Werner Herzog, one of the most extravagant figures in cinema history, said that you can learn more about filmmaking by walking the almost 3000 kilometres separating Madrid and Kiev than by spending five years in film school. I hold this idea very dear to my heart, for when we discuss movies, we often forget why someone would want to make this movie in the first place. While we can get tangled up on hundreds of discussions about who is better, Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson; or which film is more technically proficient, Endgame or TENET, it is part of the spectator’s responsibility to remember that behind the stars and the million-dollar budgets, there is a sea of wonderful filmmakers who will never see the light of day. To make or to watch films is for many of us a physical need, a form of expression that allows us to see into each other and to understand ourselves better.
The Saint Andrews Film Festival has been running online for the past week, and until 28 November was showing a beautiful selection of films for anyone with access to Wi-Fi over at https://standrews.festivee.com/. I had the chance to talk briefly with the head of the festival, Boris Bosilkov, who told us about the festival and some of his highlights.
The festival had its first edition in 2019 as a way for the Filmmaking Society students to show their films. “To me that is a passion to help people to open the door to expressing themselves through the medium of film. So we started the society in the summer of 2017. This was following a screening that we did of the film that me and the founding members shot in December of 2016. It was screened at the On the Rocks Festival. We sold out both nights, and that was a very clear indication that everybody wanted to make and see more films from the students, specifically from the students.” Until then, the University had had no means for the student to produce films themselves, so the focus of the Film Studies programme was to introduce students to film theory and history. Only via the society “the students would have the entire experience of making a film, and then they’d have the platform where they could show it. The festival. And that’s why we thought it was a good idea to make a film festival, so that students could have that platform.”
SAFF is now a fully international film festival including films from all over the UK, Europe, Asia and the US, most of them shorts, but for the first time, this edition also contained some features. This edition also had a big variety of films, documentaries, animation, experimental shorts, comedy and drama; I asked Boris if this was intentional. He confirmed that it was: “We wanted a large variety of films. There is no theme for this festival. The theme is the filmmaker's message. It is whatever the filmmaker wants to say and how they say it with the medium. That is what’s important to us. It comes back to the main message which is expression.” This wide selection can be a bit intimidating, so I asked him for some recommendations: “In the feature length section we have a film called Man of God. I would like to stress the fact that this is the only UK premier. It is currently one of the biggest films in Eastern Europe and Greece. I think that people, the fact that it’s not popular, is what makes it interesting in my opinion. I think that it’s a film worth seeing. There is another film called One Elevator Apart, this is a Bulgarian film. It is made by a student filmmaker in Bulgaria. We would like to spotlight student filmmakers, by the way, who aren't prominent in the field. This filmmaker is just starting out, but the film is really interesting. For Man of God, it is only one screening, because of the rights and it’s relatively new. The distributions are a little tight. In order to make the screening secure and protect the rights of the film we only have that one screening from 3-5pm on the 28th. This will be the closing film.”
I am yet to see Man of God, but I share Boris’s enthusiasm for One Elevator Apart. It is a very cute film with an entertaining plot about two police students solving a mystery in their apartment block. It is direct, funny, and very proficient for a student film, using some clever camera movements to accentuate the comedy. I would also like to add two other films to this list of highlights: Red Coral is a short documentary produced at the Edinburgh College of Art by Shmily Song, about the director’s Grandfather Zhao, an 85-year-old man that holds love to be the most essential energy in his life. It’s a heart-warming little film that breathes love in every frame, that reminds us of how essential it is to hold on to this emotion through the harshest of times and made me want to immediately call my grandmother (she didn’t pick up sadly). My personal favourite from this festival is VAI!, a short documentary by Bruno Christofoletti Barrenha, who is a student at Hochschule für Künste in Bremen Germany. The film is about the legendary Brazilian football club Corinthians, which spent 23 years without winning a title but managed to expand their fanbase and social importance through that same period. The documentary is entirely made of footage found on the Internet and edited together with tremendous ability, telling a cohesive story about the political climate of Brazil in the second half of the twentieth century and what being a Corinthian fan came to mean. In a panel organised by the festival, Bruno had the chance to go say a bit more about the film, saying that it came out of missing home and a need to stay in touch with it while studying abroad. It is a tender love letter to a club, a sport, and the people behind it. A real gem that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
For all of those that want to make a career out of making movies, these are Boris’ words of advice: “Try and make films. That is the only way you are going to learn. You can read a book about it, by all means, but if you don’t face the challenges yourself, your own unique challenges, you are never going to learn. That has been my experience. That is what I’d like to say, and I hope it is inspirational. Challenges make us who we are today.”
Lastly, the festival is now almost over, but Boris doesn’t seem done. So what is next for the SAFF? “There are two spheres to this. You will have the education program from the festival itself, which includes the guest speaker panel. There are also going to be master classes throughout the year. This is gonna be from filmmakers around the world where we can schedule screenings of their films and get them for a Q&A. We are doing year-long workshops with the society. I would obviously like the festival to be more internationally recognized so that way we can spotlight more international filmmakers and first time filmmakers. There’s no reason to keep on saying how great one filmmaker is year after year. It’s time to show something new, while also helping the local community.”
I couldn’t agree more, and cannot wait to see what we get next year.