On a rainy and humid night in early February, a crowd of short film enthusiasts, filmmakers and fans mingle in the relaxed atmosphere in the function room of the St Kilda Army and Navy Club.
Many are enjoying a vodka/tonic or two in anticipation of a brand new film festival. There is an underlying current of curiosity and intrigue, as the crowd are fully aware that they are the inaugural audience to influence the outcome of this festival.
How? By voting for the best films on show, and being solely responsible for the outcome of the competition.
The SKANC Film Festival is the brainchild of Christopher James, a writer who can now add festival founder and chair to his credits as well. A filmmaker and retailer by trade, James felt the need to create a film festival with a difference.
Most, if not all film festivals around the world have an ‘audience favourite’ category, however it is the only category where the audience officially judges. In the case of SKANC, it is the opposite scenario, where the audience provides the sole judgement of the films.
‘I wanted the ‘film idol’ idea because I wanted audiences to actually vote for the films that they like,’ James explains.
‘The people that will be coming to the film festival vote for their favourite films and the top three of every night will go into the last night, which is February 25.’
The ‘idol’ inspiration also ties in with the unique name of the festival.
As James tells it; ‘The ‘film idol’ was an idea that was unique, I kinda felt that there’s so many short film festivals out there, I needed the unique concept and a unique name.’
‘I thought SKANC was good because it’s kind of a little bit cheeky. SKANC is an acronym for the St Kilda Army and Navy Club. I thought it was catchy name and one that actually stood out…..and it was a bit of fun, we wanted a film festival that was more fun than formal,’ he says.
‘We had a thousand names but we kept going back to SKANC.’
The ball started to roll for this festival in September 2009 and immediately James discovered the huge workload involved.
‘I pitched the idea, and thought we could get it done by November. A friend thankfully advised me that we need more time, and so we put back the film festival from it’s original premier in November 2009 to February 2010,’ says James.
‘I was being a ‘film god’ and I thought I could do everything, but you know it wasn’t actually through arrogance, it was more naivety. I thought that you could do this quickly but there’s just no way, even to get films in takes a lot of weeks.’
James found that the St Kilda Army and Navy club were more than happy to help.
‘I was lucky to find a space that has a beautiful, big, gorgeous room that’s quite empty a lot of the time and you can do whatever you want with it,’ explains James.
‘The club supported this because people would come in and buy alcohol. It’s a win/win situation.’
The best place to start organising a festival, James says, is sorting out the legalities of the project before you can proceed with anything else.
‘You have to clear all films through the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). You’ve got to get council approval as well, or at least let them know, and they should be the first place of contact.’
Despite the problems of developing a film festival from scratch, James is thrilled and a little nervous, that it is now a reality.
‘It all came together. We’re going to show 24 films, showing eight per night because I think the audiences, their tolerance levels start to wane after too many films and I’d rather have eight good films in than 10-12 mediocre films,’ he says.
‘I wanted to leave the first festival quite open. I think that filmmaking is a very collaborative effort, but I think that writing is the driver of the bus, they’re the foundation of a great film.’
‘I feel a lot of short film festivals focus on the director, or more on the visual effect, whereas I wanted the great story.’
In a format where the audience has control, there is an issue that begs to be answered, or at least acknowledged. When asked about the possibility of ‘vote rigging’ by the filmmakers, James is philosophical.
‘I guess you could say that some filmmakers could rig the votes and bring all their friends to vote for them, it is possible. But I feel that the teams that won did so because the audience voted for them. It was democratic.’
‘The fact is, like most filmmakers, we do it for the passion. We realise we might not make a lot of money from this game, nor we expect to. It’s in our blood.’
‘We would rather spend $3000 making a film than buying clothes. And as much as we enjoy putting our films on YouTube or having friends and family congratulate us, we actually really want to show our films to a live audience, to strangers, to see their reaction. That’s far more important than winning or losing.’
Despite this and all the other possible disasters, James has no regrets.
‘I work full time and have been doing this in my spare time. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw a movie, went to a night club or had a social life but that’s great. It is a lot of work. But hopefully it will get me somewhere in the end and that’s what I’m aiming for.’
‘Some days you look at yourself and think “Why am I doing this you crazy person?” But it’s going to be worth it.’
The SKANC Short Film Festival started on February 4th and will run every Thursday night this February. The final will be on Thursday 25th, at the St Kilda Army and Navy Club, Acland St, St. Kilda. For more information contact www.skanc.com.au.
Kim Hellard is a Bachelor of Arts student at La Trobe University.