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TRCH The Da Vinci Code

Bang! Short Film Festival Is Calling It A Day

27 November 14 words: Ashley Carter

Short films are perfect. Perfect for the filmmaker wanting to showcase what they can do, perfect for the YouTube generation struggling to concentrate on anything for more than an hour, perfect for creating some of the most diverse film festivals out there. Bang! Short Film Festival started off small but, as the digital age took hold and their audiences got bigger, it grew into a beast of a festival. Unfortunately, after fifteen years of filling Broadway’s screens with bite-sized reels, they’ve called it a day. We get all nostalgic and look at what the festival meant to filmmakers and audiences alike...

After providing a platform for emerging and already established filmmakers to showcase their work, it was recently announced that Bang! Short Film Festival would be coming to an end. Donna Bowyer, one of the founders of the event, said that the increasing workload of her own film career, as well as the careers of fellow founders Chris Cooke, Max Crow and Adam Robertson, were factors in making the hard decision to end Bang!’s fifteen year run. “The festival takes a lot of time to organise; we felt it wouldn’t be fair to not give it the full attention, time and energy it deserves.”

In late 1999, when Nottingham’s film community was being galvanised by the digital revolution, more and more filmmakers were able to gain access to filmmaking equipment through Intermedia Film and Video, which was based at Broadway at the time. This influx of new talent cried out for a platform in which to showcase itself. Shane Meadows had been running a short film festival called Six of the Best, but became known for mainly showing his own work. When we interviewed him a couple of years ago he said, Six of the Best was an angry response to the fact that I couldn’t find anywhere to show people my short films. I went down the DIY route and decided to try and get six films together and get them advertised. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many applications from other people. For the first event, I made five of the six films and for the second I made four.” Robin Shackford then established Flipside, which showcased films exclusively from Nottingham-based filmmakers. But when Flipside came to an end, Bowyer, Cooke, Crow and Robertson decided to create a short film festival to showcase work not just from Nottingham, but from around the world.

“We began with just one section, The Main Event, which ran three times a year. Then, over the years, more and more sections were added so we could include different genres, themes and age demographics to give screening opportunities for all the films that the digital revolution was bringing forward.” By 2013, Bang! Festival had a total of thirteen categories covering a wide range of different demographics.

“One of the sections I am most proud of was the Middle East category, which focused on films made in that region and offered a way, through art and filmmaking, to build relationships and to see rare glimpses into a world which is often hugely misaligned in today’s politically charged media portrayals,” Bowyer said of the festivals diversity. She added, “The Community section was also brilliant, it was a category where we would see amazing work about stuff that was happening in communities all over the world. Obviously this was all before social media, when short films were used as a vehicle to distribute information and stories that you probably wouldn’t get to hear about otherwise.”

One of the main objectives of the Community section was to give a voice to the areas of the population who would otherwise have none, including those drastically under-represented in film. The introduction of a subsequent Kids section proved similarly popular, with high audience numbers being given the opportunity to see the work of filmmakers as young as five. Sitting in one of those screenings was amazing on two levels; the first was seeing the passion the kids had put into their work and how great it looked, and the second was the reaction of the young filmmakers as they watched their finished pieces being shown on the big screen.

Bang! quickly became known for its dedication to showcasing young talent early in their careers, especially from local directors, “We often premiered films that subsequently went on to do incredibly well around the international film circuit: Bang! showed local talent like Simon Ellis, The Turrell Brothers, Nick Whitfield, Sarmad Massud and Mark Devenport, among many others.” This included increased participation from the directors themselves, “One of the things we did before all the screenings were the on-screen introductions from the filmmakers, which made the experience more intimate and exclusive. We also delighted the audiences with showers of sweets and popcorn.”

As one of the filmmakers that benefitted from the festival, Simon Ellis was sad to see it - and the free popcorn - come to an end, “Bang!, like Flipside and Six of the Best, was more than a celebration of local filmmaking talent. It brought key international short films to our city in a time when exhibition outlets for this critical art form are dwindling on a national scale. Its importance will be as missed as much as the popcorn-slinging ritual that preceded every show.”

As another founding member of Bang!, Chris Cooke wants all of the good that came from the festival to be utilised in taking the city’s creative community forward. “One of the most important things it did (aside from showcasing the early work of award-winning filmmakers and people about to launch careers in film and TV like Steven Sheil, Avril Russell and many more) was to allow filmmakers a chance to sit in a brilliant cinema space and see their work up on the biggest of screens.

People could test-drive their films and become better filmmakers, it meant a space for filmmakers to network, swap notes, criticise and debate. It meant that filmmakers could find new collaborators and friends. So many filmmakers have come through the doors of Broadway now, thanks to Bang!, and their careers have developed and grown. Mayhem Film Festival started as a short film festival, thanks to the sheer number of horror shorts that were coming into Bang! So the positive thought to take forward is that there are still so many people making shorts in the city and across the region. They will create new platforms for people to view, discuss and enjoy those films. The audience demand is still there and something will emerge soon.”

The loss will be felt by many, from the emerging group of directors looking to show their shorts, to the more established filmmakers for whom Bang! was the one time a year they were guaranteed to catch up with the friends their busy schedules otherwise didn’t allow. Regardless, no one will look back at Bang! with anything other than great memories. “My key memory of Bang! is our dedication to storytelling through film, whether award-winning or from first time filmmakers - what mattered was the heart and soul of a film rather than technical accomplishment,” said Donna Bowyer, “We really cared and that was reflected at the festival itself - filmmakers came along knowing that they were in a truly supportive environment that was instrumental in creating a brilliant film scene in Nottingham.”

F-Stop on Notts TV is a great showcase for local filmmakers and along with Mayhem’s Scary Shorts, there are also smaller scale festival alternatives out there, such as Loonatik and Drinks’ short film screenings, Come into the Basement, and the brand-spanking New Waves Short Film Festival, which has its first event at Broadway on Saturday 20 December. Filling the Bang!-shaped void will certainly be difficult, but at least Nottingham isn’t starting from naught.

Bang! Short Film Festival website

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