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

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North East art and music is often celebrated as some of the most vibrant in the UK – but filmmaking, frustratingly, less so. Anne Tye, Creative Industries Specialist for Sunderland City Council, gives her suggestion on why this might be: “We certainly have some excellent filmmakers and we also seem to have a healthy interest in independent film, with the Tyneside Cinema and excellent Berwick Film and Art Festival. But it hasn’t been easy to actually get local work screened and recognised in the same way as, say, music.”

So in steps the inaugural Sunderland Shorts Film Festival, which takes place at several locations in the city between Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th July, with the aim of exhibiting and promoting short films from across the country and encouraging new local audiences and filmmakers: “We’ve aimed primarily to present work which we hope will entertain a broad audience, keeping the choice eclectic, but very high quality.” Explains Anne, who is also the Festival Director

Although the Festival isn’t restricted to local films, one of the highlights will be The Boy And The Bus (Sunday 5th, Software Centre, 4pm), by documentary film maker Simon Pitts, shot in a small village just outside Morpeth. It’s already won eight prizes across the USA, where festival audiences have given it Jury, Audience and technical awards. “[Screening it in the North East] makes me feel very proud and honoured,” says Simon. “The thing that’s been surprising, given there’s so much to see and do online, is to see is how much people enjoy short films at festivals. There’s something about discovery, about seeing films together on a big screen, that matters to people. Short films matter, and not just to the crews of people giving their time for nothing to make them.”

The organisers hope this will be a transformative event for Sunderland too, with screenings taking place in four top local settings. “Sunderland Minster and the Empire Theatre, where we are screening in the old cinema room, are steeped in history but have cosy, almost intimate atmospheres,” Anne says. “In addition there’s Independent, a traditional music venue and club which has been diversifying recently into a cultural hub.” The fourth and final venue is one of the city’s newest buildings – the cutting edge Sunderland Software Centre. “We aim to grow the Festival year on year into an event which is recognised nationally and internationally, providing opportunities for filmmakers to submit and screen their work and to gain recognition for their talents.”

“There’s something about discovery, about seeing films together on a big screen, that matters to people. Short films matter”

Undoubtedly Sunderland Shorts’ USP is its partnership with (Washington) DC Shorts Film Festival, with the winning films being screened in America in September: “Hopefully the prospect of getting introduced into the US market will spur on more local filmmakers to produce great work and submit.”

DC Shorts has been growing for 14 years and its Director Jon Gann has acted as an inspiration and source of guidance for its Wearside counterpart. “As the Festival grows we aim to grow contacts with other international festivals, working more with Jon and also regional partners,” says Anne. “We also recognise the need for the Festival to support work on developing the audience for film in Sunderland. We’re nothing if not ambitious!”

Sunderland Shorts Film Festival is at various venues across Sunderland from Thursday 2nd until Sunday 5th July.

Read the full interview with Simon Pitts here.


ARDOYNE (Thursday 2nd, Sunderland Minister, 7pm)

A UK premiere, Philip Clayton sets music and lyrics to footage from his 1972 documentary on The Troubles in Ardoyne, Belfast, which won the prestigious 1973 Chicago Film Festival award.

Read our interview with Philip Clayton here.

Road (Saturday 4th, Empire Theatre, 4pm)

Road, shot in the North East, is helmed by Robert Carr, a first time director and Media Production graduate from The University of Sunderland.

Read our interview with Robert Carr here.

Cowboy Ben (Saturday 4th, Empire Theatre, 6pm)

Directed by Jon Shaikh and Scott Rawsthorne, Cowboy Ben stars Misfits/Broadchurch actor Shaun Dooley, in the story of a man caught in a downwards spiral, reunited with his childhood friend – an imaginary Native American.

Final Draft (Saturday 4th, Empire Theatre, 8pm)

Set in 1973, with the threat of nuclear war ever present, a secret government committee is tasked with preparing for the worst case scenario. Acclaimed director Scott Colonico is at the helm and will be along for a Q&A session about his new film.

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