FEATURE: Sunderland Shorts Film Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image from one of the films already confirmed for this year’s Sunderland Shorts Film Festival, Bearpark: Paul’s Story, directed by Will Stewart

Words: Jonny Tull

Since 2015, Sunderland Shorts Film Festival has been quietly gathering pace. The annual event – four days of screenings and networking spread out across various pop-up screens in the city – has attracted films and filmmakers from across the world, and through diligent work from the festival’s team of part-time and volunteer staff, the festival now provides an opportunity for the young talent living and working in the region to screen their short films to an eager and receptive audience.

As someone working in film exhibition and distribution and based in the region, it’s clear to me that the North East’s filmmaking community greatly value the festival. Many have screened their work within its programmes and continue to lend their support year-on-year.

But the world is fast becoming a harder place; we’re constantly told the high street is failing and our councils are forced to bend with austerity measures to be ruthless in their spending.

In the world of cinema, the rise of VOD and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are impacting on the theatrical cinema experience. At the very least, this encourages cinema operators – and especially those who specialise in cultural film – to constantly consider the balance of culture versus commerce as they strive to engage and develop new and existing audiences.

In Sunderland, whilst culture has been on the city’s agenda and in the headlines so much in the last decade, and ambitious developments at the Fire Station and beyond change the city’s cultural landscape and bring investment and partnerships, independent cinema exhibition remains a question yet to be answered.

The city may boast the 12-screen Empire Cinema, but those seeking more diverse voices in film must either travel to the Tyneside in Newcastle or Stockton’s ARC for their fix, and although grassroots groups such as those related to Sunderland University offer occasional film events, independent film in Sunderland is something which largely remains untapped.

What is clear is that independent cinema and film culture has a place and an audience in Sunderland. 

And yet, amidst the cuts and constraints, Sunderland Shorts, led by its formidable Director Anne Tye, is growing. Audiences for its screenings increase each year, the quality of the films submitted is high, and Sunderland City Council, who have supported the event with modest but critical resources each year, remain committed to it.

This year Sunderland Shorts is working with the advice and partnership of agencies such as Film Hub North, the Royal Television Society and Northern Film and Media, and the 2019 programme (announced imminently) will continue to explore cinema, taking in multiple venues and genres along the way. 2019 is going to be a blinder.

But what about the ‘big picture’?

Well, the festival team are also considering ways that the festival might expand beyond those four days. What would a regular cultural cinema programme look like in Sunderland? Where would it live? Who can be involved and how might it be funded?  What is clear is that independent cinema and film culture has a place and an audience in Sunderland. 

Sunderland Shorts wants to help answer all of these questions, and you can help by coming along and buying a ticket to this year’s festival. See you there!

Sunderland Shorts Film Festival takes place from Wednesday 8th to Saturday 11th May in various venues across Sunderland city centre. Tickets for 2019’s Sunderland Shorts Film Festival go on sale in early March. 

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