Judging short film festivals

Clare Valley Film Festival
 Fiona Gunn
Clare Valley Film Festival

When most people think of Clare Valley, their minds immediately turn to wine. But amidst the undulating rows of grapevines is one of Australia’s most exciting new short film festivals.

In its second year, the Clare Valley Film Festival is a microcosm of internationalism in a wonderful community setting. Festival Directors Chris Bishop and Seeta Indrani have asked me to be one of the judges for the festival which runs from 24-26 March.

I’ve had enough experience in judging short films to approach the task with the awe and trepidation it deserves.

OK, this may seem overly dramatic, but I can’t help but imagine the hopefulness with which filmmakers upload their films to the competition website, and the blood, sweat and tears that these artists put into their work. While there are some organisations in Australia and throughout the world that support short filmmaking, to say nothing of the very occasional grant available, these works are always labours of love. A massive personal investment, not only of the heart and soul, but often involving credit cards and loans from loved ones. When contemplating all of this, judging these films takes on special significance.

There are literally thousands of short film festivals around the world – even Tony Blair has one. The judges of his short film festival include Natalie Portman, Jet Li, Wendi Murdoch and Queen Rania of Jordan, who I’m sure approach the task with a similar sense of responsibility.

So what are my hints and tips for judging short film festivals?

First, prepare. It’s going to be a long couple of days. Imagine you’re going on a _Survivor_-style mission and set yourself up with snacks, fluids, bathroom access, and something to keep you warm or cool, depending on your hemisphere.

Second, keep an open mind. You may watch three seemingly identical storylines in a row, but what sets each film apart? Is it the script, characterisation or visual style? An ability to break down each film into its different elements while being able to assess the whole is also important.

And finally, trust your gut instinct. Then don’t. You may feel a connection to a film but ask yourself why. Are you having an emotional reaction to the lead character who just happens to be the spitting image of your mother/ex-fiance/barista? Or is it the soaringly spectacular cinematography, fascinating story and Golden Globe-worthy acting?

At any rate, I’m looking forward to watching this array of mini-masterpieces. Going on the previous year, I’m expecting all genres including US social justice shorts, soulful coming-of-age works from South America, and Guy Ritchie-esque UK crime dramas.