Hannah Smith is a London-based freelance writer with articles published in Time Out, The Independent and Refinery29 UK, and is also one of our interviewers for the Exit 6 blog. A visitor from out of town on Saturday – like many of our attendees – she shares with us her experience of the first Exit 6 Film Festival.
There’s always a little negative in the openings of my articles for this particular blog and I will confess here, the reason for this is that I don’t really enjoy short film, I don’t like networking events, I rarely attend film events and I struggle to see the point in any of it. And I say this as a short filmmaker, actress, writer, director, producer and all round pessimistic, negative Nancy.
But if there is one thing in life that I am not immune to, it’s the fact that I can be wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Because today, I love short film, I think all the filmmakers at Saturday’s event are the greatest people who ever lived, loved meeting new people and cannot wait for my producing partner to get home from holiday so I can chastise him for missing the greatest day of networking and short films that I have ever attended.
And please let me be clear here, I don’t say that lightly. In the grand scheme of things my opinion doesn’t matter. Opinion is personal but I do feel that by quantifying my opinion with my truly negative expectation of the day, you will at least acknowledge that what follows in this write up of the day comes not from a place of bias but from a genuinely surprised place of delight.
I knew that the festival would be well organised, well curated and well managed because I have seen first hand the exceptional amount of work that has gone into making it happen in it’s first year. From the sidelines I have often assumed that Mark Brennan and the rest of the Exit 6 team are actually insane, because who could love short film that much to go to such an effort to introduce it to the patrons of Basingstoke?
It turns out they are not insane; they are just brilliant. Okay, they are a little bit insane because they did all this for free and spent the day making sure everything went well, which meant that they didn’t even get to enjoy it. Well, they did, eventually, in the wee hours of the morning after a few too many Jaegar bombs. And who could begrudge them a much-needed night of celebrating.
To say that the quality of the films on show was high, would be easy and an understatement. Of course, I couldn’t see every film and no two people will enjoy the same film in the same way, but the variety of films, genres, style and subject matter meant that there was something, more than something, for everyone. In between filming blocks you would see excited festival-goers scurrying to the next venue, or into a room for one of the brilliant expert talks, or just to the bar to debate what they had seen. Everyone was buzzing. Everyone was excited to be there, Filmmaker and regular Joe public alike.
Between venues Basingstoke was going about it’s Saturday trade, families were shopping, market place men were shouting in that uniform market man voice, whilst people with lanyards around their necks got looks from curious passers-by. It took all my willpower not to shout at them that they were idiots because they might be enjoying a regular Basingstoke Saturday afternoon but we were getting the actual Amazingstoke experience.
Never have so many non-Basingstoke residents used that term without irony. I think I speak for everyone there when I say that all of us wished that not only had we invited everyone we knew, film lovers or not, but we wished the entire town had been turned into a festival venue and entry was compulsory. If Basingstoke council doesn’t start ploughing money into future events then they are as stupid as the idiots who didn’t buy stocks in PC.
If we had all enjoyed the films on offer throughout the day, we still couldn’t have been expecting the treat that was the Judges 6. Six films, all completely unique, all so perfectly made.
After the first film AT DAWN  screened we sat silent and humbled by a beautifully shot, simple character film set in World War 2 by Ollie Wolf. Film number two would surely struggle to match that, we all sat silently thinking. Not so, APPARITION  burst into life with typical French quirkiness, taking us into the world of religious fervour with the subtle humour it’s writer and director, Denis Dobrovoda was to delight us with during his Q&A. Already a bit delirious from two such great offerings, surely the next one had to be a dud, right?
What did I say about being wrong? UNCANNY VALLEY  by Frederico Heller is a film of two halves, one half gaming satire filmed seemingly with an ordinary budget, the other half Utopian nightmare on the scale of a Hollywood epic. We went out to the bar for the interval declaring that none of us would want to be the judges. How, how could you choose between them?
Going back in for the second half our expectations were high but still realistic, we knew now that we could be confident the quality would be great, but surely, surely, things would start to go a bit downhill now… surely?
Well if an experimental film about a romantic poet being plunged into an existential crisis by the joggers in his park, which experiments with form by using still image to complete it’s story telling and a man in a giant pigeon costume is going downhill then, well, you’ve clearly never been high. David Buchanan, writer and director of THE PRIME LOCATION , made us laugh until we nearly cried before telling us in his Q&A that he kept telling his post-production team to make everything look “shitter”.
I will confess that I fell in love with him when he said he thought the wide screen angle was unflattering to actors, which is why he likes to change the aspect ratio to something more old school and forgiving. Preach sir! For every actor who has endured his or her face on a big screen and thought, “if that’s how bad I really look then I might just buy another cat” this man is your hero. *Highlights this section in bold for the special attention of my last Director and his DoP*
Next up was TWINSBURG  by Joe Garrity, a film about twin brothers trying to reconnect at the World’s largest gathering of twins. It was a love letter to Wes Anderson and a reminder that being a twin is actually really super weird, not Sweet Valley High perfect or sexy. Just weird. Be grateful for your individuality people, seriously. NEON , by Mark J Blackman, a futuristic, dystopian tale about cupid, wrapped up the whole thing asking if you are responsible for everyone else’s happiness, what happens to yours? There wasn’t a single person in the room who wanted to be the judge who announced the winner.
Hugely experienced Assistant Director Terry Bamber had help in deciding with co-judge Producer Ellie Fry of Rattling Stick, and both were unanimous in their decision. After his brilliant and funny speech, Apparition was deservedly handed the first ever Exit 6 Best Film award.
As Slovakian writer and Director Denis Dobrovoda took to the stage again and talked to us with his very unique, quiet humour, dressed in a sharp suit, with the charm of Ryan Gosling, there wasn’t a man, woman or child who didn’t instantly fall in love with him. Don’t be silly; there were no actual children there, what a way to ruin a day! But ladies and gents, the man himself told me he is remaining professionally single so he can carry on focusing on filmmaking. Good news for film fans everywhere, bad news for everyone in that room.
On a high it felt like pretty much the entire room of festival goers made it over to The Tea Bar for some music, drinks, film talk and Denis stalking. It was the perfect end to the perfect day. I ducked out before the after after party but from what I’ve heard, I would recommend that next years guests book hotel rooms or just stay out till the first train back the next day. With a day as good as this one, no one wants it to end.
We would love to know what you thought of the very first Exit 6 Film Festival, please email us with your thoughts and feedback.
You can follow Hannah Smith on Twitter at: @Hansplat