Always keen to support new film festivals, Exit 6 had the chance to chat with Carl Mackenzie, a filmmaker who has recently co-founded the new Chelmsford Film Festival. He talks to us here about a successful first year for CFF, awarding Alice Lowe and balancing being both a film and festival director.
Thanks for talking to us, Carl. Congratulations on a successful first year of the Chelmsford Film Festival - as a new festival we have some idea of the pain/joy of it all! How did it all go?
It went incredibly well and now, in hindsight, it was definitely worth all the pain! As I’m sure you guys will agree, once you get through the first year and catch up on sleep, it’s a great feeling to know you have helped promote the industry we all love. We said from the outset that Chelmsford City deserved to host its first film festival but if we were going to do this, it had to be right. Luckily, not only did we have a fantastic team of organisers and volunteers, we also received amazing support from our local sponsors and the general public. Chelmsford has lots of events going on throughout the year so there was a lot of competition, but nothing that was film related and I think with the support and attendance we had, it proved that a film festival was needed on the city’s calendar. Every night was fantastic, however for me it was great on screening night to hear a packed audience react with screams, laughs and gasps at our brilliant officially selected films.
Can you tell us more about your special guest, Alice Lowe, and the award she received at the festival?
Alice was amazing throughout. I’m a massive fan of Alice anyway so it was a real pleasure to present her with our award. We knew we wanted to start the festival with the presentation of the award for Outstanding Contribution for British Cinema and we knew we wanted the award to represent the values and ideals of our festival. We discussed presenting this to a writer, director or actor who has not let any obstacle stand in their way, truly enriched British cinema and someone who is a real inspiration to the next generation. We felt if we could award this to someone who matched most of those criteria, we were doing well. With Alice, we didn’t have to compromise anywhere because she has excelled in all these areas of her craft. Filmmaking can be hard at the best of times, especially when you take on multiple roles, but Alice wrote, directed and starred in “Prevenge” all while she was 7 months pregnant. A true inspiration and proof that you can achieve great things, regardless of the challenges in your way. It really was an honour to present her with the award on opening night. I’ll probably go and watch Sightseers again after this interview!
As a filmmaker you have travelled to many film festivals around the country. What drove your desire to put CFF together and how did you go about it?
It started like all great ideas - with a conversation in the pub. I was talking with one of the other festival organisers, Chris Cook. I had just finished post production on my short film “The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan” and Chris was still working on “Guardian of the Galaxy vol.2”. We got to talking about how when we were both growing up locally, the film industry seemed so far away. We talked about how we’d like to show the next generation that it is closer than they think. As you know, making a film is the greatest thing in the world, but it takes a lot of hard work and so we also wanted to create another avenue for filmmakers to showcase and promote their work. And we were shocked that Chelmsford was yet to host a film festival. Once I had a plan in place, I started to pull a team together who I knew would be equally as passionate about hosting such a great, local event. Together, we pushed forward with organising the first year. We were also lucky enough to get advice from our friends at Exit 6!
After hosting your first successful film festival, would you say you’ve learned any lessons you would apply to your own filmmaking having watched the work of so many others?
I wouldn’t say I’ve taken any lessons because I think making films is a very personal thing, however the one thing we all share is why we make the films - we all love what we do. Seeing the pride and joy of showcasing their film to an audience and sharing stories of onset successes and failures is truly inspiring. The day after the festival, I couldn’t wait to start a new film project. I was truly motivated and inspired by all the films created by friends, peers and colleagues. Hopefully, this will be the same for our audience members and next year we’ll be seeing films submitted by the new filmmakers inspired from our officially selected films from this year.
You currently have your own short film on the festival circuit at the moment, The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan, can you tell us a bit about that? How it’s been received so far and where will it be screened next?
The film is a dark and disturbing drama that follows two police officers searching for an abducted school girl, Katie Fenwick. However when they arrive at the house where they believe Katie is being held, they meet the strange and enigmatic Olivia who blocks their investigation at every turn.
Every member of the cast and crew did amazing work on this project and we couldn’t be prouder of the finished film. The film is also acting as a pilot for a 3-part TV series that is currently in development. So far, the film has been received extremely well. We received the “Jury Special Mention for Outstanding UK Film” at the Manchester Film Festival and last week we screened at the California Women’s Film Festival in Hollywood where Eva Pope, who also produced the film, received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. We are just waiting to hear back from a few more festivals and keeping everything crossed!
How have you found dividing your time between your own projects and the festival?
This is the area which I’ll admit has been most difficult. Neither forming a festival nor making a film are part-time jobs if you want to do them right. The festival has taken up the majority of my time so far in 2017, but I wouldn’t change it. In fact the festival has been a welcome break. Hopefully with the first year out of the way and the festival now being established, we will have more available time in 2018 to divide and conquer!
What would you advise anyone who’s considering putting their own festival together?
Firstly, I would say ask yourself why you’re doing it. Like with filmmaking, if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s very unlikely you’ll enjoy the process and the hard work involved. Then I think the key thing is to pick the best team to help make it happen. The same as with filmmaking – surround yourself with the right people and you can achieve great things.
You can find out more about the Chelmsford Film Festival at their website.
You can follow the festival on Twitter: @ChelmsFilmFest
You can follow the Interrogation of Olivia Donovan on Twitter: @ODonovan_Film