A big knees-up for Aardman’s 40th birthday, a conversation with ‘punky-reggae’ documentary filmmaker Don Letts, Bristol University alumnus and Starter For Ten/Far from the Madding Crowd screenwriter David Nicholls selecting his favourite films, a celebration of the ‘Bristol Sound’ on screen, and the first Bristol outing for the local movie that may or may not have given us the ‘Bristol Crocodile’.
That’s just scratching the surface of what’s on offer at the 22nd annual Encounters short film and animation festival that takes place at various venues from September 20-25, presenting 400 films and 40 events.
Now firmly established as the nation’s leading short film festival, Encounters’ international reputation is such that it attracted more than 2,300 submissions this year. These have been whittled down to the best 231 films, spread across 24 competition programmes. Among them are themed selections of animation, comedy, science fiction, thriller and family shorts, plus the ever-popular music video showcase and Late Lounge round-up of decidedly adult films.
Perhaps pointedly given the Brexit vote – though this is not stated explicitly as a reason – this year’s festival includes a ‘Contimental’ programme of European shorts, with films from each of the 28 EU member states. There’s also a parallel Bristol International Festival of Cinematography at the Arnolfini and free outdoor screenings every night from Sept 21-24, 8-10pm, at Hamilton House on, it says here, “Bristol’s famous Stokes Croft”.
The Aardman 40th anniversary Special takes place on Tuesday, September 20 at the Watershed, with co-founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton looking back at the great Bristol animation studio’s milestones and presenting a series of clips and shorts. These include the premiere of the recently remastered groundbreaking video for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.
To give you some idea of what to expect, here’s their entertaining 40th anniversary presentation from June’s Annecy Animation Festival:
At the University of Bristol’s Priory Road Lecture Theatre on Wednesday 21, novelist, screenwriter and Bristol University graduate David Nicholls discusses his adaptations of his own books, notably One Day and the Bristol-set student drama Starter for Ten, as well as his screenplay for that recent glossy version of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. He’ll also be talking about some of his favourite films. On the same day, writer, broadcaster and filmmaker David Mason is down at the Watershed with his selection of Desert Island Flicks.
There are two more big events at the Watershed on Friday 23. Don Letts is in conversation with Edson Burton about his many music videos and punk documentaries, as well as reading extracts from his book Culture Clash, in a session illustrated with film clips and climaxing with an audience Q&A. The fabled Bristol Sound is celebrated in a retrospective of music videos and archive film, including rare footage of The Wild Bunch on the mean streets of St Paul’s and Montpelier.
Encounters isn’t entirely about short films, however. There’s a screening of the The Tribe (Thursday 22), the first feature ever to be told entirely in sign language, plus a signed Q&A with its Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy as part of Encounters’ country focus on Ukraine. On Saturday 24, the regular Shorts2Features strand also has a strong lineup of feature-length films from directors who cut their teeth on shorts, including two with strong local connections. Bristol filmmaker Esther May Campbell, whose 2009 BAFTA-winning short September was shown at Encounters, returns with the local premiere of her first feature, Light Years, which features the acting debut of singer/songwriter Beth Orton.
Also screening in Bristol for the first time is Michael Anderson’s Somerset crocodile attack horror (and how often do you get to type that sentence?) The Hatching, whose toothy predator props were made in Bristol at around the same time as the alleged ‘Bristol Crocodile’ was making national headlines. Just sayin’. For more on The Hatching, see our original feature from its 2014 Bath Film Festival premiere here.