Forster Film Festival – Greg Smith

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Greg Smith, founder and director of the Forster Film Festival tells Focus what’s in store for this year’s event. We also find out some inside information on how to pick a good flick.

> Forster Film Festival is an annual event, now in its third year. Why choose Forster as the Festival’s location?

People walk out from the films to see dolphins playing in the harbour, which really shows off the area. The Festival venue is the Coastal Patrol building, right on Forster breakwater. It’s a growing gig!

Last year’s winners toured to Taree, Stroud, Tea Gardens, Gloucester, and Pacific Palms. People loved it, and we’ll be touring again this year.

> What are some key elements that make a great film?

Authenticity is important for me, when the film feels real. I like Andy Warhol’s contention that he preferred B-grade actors, because you can tell they’re acting.

A recent release that touched me is ‘Last Chance Harvey’. Some of the moments between Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thomson were so genuine, that I forgot I was watching a movie. I like being able to completely leave this world and enter into the film’s world, and feel safe there. Like love.

Respect for the audience is important to me. A lot of great films seem to assume their audience has a pretty low intelligence; I find that irritating.

I see the audience as being the last editor, the filmmaker’s final collaborator. ‘Titanic’, the highest grossing movie of all time (cost $200M, returned $2B), was too wet for me. ‘Thelma and Louise’, another film largely recognised as great, for me was just a politically correct rewrite of ‘Easy Rider’ with a bimbo ending.

Short films are more like sex than love. They need to establish their world view quickly, because they’re only spending a few minutes with their audience. None of this lingering aerial-shot-over-rolling-ocean-with-piano-and-strings seduction. Short films are Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.

The Festival gets a lot of entries that have their heart in the right place – saving animals, exposing domestic violence, confronting drug addiction – but they’re not entertaining, so we never watch them until the end. Life’s too short. Short films have to be fun.

> “Entertaining, thought-provoking, and life-affirming short films” are just some words used to describe the event. What can viewers expect to see this year at the FFF?

Our 2009 theme is Comedy Shorts. I just watched one hilarious entry from Tea Gardens about fidelity, a very clever plot which I think the judges will enjoy. We’re also showing some of the Coffs Harbour Short Sharp Festival winners. There are several from around Oz and overseas.

We are including a Buddhist session, in which we’ll be showing two documentaries with the common theme of the Dalai Lama. One is by an award-winning Russian director and spends a day in the life of the Dalai Lama. And the other one, called ‘Renaissance’, covers a group of Western intellectuals who approach the Dalai Lama to solve the world’s problems. Wisdom with a twist of irony.

On the Friday night, to open the Festival, we’re having Q&A with guest filmmaker Craig Cameron, who has recently won a comedy pilot competition.

> Who is on the judging panel, and what will they be looking for essentially?

Our judging panel is a broad cross section of residents who help give a community flavour to the final cut of Festival winners. Plus the new MGL Focus editor is a judge this year; that will be fun. I hope she drinks a lot!

The judging is simple. Number one on the scorecard is entertainment value. If an entry doesn’t score well there, it doesn’t show. After that, the judges’ score categories include Originality, Creativity, and Low Budget.

Our Festival encourages low budget productions. We are levelling the playing field, supporting filmmakers who have nothing but a crappy camera, some stupid friends, and a great idea they want to put on screen.

Each year the low budget films seem to jump out of the box and up onto the screen, while the big buck productions flop around with moody lighting and slick colour gradation.

> What advice would you give someone who wants to pick up a camera and start making films?

Visualise your movie. Then write down the shots you see. Then go get those shots. It’s that simple.

There’s a great line in the movie ‘Shorty’: John Travolta says the film industry is easy to get into, because no-one knows what they’re doing.

Sometimes you make a mistake. Everyone has their own idea of art. Hide behind the fact that no-one knows it’s a mistake. Call your mistakes art.

Celebrate the fact that all you’ve got is a crappy camera and some stupid friends: that means all your solutions to the problems you encounter are going to have to be creative ones, which can make all the difference between something fresh and different and something processed and stale.

Keep it short. Almost every film entered in our Festival could have profited from a tighter edit.

Pick a movie you love and watch it with the sound down; look closely at the camera angles, the editing and the lighting. Watch short films on YouTube and see how an effective story can be told in five minutes.

The reality is that you can’t beat Hollywood at their own game. Tempting as it may be to try to imitate the style and gloss of blockbusters, you don’t have a chance. The three Harrier jets in True Lies, for instance, were rented from the US Air Force for $100,000 an hour. It really is another world.

You can try, and your failure may be unique and interesting (or at least funny) in its own right – but you can also just do your own thing and try something that the studios wouldn’t have the balls or the imagination to do.

See Robert Rodriguez 10 Minute Film School on YouTube.

> What are your top five movies that you recommend readers watch for great film making, and briefly describe why?

‘Funny Bones’: When Lee Evans, a genuinely brilliant comic, lip-syncs to a series of voices recorded from the radio – including a sportscaster announcing a boxing match, a woman leading listeners in breathing exercises, and Screaming Jay Hawkins singing ‘I Put a Spell on You’, the performance is sheer genius.

‘Manhattan’: Woody Allen’s best. Every line is a one-liner, but the dialogue flows – it’s not only funny; it’s seamlessly funny.

“You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eye on the meter,” Isaac exclaims, as he takes Mary home from their first date.

Anything by Pixar. ‘Monsters Inc’: For 90 minutes, Monstropolis is a great place to live. The good guys are those who realise that laughter is stronger than fear. There’s a great message to take home.

‘Love Actually’: Weaves together the fabric of 10 relationships, most of which are triangles, without once losing the thread of a storyline. Written and directed by Richard Curtis, who also wrote ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, ‘Notting Hill’, ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, and ‘The Boat That Rocked’.

‘Watchmen’: A deliciously dark sense of what I guess you’d call nihilistic satire, layered over a parallel universe of superheroes saving the world from nuclear war. Stunning colour palette, and classic soundtrack including live blow-away cover of Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’.

‘Avatar’: Cost more than any movie ever made; let’s see if it was worth it. Released in December.

> Tell us about the prizes.

Three thousand dollars in prize money, donated by Great Lakes Community Resources, is distributed among the winners, and two thousand dollars worth of accommodation has been generously provided by Seashells Beachfront Resort at Diamond Beach, and Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse at Seal Rocks.

> Why should people take their local film makers seriously?

The worst thing you can do is take them seriously! The entertainment industry is already waaaay too serious. Make them laugh!

How many filmmakers does it take to put in a light globe? One. They just hold it and the whole world revolves around them.

> Thank you Greg.

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