Natasha Marburger on LIFF life as a festival director and filmmaker
Natasha Marburger, film producer and festival director at the London Independent Film Festival, talks to us about this year's edition of LIFF landing right as lockdown arrived, having to set up the new Los Angeles International Film Festival from afar, and the release of her new short film Hickory Dickory Dock.
Hello Natasha, thanks for talking to us. You are the Festival Director of LIFF, the London Independent Film Festival, that has been running for nearly 20 years. Can you tell us about the festival and the work you show?
Thank you for having me. The London Independent Film Festival mostly supports first and second-time directors, films made on microbudgets, and films that are unlikely to get screened elsewhere. We run a lot of workshops, panels and masterclasses alongside our filmmaking programme, so that filmmakers can learn more about different areas of interest, such as colour grading, or pitching.
We also have an opening night party, a closing night awards ceremony, and lots of networking events, so that filmmakers can meet, talk about what they’ve been working on, and collaborate on future projects.
Film festivals everywhere have been hugely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with many having to postpone/cancel upcoming events. LIFF this year landed right in the middle of it! What was that like for the event and for you negotiating that?
It was very stressful running LIFF during the beginning of lockdown. We had an excellent opening weekend, and then the UK government were starting to advise people not to go to out, which was before the official lockdown. What ended up happening was we weren’t sure if things were going ahead, so I had to liaise with filmmakers, guests, photographers, volunteers, the venue, etc, without having any concrete information.
We continued with what we could while at the same time balancing it all with safety; we cancelled all the workshops, networking events, and the closing night party straight away so that we were complying with the government’s recommendations, and then when everything got shut down fully we cancelled the film programme as well.
Instead, we ensured we had additional press coverage and more reviews of all the films, so that the films wouldn’t miss out on the publicity of having been selected for LIFF. Also, we hope to reschedule the closing weekend’s films when the lockdown ends.
Despite the festival having to close early, you were able to screen several films and host industry panels. What were some of your highlights before the enforced early finish?
Our opening night party was busy as always. We also had a grading masterclass run by Twickenham Studios, a film business panel, and a film festival panel, which were all excellent.
We were also featured in Time Out magazine as well which is a highlight for me because it means we are being recognised outside of the circles we are used to running in and therefore broadening our reach.
Since LIFF, you’ve now been able to turn your attention to the launch of a new festival in the US, the Los Angeles International Film Festival. Can you tell us about this event and the work you’ll be looking for?
The Los Angeles International Film Festival will run in November, parallel to the American Film Market, with the intention of providing a place to meet around the conferences and business meetings at AFM.
What are some of the challenges you face setting up an event in one country while living in another? Has lockdown helped or hindered?
The lockdown has hindered in the sense that I am unable to see the venue in LA and therefore planning logistics is more challenging. However, over Skype I have been able to speak to the venue and work out the plan moving forwards. We will have another call nearer the time to see how the situation is with Covid-19, any new regulations to consider, and how to plan accordingly. The same goes for photographers, guests and press. Everything is ready to go but we are on standby until we know more.
You’re now very experienced when it comes to running film festivals. What advice would offer anyone looking to set up their own for the first time?
There are many festivals around the world, so it’s important to identify what you bring to the table with your one. Another thing I think is important is creating an atmosphere where people can come and meet in a relaxed environment. It’s important not to be too formal, as a festival is also about meeting people and connecting, and friendships too!
As well as your festival work, you are also a producer and have just launched a new short film called Hickory Dickory Dock. Can you tell us about the film and how you got involved?
Hickory Dickory Dock is a short film about a love story between two older people during Covid-19. The film aims to raise awareness of the challenges faced by the elderly at this time and encourage people to support charities like Supporting Older People, who are just one of the immensely under-funded amazing charities working tirelessly to help in local communities.
I was sent a script and discussed the project with the writer, Paul Casar, who I already knew and worked with before. I sent the script to director and editor Vitor Vilela, and together we decided it was important to make the film and make a difference. The film stars Paul Barber and Carolyn Lyster, and we hope it reaches far and wide, encouraging people to support and donate!
What do you find to be the most interesting aspects of being both a festival director and a filmmaker?
Being a festival director gives me an insight into that side of filmmaking. It has also taught me not to be upset if my film isn’t selected for a festival or a fund, as there are so many factors that go into deciding these things. Being a festival director also gives me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful filmmakers. That’s definitely the biggest highlight! What advice to would you give filmmakers submitting work to festivals for the first time about handling both the rejections and the selections?
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get selected. There are many factors in filmmaking and festivals that influence the success of projects. You should definitely not take it personally, there are so many audiences and your project can never fit all of them, but it will fit somewhere.
Also, make the most of the festivals that do accept you. Go and meet people, network, collaborate and enjoy them. They are your tribe and you can work together, support each other, and enjoy each other’s films, now and in the future too!
You can follow Natasha on Twitter: @NMarburger