Festival Report: Encounters Film Festival 2020

Film journalist Zia Holloway attended the flagship South West fest's first online edition for BFI NETWORK

29 September 2020


Bristol-set Encounters Film Festival prides itself on celebrating excellence in short and animation filmmaking. It plays host to an array of award-winning film and animation collections, including shorts from the Iris Film Festival (the longstanding LGBTQIA+ organisation), Encounters jury picks, and the European Short Film Audience Awards. Encounters is not only a celebration of global talent, however; it’s committed to supporting and educating emerging filmmakers through its masterclasses, events and competitions. 

This year, Encounters has had to adapt to the challenges of 2020 and deliver something that is just as exciting and bold as before, only in an online capacity. In a testament to the festival, its digital format is amazingly accessible and engaging, and a whole plethora of stories, voices and talent can be accessed from your front room.

While exploring this year’s online edition, I’ve had particular fun surfing through the comedy and student short film sections and seeing what new filmmakers are up to. There are some real gems to be found among all of the collections, such as the comedy horror Die In Style, and animations most moving and original like Purpleboy, which tackles ideas of trans identity, and the poetic animation The Physics of Sorrow.


Another highlight is the daily live action and animation spotlights, that give festival attendees an opportunity to join Q&A’s with their favourite filmmakers. Not only is it a great chance to hear from the people behind the shorts that excited you, it also serves as a convergence point for filmmakers and the audience to connect via Zoom. I enjoyed hearing the filmmakers talk candidly about their film and profession in this space. The first animation spotlight was a delight especially because the filmmakers were so genuinely enthusiastic about animation and wanted to share their passion. As Dustin Rees, the creator of Signs stated, ‘In live action you see the actor, in animation you get to see the character,’ when speaking about the joy of animation. His words ring true when watching the wonderful and vibrant animations that have come out of this festival.

Of course, the most valuable element of the Q&A is being able to ask all your burning questions and, having attended the festival’s early Spotlights, I can attest to the real honesty and openness of the filmmakers that I watched. From lessons on how to find your story and tell it in the best way possible, the secrets of production, and the process behind some of the most interesting films that are being showcased in Encounters, I would highly recommend the Spotlight to anyone who wants to get more out of the festival.

Encounters is also well known for its support of emerging filmmakers and this year is no exception, with a line-up of masterclasses and workshops that provide practical information and advice from top industry professionals, and cover everything from editing to cinematography to more nuanced discussions about filmmaking. From their events programme, I would recommend the Breath Workshop for anyone wanting to learn how to de-stress and relax.

Throughout much of the festival, the influence of COVID-19 is inescapable. It has changed the landscape of the industry forever, but in spite of this every filmmaker in attendance has an inspiring sense of optimism and hope for the future of film. As Jonathan Stimac, one of the filmmakers behind A Creature in the Night, responded in one Q&A, COVID-19 has given new filmmakers a unique opportunity to meet people’s rising demand for content online.

Encounters itself is a shining example of how the industry is providing the space for people to share their work even in the face of a global crisis. Luckily for anyone who wonders how to navigate an altered industry, there is an entire resource of films to show you what creativity can achieve, and Q&A’s to advise you.

The festival has delivered a remarkable experience that connects filmmakers through a range of virtual events while promoting fresh and diverse talent. The standard has been exceptionally high, and I defy anyone who gets involved not to gain a myriad of useful skills from attending 2 weeks of what will be one of Encounters’ most memorable festivals. There is a world of inspiration to be found here, and I am eager to see what more the festival has to offer.

Encounters Film Festival runs until 11th October. Find more info here.

Read more of Zia's work here.