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Short Film Festival

It was back in December 2021 when a group of us decided that putting on a Rusthall festival of short films was an exciting possibility. We hoped that young people might apply. Groups of young people I approached in the town centre just wanted to film me. Schools and colleges didn’t respond. However, the superb free filmmaking sessions we held at Sunnyside Hall were appreciated.

Advised by our experienced local filmmaker Jeanne Pope, we ploughed ahead with the second part of our plan, advertising our festival on the Film Freeway website. The heavens opened. We suddenly had the makings of an international festival. We received over 250 short films from 46 different countries. Our judging team, using the criteria we had decided, had to watch more than 42 hours of shorts and comment on them. We whittled down the long list to our favourites to show over the film festival weekend on 15/16 October 2022.

We showed 30 films from 17 different countries. These were accompanied by an array of international dishes – a big cheer for our devoted catering team. The Mayor, Councillor Godfrey Bland, who came to give out awards, was seen laughing at the films and enjoyed himself. Our own Michael Lawrence became Rusthall Laureate for his hand drawn short ‘Where Am I Now?’ and Peter Gilbert became Groombridge Laureate for his commended film about trains.

We hoped for better attendance for our Saturday evening films. However, our hearts lifted when we gave Elle Brown, from Brighton, our People’s Choice certificate for her touching film ‘Keys’ about a refugee’s experience. This was the first time she had seen her film on a big screen. The big smile as she came up to take the award was wonderful.

We streamed the films online and had discussions on Zoom. Up popped familiar faces whose films we had celebrated – Cornwall based director Ben Kernow, whose Regency spoof ‘Sensibility’ charmed us all and the ridiculously energetic young US filmmaker Julian Lee. In ‘Not Quite Quarantine’, he rapped his way through his trials and tribulations through the pandemic. It left us gasping with admiration.

We loved talking to Polish director Jędrek Kocjan, whose ‘Beer for Grandpa’ won our Festival Favourite - the best film in the competition. He was truly delighted to have won and gave us insights into the poignant true story behind the film.

Our Sunday afternoon session ‘A Quiet Revolution’ which celebrated some of the twenty films that had been entered from Iranian filmmakers, was extremely well attended. The intense atmosphere in the hall reflected the tumultuous time in the country, as schoolgirls, women and allies took to the streets to campaign against mandatory hijab laws, after the death of Mahsa Amini. Our People’s Choice for this session was ‘Quarantine’ by Majid Mirhashemi – its humorous moments and lingering camerawork were particularly enjoyed.

Our large post film discussion gained from the wonderful input from visitor Farhad from Isfahan, who shared his knowledge of Iranian culture and history.

Our last session was Philip Philmar’s Zoom on his life in acting. We heard some fascinating stories that included his time filming a Spice Girls video, working alongside Terry Pratchett, being a slave in Game of Thrones, starring in three Tim Burton movies, having a scene with ‘one of the most beautiful actors in the world’ and having a cameo in the latest James Bond movie ‘No Time to Die.’ Philip’s cheerful optimistic spirit was a great way to end the festival.

Several asked about ‘next year’s festival.’ The great amount of work it involved needed to be reflected in audience numbers. However, the success of our Iranian session and interest within the community could perhaps lead to a focused event based on Ukrainian short films.

Anne Goldstein.

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