selected in the international competition, was impressed by the festival’s “hugely involved, articulate and passionate audiences”. It’s not uncommon to see people making notes during screenings to then be able to quiz directors. Director and actor Ashley Briggs was also struck by the level of attention given to each film: “Nowhere, I think, offers selected films up to eight screenings; one a day. The Search For Inspiration Gone played to an estimated 2,250 people, which is just beyond fantastic.”
Indeed, for a shorts festival nestled in a small industrial town in the mountainous region of Auvergne, what filmmakers find the most impressive is its sheer scale, recording nearly 175,000 entries. In many of the largest film festivals, shorts are treated as side events, allowing young and keen filmmakers to get a foot in the door in the hope that one day they’ll gather enough money and support to make the much more important feature films. The Clermont-Ferrand Festival celebrates the short format in all its glory.
Aside from the huge audiences it exposes those films to, the festival has introduced a number of initiatives to support filmmakers. It’s a small detail, but submissions are free. Thanks to substantial public funds, the festival is able to remove this very first obstacle and encourage filmmakers with limited means to apply. All entrants are able to save their film to the film market’s library for buyers and programmers to view and are given accreditation and access to all the networking events.
London-based filmmaker and animator Astrid Goldsmith runs Mock Duck Studios and was recently part of the jury at the Leeds International Film Festival. When asked about her experience of Clermont after her short Squirrel Island was selected, she said: “I met tons of great people, some of whom have turned into firm friends and collaborators over the years.
Being selected for the Official Competition also massively increased the visibility of my film – as soon as the selection was announced I got lots of interest and invitations from other festivals.” The lucky directors whose films have made it into one of the competitions (French, international or ‘lab’ – a loose term to describe experimental shorts) are given the opportunity to take part in Q&As with professionals and the interviews conducted by ourselves, giving the films a longer lease of life and exposure beyond the ephemeral nature of most festivals.
Sauve Qui Peut endeavours to do all it can to get international filmmakers to come, funding travel, accommodation and meals. Of course, in spite of this, many cannot attend. Like many other festivals, COVID pushed the organisers to consider hybrid editions, and they decided to keep the online video interviews that we’d resorted to in 2021, alongside in-person Q&As.
As a film programmer, what I consider my proudest moment was collaborating on the introduction of school and young people’s screenings for the Paris-based Human Rights Film Festival. Increasing and democratising access to film and documentary, whether it’s watching, discussing, reviewing or making, is something that’s particularly close to my heart. What better way to do this than enabling access to film from a young age? As an audience member and now as a collaborator, I’m particularly enthusiastic about Clermont’s “séances jeunes publics” or young audiences screenings. Through partnerships with schools and local authorities, the festival organises shorts programmes tailored to children from as young as three years old. Older kids also take part in voting for the Canal+ Family award. According to Laura Thomasset from the festival’s press team, the town’s residents are given an opportunity to develop an interest in film from a young age. Now in its fourth decade, it’s not unusual to see two or three family generations attending the screenings, armed with notebooks and catalogues. With the uncertainty around COVID and the impact it’s had on live events, the Clermont-Ferrand festival can hopefully serve as an example of just how important a platform festivals can be.
Abla Kandalaft is a film programmer, journalist and researcher. She currently co-produces a film programme on BBC Arabic and has worked for a number of festivals in various roles, from curation to young audiences development. She is part of the editing team of Mydylarama, a web-based film magazine that promotes film as a platform for underrepresented voices and is the official UK partner of the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival. She now co-hosts Mydylarama’s new film podcast, which specifically focuses on racial and socio-economic issues in film.