Director and patron Mike Leigh describes it as “healthily anarchic and sharp as a row of needles”, and Ideas Tap are supporting their new award for young filmmakers. But what is Greenhorn Short Film Festival? Jade French investigates…
“What do mean you live here now!? You don’t live full stop! Why are you having life after death in Crouch End?!” demands a son of his recently deceased mother. The cinema erupts with laughter, because here we all are in the ArtHouse, in Crouch End. I’m watching the North London Book of the Dead, directed by Jake Lushington, which is just one of 11 shorts that make up the official selection of this year’s Greenhorn Short Film Festival. Since 2011, this independent film and film criticism event has been somewhat covert, growing under the radar and attracting a dedicated following.
Greenhorn isn’t your regular film fest; it has evolved from a single screening to a lively three day programme supported by film giant and patron Mike Leigh. Founders Flora Bradwell and Alix Taylor have worked hard to cultivate an environment which showcases work with an ‘unusual slant’, specifically celebrating emerging filmmaking talent. It’s difficult to pin down a Greenhorn film but they all possess offbeat qualities, resulting in fantastical animations, daring black comedies and eerie dramas.
“We love shorts that are carefully crafted and beautifully made without being too self serious” explains Bradwell. If you’re still not sure what I mean, take a look at this video, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, screened at the 2012 festival. Thanks, Greenhorn, for contributing to my nightmares.
The quality of the films selected this year is outstanding, particularly when considering all of the filmmakers are new to the industry. The evening began with a quirky piece titled On Loop, directed by Christine Hooper, about insomnia. This short screams those Greenhorn qualities; the film is dark, funny and shot with a split-screen. Another stand-out film was A Comprehensive Survey of Historical Plaques in Shoreditch, East London, directed by Jack Wormell, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Well… sort of. The film begins by introducing various historical blue plaques that adorn Shoreditch, but gradually the narrators lose the plot and the signature Greenhorn anarchy is unleashed.
So what’s changed? Back in 2011, Greenhorn’s first event was a single screening of curated shorts; now the festival has a much fuller programme including script writing workshops, industry professional panels and lunch networking sessions. Now the aforementioned Leigh — writer and director of films including Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies and the recent biopic Mr. Turner – is Greenhorn’s official patron. As a formidable force in the film industry, BAFTA adorned, Palme d’Or and Oscar nominated Leigh throws heaps of credibility into the mix. Leigh describes the festival as “stimulating, original, healthily anarchic and sharp as a row of needles, in short a breath of fresh air”. Attending every event since he joined the Greenhorn team, his presence at the festival clearly got some heads turning.
The most recent development to the festival is the Young Greenhorn Short Film Award, in association with Ideas Tap and Production Base, strengthening Greenhorn’s position in platforming emerging talent. The award this year, presented by Leigh, went to Ed Chappell for his short Sandyman. The film observes a sand artist at work, without dialogue; we simply watch him create patterns on the beach. It was strangely moving.
Talking to Taylor and Bradwell, I was interested to learn what they have in store for the future. Greenhorn is special. It operates entirely without pretension, providing a safe space where filmmakers can showcase their talents whilst building skills. But can this delicate atmosphere scale up to accommodate a bigger audience? Is this the goal for Greenhorn? “All of our new events fit within our ethos of supporting filmmakers”, explains Taylor. “Keeping the venues local and intimate has been key to helping maintain our accessibility, creating a space for filmmakers to learn and network.”
Currently Greenhorn is completely independent, running financially from donations and ticket sales. I asked both Taylor and Bradwell if they had aspirations to super-size Greenhorn, so that it becomes the go-to shorts event of the festival circuit (for instance, on a similar scale to Aesthetica Film Festival). Interestingly, they both had different views. Taylor believes in the intimacy and accessibility as the key drivers of Greenhorn’s success commenting that “being big is not what were about”. However, Bradwell suggested that “surely the bigger the platform for these film makers, the better?” I remain somewhere in the middle. I’d like to see Greenhorn pull a bigger audience for the screenings, particularly for the filmmaker’s sakes. But I confess I hope the fringe events stay small, maintaining their accessibility and intimate atmosphere.
Visiting Greenhorn has rekindled my love affair with cinema, and reminded me that there is so much more to film than the chainstore offer. I have no doubt Greenhorn’s success will continue to snowball, with audiences investing in Greenhorn’s bizarre, but always charming, view of the world. What I truly admire about this event is its insistence in being intimate in an industry that generally demands big.
Check out the Greenhorn Film Festival website for events, featured directors and future screenings