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May 2017 | Georgie McGahey

Just how does a film festival come together? Adrian Barber shares his experience of putting together Bolton's first film festival.

You may believe film festivals are purely glitzy industry events, held in budget breaking locations which attract the great and the good of the film industry. With around 3000 film festivals active in the UK alone in 2013 - and over 10,000 festivals currently running worldwide - it won’t surprise you to know not all festivals are for the hoi polloi. The majority of festivals are for filmmakers at various degrees of their careers, keen to have their work viewed by an audience. Directors and producers from broadcast looking to make their names in drama, to filmmakers working in the industry looking to change tack. Much attention is paid to what festivals can do for your career, but what about a career producing festivals?

It’s no easy feat trying to get a festival off the ground. Many have considered it then stopped short when faced with funding, mountains of paperwork and thousands of submissions that need to be watched and categorised into programmes. Adrian Barber, the Bolton Film Festivals director, hasn’t been deterred. He currently finds himself at the tail end of arranging the festival's first year and admits it's been a rollercoaster of a ride over the past 12 months. With only six weeks to go until Bolton’s first film festival opens, Adrian has managed to pull together sponsorship, an industry jury and a programme of films that have already won big at major short’s festivals. 

Everyone who embarks on the journey of creating an event has a thunderbolt of inspiration. For Adrian it was walking past the newly refurbished cinema in the market square with his girlfriend Zoe, “we both looked up and saw the cinema and she said ‘someone should do a film festival in there, why don’t you do it’ and my response was ‘do you know how much work that involves?” Adrian is laughing as he tells me, wondering whether he should have listened to his own advice but he admits it was a no-brainer. The Lights cinema is set amongst the glorious architecture of the industrial revolution, Bolton having been at the hub of the textile industry. The £27 million pound marketplace refurbishment has left the town centre with a canvas that sparks the imagination.  

As a filmmaker and photographer who's also worked in community art for 20 years, Adrian had a network in place and was relatively undaunted by the prospect of producing an event at this scale. “It’s always been normal for me to go out and find funding, sponsorship and approach people. With sponsors and funding it’s usually to be really hard to get the first one, then when you tend to go on they get progressively easier” he muses, and when you look at the website for the festival, it's clear no stone has been left unturned. 

When I spoke to Adrian he informs me that Holiday Inn have just been added to their list of sponsors, offering accommodation to international filmmakers for the duration of the festival. Educational institutions and business have added their weight and the festival has really started to generate some excitement amongst filmmakers and locals. Like all film programmers, Adrian is also mindful of his audience, wanting to deliver them a personal experience outside the mainstream films shown at the venue. “I really wanted the festival to be for the public of Bolton, and the public in Bolton are ethnically diverse”. As Adrian is heavily involved with the community groups of Bolton, he knows firsthand the creative work generated within the city. “There are a lot of small community groups in Bolton that are constantly filming the projects they are doing, telling short stories or addressing strong issues”. Alongside the voices of the local area, the festival is also attracting a lot of international attention. With filmmakers from around the world submitting entries. 

“Just today I’ve had a BAFTA award winning film come in, which tells you the standard of submission we are receiving from international and UK shorts. It’s breathtaking. We are getting films that have already been winners at festivals”. 

The Jury for the festival boasts a strong lineup, with members having won BAFTA and Olivier awards. Their output spans TV and film, from animation and live action. It was important for Adrian to deliver the best Jury he could, not only for the kudos but for the filmmakers themselves. “I think it’s important that you look at the jury and think these guys obviously know what they’re talking about, and when you arrive at the event there is some strong representation from the industry, so you are meeting with people that can open doors and help you with your career”.

When I ask Adrian if he has any advice for someone considering starting their own festival I can hear him laugh and sign simultaneously “It’s a lot of work, you’re looking at a 70 or 80 hour week. You do need the perfect venue really, I’m lucky enough to have found just that - and you need strong backers. When you think of a film festival you think, ‘oh what’s so expensive?’ well, you want to give people awards, prizes, advertising, filmmakers travel, keeping them fed and watered. It all cost money”.

For Adrian however, I get the impression this doesn't feel like a job, “ I love it. I’ve been sat here watching three or four recent entries and when you see a great short film it's stunning. For me the short film genre is much more interesting that feature films, to reach an audience in such a short time, for people to relate to characters and have an affinity for that character and introduce drama or comedy or suspense or a twist in the tale in 10 or 15 minutes are far more challenging” he states. 

So what else is in store at the festival? For the North West category, the festival is trying to organise work placements and generate a pot of money for filmmakers to finance their next film. Those funds will be administered by providing studio space, crew and elements such as a composer to score your next film. They will also be running Q and A’s, and an educational afternoon, “we currently in talks with the BBC and their wildlife department and facilities houses. We will be looking at the technical aspects of the industry and more importantly where the industry is going. With the school's afternoon it won’t just be schools looking at films in their own category, they will be shown the films from the colleges to BA and MA work, to get a taste of where they are headed. Watching others work gives you a realistic standard of where you should be going as a filmmaker”.

Despite this festival being in its first year, it’s certainly going to offer spectators a diverse and rich programme of short films. So if you're a cinephile, student or filmmaker, your festival pass will offer some real value for money, just don’t forget to take a moment to check out the beautiful architecture when you’re waiting for your next film to start.  

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