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The Imperial War Museum Short Film Festival 2017

Photo: A still from 'Lancaster' [Via IWM]


This month the IWM Short Film Festival returns to IWM London from 17-26 November, following a record year of entries. A new format to the festival will divide the short-listed entries into nine themes, addressing issues including hope, displacement and fear. The 37 short-listed films explore war, conflict and oppression, and all will be screened for free during the daytime with a series of ticketed evening events also on offer.

The IWM Short Film Festival has run since 2001, and encourages entrants from students, amateurs and professionals alike. This year, nearly 700 entries were received from applicants across 78 countries, responding to a brief to present imaginative and challenging films relating to IWM’s remit to understand the causes, course and consequences of war.

The films have been judged by a panel of industry experts, including Kevin Loader, producer of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and contemporary artist Shona Illingworth, who is exhibiting in IWM London’s exhibition Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11. Producer of Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields, Lord Puttnam has also been announced as the new patron of the Short Film Festival.

The films are competing in a variety of categories, including The Annie Dodds Award for Best Documentary; Best Creative Response; Best Student Film; Best Use of IWM Archive Material; and IWM Special Category: Age of Terror; The Audience Vote Award. Prizes range from a three month paid internship at October Films, to a £10,000 archive restoration package with R3Store Studios.

Britain at War’s Lauren Cantillon spoke to Director of the IWM Short Film Festival, Matt Lee, as well as some of the lucky film-makers in with a chance at winning.

The grizzly conditions experienced by many during the First World War have inspired many film makers.

How do you stand out from the crowd when submitting a film for IWM Short Film Festival selection?

Originality and imagination are something we always look for when assessing films for inclusion in the festival. Tackling a lesser-known subject or approaching it from a fresh perspective also tends to catch the eye. What’s more, grabbing the audiences’ attention and entertaining or informing them will usually go a long way too!

How do you whittle down over 700 entries to the 37 short-listed?

The process takes around three months and we have five people sifting the films. This includes three volunteers from London South Bank University and King’s College London. We don’t have a target for the number of films we will screen, and within reason, we try to let the quality and diversity of the submissions dictate the official selection. We watch every film submitted and try to weed out the ones that do not fall within remit. We then go through the remaining films and share our views, look for a consensus and try to whittle the films down to double figures. This takes time and becomes increasingly difficult. If there are divergent views, we talk things through in more depth and this normally irons out the wrinkles, but occasionally we will vote if there is not unanimity.

Do you have disagreements with the other judges?

Of course! Whilst this can sometimes be a challenge it is important to consider a range of opinions and to have your views interrogated. It is for this reason we have judges from different backgrounds – film festivals, academia, film, journalism, artists, military etc. It means we get varied perspectives that illuminate or de-construct the films in ways we had often not considered.

How did you come up with the new themes (inc. hope, sacrifice and trauma) as a way of presenting the films? Is this aimed at making the audience more aware of the kind of thing they’re about to watch?

Yes, that’s part of the thinking behind giving the screening slots a theme. However, they’re not always quite as prescriptive as they seem – sometimes we try to challenge our audiences to see the films in a different light, or make them think about how diverse subjects can share a common thread. It means we can mix genres, styles and content in a way that helps to orient the viewer. Whilst many of the films could straddle multiple themes, we try to find an aspect that unifies them. It’s trickier than it sounds…

How would you recommend that first time visitors to the Festival approach the programme? There’s so much to choose from!

I’m often drawn towards films where I know very little about the subject explored or I want to challenge my preconceptions.

I’d look closely at the programme and the synopses and see what is being screened – there are 3 or 4 programmes run each day, meaning you could watch a third of the films being shown at the festival in one day. Obviously the thematic packaging offers a different way to approach the screenings, but you could focus on documentaries, dramas, or animations, or look at the films from a military history perspective, depending on your interests. I’m often drawn towards films where I know very little about the subject explored or I want to challenge my preconceptions. With the multi-faceted and international flavour of IWM Short Film Festival, whatever method you adopt, you can’t go wrong!

We are currently in the period of the First World War centenary with lots of events and a heightened awareness of that conflict – has that had an impact on the number of First World War related entries to the Festival from 2014 to the present year?

