I missed this festival on my doorstep last year when its first outing coincided with other work but I managed a brief visit this time. RATMAFF is the ‘River Aire Ten Minute Amateur Film Festival’, the brainchild of Marcus Gregg, a lecturer at Leeds City College and his students at the college campus actually in Keighley (15 miles from Leeds). For those of you not in West Yorkshire, Keighley’s film-related fame derives from The Railway Children (1970), Yanks (1979) and numerous train-related costume dramas ever since. The festival venue is next door to Keighley Station, terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway seen in many films and TV productions. Keighley’s most famous film figure is Simon Beaufoy writer of The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire. The prizegiving at the festival is in the evening at Keighley’s 1913 Picturehouse.
RATMAFF is an interesting model for anyone thinking about creating a festival. The students seek sponsorship from local firms and they act as unpaid volunteers in staffing the festival operation. The screenings take place in the (high-tec) campus building opened in 2010. Entry to the festival is free and screenings are also free with donations to charitable causes welcomed (Cancer Research UK this year). This year the organisers received 300 entries from all over the world from which they selected the best 70 short films. These were then organised into 10 programmes which ran as ‘looped’ presentations of mp4 files playing from computers all day in separate screening spaces – a viewing experience referred to in the programme as ‘screen surfing’. There were 2 Documentary programmes plus Animation, Art, Comedy, Music, Science Fiction and Drama (3 programmes).
I visited two of the drama programmes watching 13 short films in all. The first point to make is that although the films were made by ‘amateurs’ the 13 films I saw certainly weren’t ‘amateurish’ in presentation – or in script, camerawork, direction, performance etc. Current digital technology allows anyone to think about making a film. Some training, lots of creativity and hard work can then help to deliver a perfectly watchable film. I chose ‘drama’ because I prefer realist dramas to other forms of filmmaking but I might easily have gone into other screenings. My first observation is that there were three films from Spain and one from Mexico in my selection and that the remainder included films from India, Estonia, Germany and the US. The remaining four were from the UK and only one was ‘local’ to West Yorkshire. Without the internet it would have been impossible to programme such a mix of films from disparate places. It was noticeable in my sample that the Hispanic and Indian entries tended to be more ‘political’ in theme than the UK/US entries
The one thing I’m not clear about is whether the awards in the evening are all based on the votes of ordinary viewers. The award for drama went to The Exchange, a genre piece with a twist ending in which a ‘fixer’ provides an unexpected (and not necessarily welcome) solution to a man’s problems. This was an interesting and very well-made example of African-American cinema made in Los Angeles. My personal favourite was Die Reise (The Journey) a delightful film from Angela Schuster in which a small girl makes an imaginary journey on a summer’s day. The film has no dialogue but from what we see it appears to be either set in East Germany in the 1970s or to be an attempt to deal with memories of the period. A bigger budget could improve the sound mixing and possibly the costumes (the child’s shoes?) but really that’s just nit-picking. It’s great as it is (see below).
Special mention also to Fuero by Juama Juarez, an interesting Spanish film addressing the possible outcomes of ‘The Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory’. Watching this made me think about the struggles filmmakers must have to send their films with English subtitles. They might have to rely on friends or Google Translate. The subs on this film weren’t great but the story effectively ‘told’ itself.
Festival director Marcus Gregg wrote in RATMAFF’s brochure that “this is not a festival-goers festival”. It’s a good point. This is a festival for anyone to come in off the street and ‘screen surf’. To try to increase awareness the preceding Saturday saw RATMAFF operating a ‘pop-up’ cinema in Keighley’s Airedale Shopping Centre (one of the festival sponsors). Most of the festival visitors I’m guessing went first to the Comedy, Music and Science Fiction screenings – the latter showing in the college’s ‘Star Room’. The People’s Choice Award at the festival went to Eatbrains by Danny Hardaker from the Science Fiction programme. Next year I’ll try to get to see more of this innovative festival.