BFI Film Academy Specialist Programming Course

Last summer, the BFI Film Academy Specialist Programming Course took place here at the Showroom Cinema, where 32 16–19 year-olds were taught how to set up a film festival as well as shown a detailed insight into the vast array of careers in the film industry. Speakers like Rob Speranza of the Aesthetica Film Festival and film critics Hannah Strong and Danny Leigh also took part. The goal of this course was to set up the BFI Young Programmers Festival that just took place last week. As I have had the privilege of being a graduate of the course as well as a Showroom Young Programmer, I aim to show you just what can be achieved by this course by giving an account of the whole film festival which took place last week over five days with five different strands. To make it more of an experience each group did an introduction before each screening and a selection of shorts were played. Two of these shorts- Still Life and For Sam were made as a part of the most recent BFI Film Academy while the other two Butcher and The Secret were the winners of last year’s DIY Filmmaking Challenge. yp3

The festival started out with a bang with “The Jim Carrey Experience” strand. This group’s aim was to showcase just some of the examples where Jim Carrey played against his usually goofy, zany type in his career. The first film they showed was the cult classic The Cable Guy which was a great way of easing us into the subversion of what we expect from Carrey by still containing an over-the-top performance we come to expect, but from a much darker lens as his titular character starts getting in the way of the lead’s life. The group ended the day with a stone-cold classic- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which proved to be one of the most popular of the festival and rightly so. Jim Carrey plays a far more serious role in writer Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending, heart-breaking sci-fi romance.  

I’ll try not to be biased about the second day as I was a part of the “Obsession” strand. Our first film was Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy- a brilliant satire that depicts delusional celebrity obsession with a knockout performance from Robert De Niro. Before the screening, we discussed the context of this delusion with psychologist Dasal Abayaratne in a pre-recorded intro. Afterwards, we showed Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan featuring the best performance in Natalie Portman’s career and a thrillingly maximalist third act that was made for the big screen, so this was a key pick from my group right from the start- an idea so tantalising it got me to join them. Before that screening, we also had an in-person discussion with the same psychologist exploring the level of obsession you should have in a career. But most importantly, we had ballet shoes above the door for Screen 2 (where the whole festival took place). 

yp5On the third day, there was the “Beyond the Gaze” strand. This group aimed to subvert the male gaze (where men direct films about women) by showing films directed by women about men. The first choice showcased their excellent taste in films with it being Shooting the Mafia a 2019 documentary about photographer Letizia Battaglia who had the courage to photograph the Mafia who mostly consisted of men. In other words a film about the female gaze. I really appreciated getting the chance to see something I’d never even heard of before. The second pick was Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy. The group even went to the effort of reaching out to a speaker named Sammy Holden who gave a fascinating speech about their similar experience to the character in the film and how the film acts as a memory for them.

Second to last, the most hotly anticipated of the festival the “Cineaquarium” strand occurred. With an initial goal of showing films that heavily use the colour blue, that transitioned into films about the ocean. Their first pick was the Studio Ghibli produced The Red Turtle - a beautiful film about our relationship with the environment all told through striking imagery not words. They hit the nail on the head with their second pick The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, understanding that a large majority of the Showroom's audience adore the films of Wes Anderson, and it was a treat to immerse myself once again in his one-of-a-kind style. For the decorations this group pulled out all the stops wearing red hats and giving out Zissou badges to make their latter screening a greater experience as well as decorating the outside of the screen with nets, blue bunting and providing a photo opportunity with Jerry the shark. Furthermore, they even picked out their own short to play before the latter film titled Hybrids. 

yp1To finish off on there was a powerful and impactful strand of the festival: “Art without Limit”. Their goal is to show films that depict the disabled community in front and behind the camera. First, they put together a package of BFI Network shorts which were: PennywortGrowing Pains, My Eyes Are Up Here, Dad Joke and Snapshot. The curation was excellent here as there was a wide variety of disabilities but also tones of the films. Before My Eyes Are Up Here there was a pre-recorded intro with director Nathan Morris and before Snapshot an in-person intro with director John Clark both of which illuminated the personal experiences of making the films. There's word of the group doing distributing the short film package across venues and festivals, keep an eye out for this opportunity. The festival then ended on a screening of A Quiet Place Part II which provided an opportunity to revisit a fairly recent hit which works best in a cinema for its sound design. 

I hope then that you can see the sheer amount of hard work and dedication that was put in to make this festival. I would like to thank Nora Murphy and Sam Barnett for putting this course together and I am grateful for having had this opportunity. When the applications are released for this year’s course, do yourself the favour and apply for next year's festival. But in the meantime, the Showroom do events like this all the time, so be sure to support them. 


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