It certainly has! We marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War by releasing free copies of The Battle of the Somme to hundreds of venues and introduced a special festival category in 2014 focused solely on the First World War. The response was terrific. It was particularly gratifying to see younger film-makers creatively engage with a conflict that began a hundred years ago. I suspect we will see another spike in films as we commemorate the end of the First World War.

A 75 Sqn Lancaster is ‘bombed-up’. The deadly missions flown by the men of Bomber Command inspired the subject of one of the short-listed entrants.

The Festival attracts entries from across the world, and so offers an incredible opportunity to shine a light on conflicts that a British audience may not be aware of, or certainly less aware of. Is that platform something the judges are aware of when selecting short-listed films?

It is something of a balancing act – we make it clear in our judging criteria that we are ‘…looking out for less well known content and stories’ and this year we have films that explore at the recent conflict in Ukraine, the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s and the current conflict in Syria. However, whilst we are willing to make concessions for innovation or experimentation, we are mindful that production values cannot be entirely ignored. These kinds of decisions often provoke lengthy and passionate debate.

The Festival has grown and evolved so much since its initial format (i.e. only originally being open to student film makers) – how would you like the Festival to develop in the future?

This year, for the first time, we have integrated an exhibition, Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11, with the festival and created a special award category that reflects the themes of the show. This has provided us with a joined-up way of thinking about how we can enhance and develop the festival – we are currently planning a series of exhibition-related events in the evening during the November screenings. The first of these will look at representations of conflict and the second will explore journalist safety in hazardous environments. I am sure we will adopt a similar approach next year, as it has the makings of a dynamic platform for wider audience and film-maker participation. We are also looking at reaching different audiences through a collaboration with Picturehouse Cinemas.

Film Festival Screenings take place between 17– 26 November, every day at 12pm, 2pm and 3pm in the Cinema at IWM London, with an additional screening at 1pm on Saturday 18, Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 November. Full programme details can be found here:, with more details about ticketed evening events to be announced soon.

Lauren also spoke to a number of entrants whose work had been short-listed for the festival.

Ruth Coggins

(Film: A War to End No Wars)

A still from ‘A War to End No Wars’ [Via IWM]

Describe your film in 10 words (or less!)

An animation following the trench life of Tommy during WWI.

What inspired you to pick your subject matter?

The film was made in memory of my Granddad (Bernard) who passed away in 2009, but it was inspired by my Great Grandfather’s (Cyril) photographs he took whilst serving with the French Section Sanitaire & British Red Cross in Verdun.

Are there other areas of warfare you are interested in making films about?

My original idea was to have the same character but as different generations of a family fighting through various conflicts such as WWI, WWII onto a modern day conflict like Afghanistan or Iraq… I might revisit the idea at some point in the future.

How do you hope the audience responds to your film?

I hope the audience shares Tommy’s experience of the sadness and loneliness of war as they journey through the seasons and different scenarios he is faced with.

Sam Bowman

(Film: The Devil’s Porridge in Gretna)

Describe your film in 10 words (or less!)

Vital explosives, female workforce – an enormous contribution to the war.

Women working at the Devil’s Porridge site, the subject of Sam Bowman’s short film. [Via IWM]

What inspired you to pick your subject matter?

I was inspired to make this documentary by the factory’s proximity to where I live. It was situated just over the border in a little town called Eastriggs and was a big draw for women across the UK seeking a better life. On the site of the old factory now stands a museum dedicated to these women and the sacrifices that they made to the war effort. And after visiting the museum I knew I had to make a short documentary about it.

Are there other areas of warfare you are interested in making films about?

I have a keen interest in areas of conflicts that are not widely known, such as events that were overshadowed due to larger events taking place elsewhere in the world. I am also interested in hearing stories of people overcoming seemingly impossible odds to achieve their goal, be it escaping captivity or heroic actions.

I am also very interested in the human impact that war has for those who are involved in it. How people feel about the events that unfolded around them.

How do you hope the audience responds to your film?

I hope people will be inspired to look into the subject of female munitions workers and their role on the Homefront. This may be reading about the areas in which women worked, or visiting museums to gain an insight into what the women dealt with to aid the war effort. By doing so, it helps to keep their memory alive.

Clare Horrell

(Film: Boy Soldiers: Voices from the Great War)

We will bring a new understanding to the audience of what it must have been like to be a boy soldier.

