Festival Profile: Simon Mullen, Strawberry Shorts Festival in Cambridge

The Strawberry Shorts Film Festival in Cambridge has undergone a few changes over the years- in organizers and locations. In addition to having a unique story, it has a character and personality all it’s own.

Recently I conducted an email interview with Simon Mullen, the principal festival organizer. Among other things, Simon and I discussed the history of the festival, the experience of being in the audience, and the type of work they like the most.

The deadline for the Strawberry Shorts Film Festival is April 19th. Good luck !

What is your name and the name of the festival you organize?
My name is Simon Mullen and I am a principal organiser of The Strawberry Shorts Film Festival, the flagship event of Strawberry Fair. I feel I need to explain my role in the festival at this point. In 2006 John Clements, the then organiser of the Strawberry Fair Arts Area, asked me to help with the festival. I ran the festival from 2007 to 2009. Since 2010 we have been building a committee to run the festival, although I am still central to its organisation.

Can you give a little background about your festival? Why it started, when it started, where it is located, how many days it is and the focus?
The Strawberry Shorts Film Festival is the competitive Short Film Festival of Strawberry Fair. Strawberry Fair is the UK’s largest annual not-for-profit, volunteer run community festival of arts and music. The Fair runs is always held on the first Saturday of June on Midsummer Common, which is situated in the heart of Cambridge. Strawberry Shorts is the opening event and is held on the Friday evening..
Strawberry Shorts was started in 2000 by John Clements, the then organiser of the Arts Area of Strawberry Fair. The story goes, the night before the fair John noticed the large, and very empty, Big Top Tent standing next to his Arts Area, waiting for the Fair to start the next day and he thought, “what a waste of a tent” and wondered what he could do with it. The answer he came up with was Strawberry Shorts. Strawberry Shorts ran in the Big Top Tent from 2000 till 2009. The Big Top Tent can be seen in this photo gallery from 2006 http://tinyurl.com/czv7o67. During this time we also ran a Strawberry Fair Art Area Film Marquee during the main Saturday Strawberry Fair event. The Big Top Tent was a wonderfully exciting and appropriate venue for our festival. It really set the scene for the roller-coaster ride that a good short film programme should be. In 2010, due to petty bureaucrats and the vindictive forces of law and order, the fair did not run for the first time in forty year and hence the film festival did not run that year as well.In 2011 the fair suffered large financial cut backs. There was no Big Top Tent and the film festival had to run in a tatty old marquee. The festival was successful but staging it was a herculean task that almost broke us. This was when it became apparent that we really needed a new venue. This year we staged Strawberry Shorts in The Cambridge Festival Theatre, situated just across the road from the site of The Fair, (how convenient is that?) Its a glorious venue, one of only four remaining pre-Victorian theatres in the UK. Check out the 2012 photo gallery to see how beautiful The Cambridge Festival Theatre is. http://tinyurl.com/8zfzuhr This year we have also made great strides building a functioning committee.

The focus of our festival is, of course to promote the art of the short film. But we also feel that we have a mission to engage with the audience and help enhance their viewing. Its all very well to let them just sit there and watch film after film but the trouble with that is that, often, by the end of the evening they cant remember half of what they have seen and are not sure why they remember the other half. That’s where having audience awards works. They have to vote on each film and therefore have to think about it and perhaps engage with those around them.

We also put on screenings throughout the year, not just Strawberry Shorts, (we have amassed in excess of 1200 films).  At these events we are attempting to address the engagement issue by running screenings, with breaks between films where we nominate audience members to vote and comment on what they have just seen. We then try and wind the rest of them up to agree or disagree with the voting. It can get quite lively at times and certainly helps to give the films more consideration, which many deserve.

What is it like to attend your festival? Who attends your festival?
Attending Strawberry Shorts is fun, (and if its not there will be questions asked and heads will roll!).
We always have a performance element as part of the festival, usherettes, sleazy cinema managers, introductions and chats from front of house. This aids our engagement with the audience and helps the audience engage with the films. The festival is fully competitive with audience and jury awards. The audience hugely enjoy having a say about each film and casting their vote. The festival is attended by Cambridge residents, general riff-raff, ner-do-wells, a scattering of the glitteratti, and film-makers with their free-loading hangers on.

What is the submission process? Post or online submission?
To submit a film you need to complete and submit an online form. Then you need to download and complete a permission slip that you return to our festival office together with your film on region free PAL or NTSC DVD.

Why is the festival free to enter?
Strawberry Shorts is the short film festival of Strawberry Fair and Strawberry Fair has a remit to promote and enable performance and the arts by local people. Strawberry Shorts supports this remit by providing an international competitive forum for local filmmakers to submit their films to. An entry fee would place a barrier to local film submission and so we don’t have one. And we extend this to our international film submissions as well. The end result of this is that each year we receive a large number of awesome short films from around the world. Often the submitted films are idiosyncratic and strongly personal, brief windows on other worlds and these are the films we like the most.

Anything else you would like to add?
Cambridge Cinema Shorts was formed by the Strawberry Fair Arts Area crew, initially to run the Strawberry Shorts Film Festival. Engagement with the audience during live performance is an natural emergent property of live performance in front of an audience. This is due to the shared humanity of the performer and the audience. However audience engagement during the exhibition of short film is much more problematic. Cambridge Cinema Shorts has spent the last three years running experimental film screenings (its the screenings that are experimental) in a research effort to find a formula for audience engagement during short film screening. Lately we have had some success with this and have great hope for future development.

Strawberry Shorts Film Festival (UK) 04/19/14
short films, any genre, under 20 minutes.
Submit online form, send dvd with permission slip

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