Interview with Antenna International Film Festival Co-Director, Rich Welch
This is the 7th Antenna festival. You’ve built a reputation for screening challenging films that don’t shy away from controversial topics. With that in mind how do you go about putting together the program?
Antenna is about promoting creative cinematic documentaries to Australian audiences, so when programming the festival, we have to consider many things. Overall, whilst it’s important for the films to stand alone individually, they must also sit as a collective in the program, reflecting the most pressing and urgent issues that reflect upon the world we live in. If I am honest, I don’t see it as ‘controversial’ topics necessarily, as I believe it’s healthy and important for society to discuss any topic. Having said that, something we do look for when programming - especially with films that explore sensitive issues - is that the films add something to the existing conversation. Whilst, yes, some of the films we screen can be challenging, they can also inspire too. Films like Mr Gay Syria and City of Ghosts are both about incredibly difficult subjects, yet what stayed with me most is the people we see in these films - in City of Ghosts for example we learn of the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) who risk their lives to capture the destruction of their home by ISIS. Watching the film, I was moved by the atrocities they faced, but also inspired by these brave individuals fighting back with nothing more than cameras.
How many submissions did you have this year and what qualities do you look for when sifting through 1,000 submissions?
This year has once again seen the number of submissions increase with over a thousand submissions, from which we selected the final 50 films in the program, and so the process gets more competitive each year. In terms of what qualities we look for, it’s difficult to say as often it’s something you feel when watching a film. I suppose the quality we are looking for most is surprise. To not know where a film is going; to learn about something I didn’t yet know or being made to think again about something I thought I did. These are perhaps the qualities we look for most watching programming.
This year’s program includes a strong Australian contingent. Can you tell us a bit about it?
This year we are really excited to have 21 Australian films screening at the festival which shows the depth of talent that exists here. As well as five films screening in competition, we have acclaimed filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s latest film, The Silent Eye, screening in our Art Docs strand, and ‘Paper Trails’, a poignant film about the iconic Australian journalist Anne Deveson. We also have 14 Australian shorts screening at the festival, which celebrate the best emerging talent Australia has to offer. All of the Australian screenings will include Q&A’s with the filmmakers, which gives audiences a unique opportunity to find out more about these great films and the stories behind them.
Have you been noticing any particular trends in the local industry?
This year, a number of the Australian films screening at the festival have come through the Screen Australia Producer Equity Program (PEP) scheme, which enables producers to access 20 per cent of the approved budget. As funding becomes ever-more challenging for filmmakers, alternative funding schemes such as PEP become crucial in enabling great films to get up and running.
And what trends have you noticed in the last year in the documentary field internationally?
For a long-time now there has been talk of it being a so-called golden-era for documentaries, with the growth in film festivals and various on-demand platforms. And whilst in one sense this is true, the reality is that it’s still incredibly difficult for filmmakers to get their projects up and running. We’re all aware how the landscape has changed quickly over the last few years - and whilst these new aren’t without their challenges - such pathways for local emerging talent - I am optimistic that many have recently started commissioning original content. Hopefully in the longer term this will open up potential new avenues of funding, and greater screen content for audiences.
This year DocTalk returns with an impressive line-up. Can you tell us a bit about the program/speakers?
DocTalk is Antenna’s industry seminar where we bring leading local, national and international industry figures together for a day of talks, masterclasses and networking events. The event aims to help local filmmakers forge crucial international connections with festival programmers, distributors and filmmakers. DocTalk is also a great space for emerging talent to come and learn from the very best and expand their own industry networks.
International guests at DocTalk this year include Luke W Moody, the new Director of Programming at Sheffield DocFest - one of the world’s leading documentary film festivals - this year DocFest included 182 documentary films and 10 competitions in total. Independent filmmaker and founder of Feedback loop, Iyabo is also a guest at DocTalk and will draw from her extensive experience to share valuable strategies for filmmakers to achieve greater success with their projects. Locally, we’ve one of Australia’s most acclaimed director, Amiel Courtin-Wilson, giving a masterclass on his latest film, discussing his methods.
As the festival grows, do you see it expanding beyond Sydney?
Every year the festival continues to grow and this year is no different, with more venues than ever before. We are again collaborating with Western Sydney University, with a special media day for their students. Dedicated to documentary, the day will include sessions from international and local guests, along with film screenings, which provides a unique experience for emerging filmmakers. Longer term, we are passionate about extending the reach of the festival and so hope to expand beyond Sydney in the future.
What purpose do you want the festival to hold for filmmakers and filmgoers?
With 50 films over six days, numerous Q&As, Antenna DocTalk and many other special events, the festival acts as hub for the local, national and international documentary community to come together. For established and emerging filmmakers alike, the festival offers a unique opportunity to expand their networks and potential for new collaborations. For filmgoers, the festival provides a crucial space for ideas, debates and discussion surrounding documentary cinema and the wider world it seeks to reflect.
Can you pick one documentary that has captured your imagination this year and tell us why?
From the makers of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Brimstone & Glory, is a film that has to be seen on the big screen. Charting the annual National Pyrotechnics Festival in Mexico - which has grown to become a spectacle of fireworks - the film immerses us into this crazy wonderful extravaganza allowing us to gaze up in awe as if we were there ourselves. Visually breathtaking, the film explores notions of identity and culture in a deeply profound and moving way. A must!
Antenna Film Festival
Antenna, Australia’s Documentary Film Festival, takes place every October in Sydney, screening the very best in non-fiction films from Australia and around the world. The festival also includes Antenna DocTalk – our one-day industry seminar series, retrospective programs, international guests and gala events. Check it out now: http://antennafestival.org