Janine Koppe was the winner of two awards at our Short Film Challenge in August, including Best Film, for which she was rewarded with a trip to Bristol's wonderful Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival at the Watershed. Here's how she got on.

Forcing myself out of bed on a Wednesday morning at 5am would need a very good reason. A paid trip down to Bristol’s renowned Encounters Film Festival was definitely good enough. Having won the ‘Best Film’ award at EIFF Short Film Challenge 2016, I had been relishing the trip down to the South of England, having never been to Bristol before.

I arrived at the Bus Station by 9.45am, greeted by glorious sunshine and temperatures that would definitely qualify as summer in Scotland. My hotel was just a few minutes’ walk from Encounters’ main hub, The Watershed, which is located on the promenade right by the canal and flanked by fountains, boats, sunny cafés and the Bristol Energy Hub (a colourful and trendy space in the centre of Bristol, inviting locals to seek advice and discuss energy consumption – I found this place very telling of the general Bristolian way of life). I picked up my Festival Pass and booked some event tickets at the box office.

Deciding which events to attend was pretty tricky as there were dozens of events offered each day. In the end, I decided to focus on live action shorts and competition screenings. An industry event I managed to squeeze in was a BFI NET.WORK panel discussion on short film funding in the UK. The event was busy and the speakers were very encouraging, one of them Paul Welsh from Digicult and SFTN. They advised to register on the net.work website where filmmakers can upload their shorts to receive feedback and to get noticed by other filmmakers and industry experts. I wasn’t aware of this website and found this advice very helpful (and hope so do you). It was also strangely reassuring to hear that it can take up to ten years to go from your first short to your first feature. At least everyone’s struggles are the same.

Over the course of the next two days I watched a total of 67 shorts from a variety of countries and genres. It didn't take long for me to understand why Encounters has such a fantastic reputation. The quality of the films programmed here is astonishing, which served as a much needed reality check: This is what we’re up against. Films such as Little Soldier, Balcony, Candy Floss, Small Talk, Tuesday, A Night in Tokoriki (which previously screened at EIFF), The Knackerman, Here There, 16.03, Ambulance or Red Light, despite their many differences, all have something in common: they are bold, sincere and gripping pieces. They reflect upon and challenge our perception of the world around us and ourselves. They have more to say than what they show. Needless to say, I was very impressed.

Another highlight was watching two 360° shorts in the planetarium, which was a first for me. By sheer coincidence I also ran into Scottish director Pavel Shepan during this screening who was here with his SFTN commissioned short horror The Rat King (which I was delighted to watch later that night).

Next to watching an awful lot of films I also managed to get a decent impression of Bristol. I spent hours walking around the harbour area and got a great view over the whole city from Cabot Tower. Bristol seemed like a vibrant, beautiful and very progressive city (friends had previously described it as ‘the Berlin of the UK’) and the Bristolians’ affinity to street art is clearly noticeable. Bristol also has its own local currency to support independent businesses – the Bristol Pound. Despite some okay efforts I did not manage to get a hold of one, though. On Saturday, a friend and I explored the St. Werburgh’s art trail, which took me to a community farm in St. Werburgh’s and a self-build, sustainable housing community called The Yard. The houses were memorable, to say the least. We also got a little introduction to magnetic hammers and baking with sourdough.

I can only recommend the trip to other aspiring filmmakers: the quality of the programme, the friendly and welcoming staff and the down to earth atmosphere of the city all make for a fantastic festival visit. Having had the privilege of spending three days solely watching short films, I was left with a sense of ambition to challenge myself to create work of that standard. The films I’ve seen here have truly inspired me to raise the bar for future projects.


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