Greg Smith – Forster Film Festival

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Now in its sixth year, the annual Forster Film Festival (FFF) showcases ‘entertaining and thought-provoking’ films by aspiring filmmakers. MGL FOCUS spoke to Greg Smith, its founder and director, about his commitment to providing creative opportunities to budding filmmakers in our area.

FOCUS first spoke to you when the FFF was in its third year … that was half a lifetime ago, with the Festival chalking up its sixth year in 2012. How has the event evolved over the years?

When the festival started in 2007, it was warmly embraced by the local community. Some people were interested in the novelty; many were interested in the short film genre.

At the start, we focused on offering a positive, upbeat kind of film experience. That hasn’t really changed; it’s still the festival’s basic philosophy –  that short films can change the world.

What has changed is a gradual move to there being a higher percentage of comedy shorts. We don’t have only comedy, though if there was a trend it would be towards more laughter.

How important is it to you to provide filmmaking opportunities for aspiring filmmakers via the Festival?

That’s one of our whole purposes for being. Our mission statement is to both show films and to encourage people to make films. We offer our filmmaking gear and experience to the community.

With prizes now in excess of $6,000, including $3,000 cash, winning film makers have been able to use the festival to help finance new productions and advance their film careers. The winners of the 2007 festival went on to make the hugely successful feature film, Samson & Delilah. 

We were recently making a film with Taree Public School students, which was covered by Prime News. The second cameraman started off filming with us when he was in Year 9.

We spend a lot of time in schools with students interested in making films. Principals are very happy to have filmmakers come onto campus with the whole “Lights, Camera, Action!” thing. And restless kids who are not otherwise particularly engaged in the education process can often turn out to be very creative filmmakers.

The FFF has been credited as one of regional Australia’s premier film festivals, with Sue Milliken, former Chair of the Australian Film Commission, deeming it: “A fantastic event in a spectacular location”… Film festivals regularly come and go from the regional film scene – what has led to the on-going success of the FFF?

The festival shows absolutely world-class short films, and I think people look forward to seeing quality creative work.

As well as the October long weekend at the Marine Rescue building on Forster breakwall, the festival tours throughout each year to show at a number of locations, including Taree, Wauchope, Tea Gardens, Gloucester, and Great Lakes Library.

People are regularly impressed with the high standard of film, so they talk about the festival. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising in a regional community. Aside from FOCUS!

The Festival is strongly supported by local business. How have you generated this support?

The Great Lakes has more spectacular scenery than most any place in the world but when the sun goes down, there’s a shortage of cultural activities. Locals, including local business people, support any activity that adds to the vibrancy and charm of the area. Everyone sees the business sense in contributing to a local volunteer arts event. Having their own film festival is one the many cultural activities that the Council and local businesses see sense in supporting.

Dissimilar to Tropfest, the FFF doesn’t insist on an annual theme to be present in each film. Is this something you might introduce? 

A local 12 year old wrote a clever short story about why she goes to the library. Friends of Great Lakes Library, who ran the short story comp, were so impressed with her concept, that they partnered with FFF and Forster Dive to turn it into an entry in the 2013 Tropfest. Principal photography has been done, and it’s now in edit (the signature item is a balloon).

But to answer your question, I don’t see FFF as ever going down that road. It sounds like more paperwork.

Comedic films usually get a positive response from audience members. If lacking in inspiration, do you advise filmmakers to go the comedic route? 

People need to be inspired to enter filmmaking.  It’s fun filming, but pre and post-production can be fiddly. Most of the films entered in FFF are overflowing with great ideas and come from crews dedicated to making their abstract concept come to life.

The world can never have too much thoughtful laughter. An intelligent comedy that works is a fabulous thing.

Australian comedy is still in the process of defining itself. It can be cruel, often measured by how much blood it draws. It will be interesting over the next decade to see how Australian film develops. We really are in a prime position here. It’s an exciting industry to be getting into.

But to answer your question, Karen, comedy is a great filmmaking route. That said, I suspect the road to film hell is paved with Americans’ jokes about bodily functions.

What are the vital ingredients, which make a good film?

Depends what you want in a film. Some people value artistic merit, others just want to escape the everyday realities of life.

As Tim Robbins’ character Griffin Mill snidely points out in Altman’s The Player, the ingredients which go to measure a Hollywood movie are how many stars are attached and how closely the film follows the proven formula of, “Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex and happy endings, mainly happy endings.”

This is where low budget short films differ. Short film makers can do anything they like. You really can make a winning short with a few friends, a cheap camera, and a great idea.

Tell us about the different categories and their respective prizes …

The judging goes broadly under three categories, based on time: under 1 minute, under 10 minutes, under 30 minutes – though the parameters are pretty relaxed. A 54-minute short (Inanimate Objects) once won the under-30 minute section.

Our judges score entries by entertainment value, originality, creativity, low budget, and the X factor. Over the past few years, the judges’ outright winner has coincided with the Audience Choice winner, which is reassuring.

Prizes are split up into $1,000 for the outright winner, then $2,000 distributed at the judges’ discretion among the remaining entries. We stick to some pretty clear guidelines, as laid out in the entry form. We also have an Audience Choice award.

The festival’s major sponsor is Great Lakes Community Resources, which has been there since day one.

This year prizes for local entries from our major sponsors include goods and services to the value of $1,000 from Golden Age Media Enterprises (GAME) web design, $1,000 from Detlev Litzkow Photography, and $1,000 from Great Lakes Aquatic Centre.

Are you hoping there might be a Harvie Krumpet success story in this year’s mix of entries? 

Definitely. That great film has made its audience’s world a more optimistic place.

Australia led the world in filmmaking until the start of WWI. The world’s first sports doco was made here (Melbourne Cup, 1896), the world’s first short film was made here (1898), and the world’s first feature length narrative film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), was made here.

People hear that and ask, “So where are all the old films?” Old film stock contained silver; all the old films were melted down to make a glue called Tarzan’s Grip.

Thank you Greg. Interview by Karen Farrell. 

This story was published in issue 67 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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