Describe your film in 10 words (or less!)

A contemporary retelling of the experiences of the Boy Soldiers.

What inspired you to pick your subject matter?

We realised that the subject of boy soldiers going off to war, and with some being as young as 13 years old, was little known with the general public. We also felt the stories would resonate directly with young people today, and they could imagine themselves ‘in the shoes’, of the boy soldiers.

Are there other areas of warfare you are interested in making films about?

We are particularly interested in exploring stories about people around the war – the war widows, the families of the boy soldiers, those missing in action.

How do you hope the audience responds to your film?

We hope that by juxtaposing images from the war with contemporary scenes depicting boys of a similar age, we will bring a new understanding to the audience of what it must have been like to be a boy soldier. We hope that viewers will be moved by the film and be left with a deep impression of their experiences.

Philip Stevens

(Film: Lancaster)

A still from ‘Lancaster’ [Via IWM]

Describe your film in 10 words (or less!)

The final flight of a Lancaster Bomber crew

What inspired you to pick your subject matter? 

I’ve always had an interest in the personal stories of the Second World War. There are countless remarkable tales of heroism, sacrifice, loss and bravery that instantly spark the imagination. Living in Lincolnshire (Bomber County!) it is impossible not to pick up some of the stories of aircrews during WWII, so when I was approached by Lincolnshire council to make a film about Bomber Command I was very excited and honoured to have an opportunity to interpret some of those stories. It was important to me to tell a personal account, rather than a broad overview. The subject matter is controversial, and I didn’t want to glorify, or vilify any aspect of the war, but to try and give as honest as possible an interpretation of an individual’s emotional and physical experience in that scenario.

Are there other areas of warfare you are interested in making films about?

We are currently looking to fund a short film about WWI, Called ‘Red Lamp’ which is set in a brothel on the front line in France.

How do you hope the audience responds to your film?

I hope viewers come away with a small sense of what it might have been like for the young men that flew night missions, and the great personal risk and sacrifice of all men and women that lived through the Second World War. We had a great responsibility when making this film to the memory of all those young men that lost their lives flying in Lancs, and I hope we have done them the justice they deserve.

Mario M. Maquedano

(Film: Winter (L’hiver))

War is always about culture, language, religion, and the way humans weaponised those things to fight against each other.

Describe your film in 10 words (or less!)

Sofia, a mute teenager, takes a forbidden dance lesson in an unknown country at war. Suddenly, soldiers interrupt the dance court…

What inspired you to pick your subject matter?

Family connection firstly. This subject deals with culture in war times, and the way war destroys childhood. My grandmother lived this during the Spanish Civil War, and I see that the same matters still brings the same effects nowadays. War is always about culture, language, religion, and the way humans weaponised those things to fight against each other. This is why in my movie, the girl (Sofia) unlike her teacher, wears no cultural marks and is mute. She cannot be linked to any faction at war and forces the soldier to see her for what she is.

Are there other areas of warfare you are interested in making films about?

Yes. I already worked with the Second World War in my first short, Conga. I am now finishing the English translation of the script of my first feature about Secession War.

How do you hope the audience responds to your film?

I hope it will create a debate, and a real conscience takeover of what war really is.

James Sieradzki

(Film: Tommy – Remembrance of the Dishonoured Casualties)

Title card from ‘Tommy’. [Via IWM]

Describe your film in 10 words (or less!)

One man struggles to determine between his past and present.

What inspired you to pick your subject matter?

I was inspired during the First World War centenary. The light installation from near the Houses of Parliament had a striking effect on the London skyline at night and it got me thinking about the conflict. I wondered whether I’d be able to do what those soldiers did, whether I’d have the mental durability to see it through or if I’d be one of the many who had suffered from PTSD.

Are there other areas of warfare you are interested in making films about?

After hearing stories from my grandparents, I’m very interested in telling a story about the Second World War at home during the Blitz. I have an interest in the age of nuclear weapons and have a few ideas around that subject too.

How do you hope the audience responds to your film?

I think if an audience thinks or feels anything after watching your film you can pat yourself on the back as a filmmaker. I hope they come away with a broader mind regarding mental health, and I hope they’re reminded that during conflicts like these, it’s normal people like you and I that are have to witness the horror of war.

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