Sarah Cooper is a freelance film journalist and Contributing Editor at Screen International Magazine. She is sitting on the jury for the festival’s main short film competition.
When we moved to St Albans from North London back in November, I’ll admit that while I was looking forward to a bit less hustle and bustle, as a film journalist and mum to a 19 month old baby, I was worried that my life was about to become both a cinema and buzz free zone.
Five months later, as I’m working my way through the truly inspiring selection of short films that have been selected for the main competition of the St Albans Film Festival, whilst anticipating the opening of the city’s cool new arthouse cinema The Odyssey, I realise I needn’t have worried.
St Albans can do cinema and buzz with the best of them.
From its opening night screening of Hitchcock’s masterpiece The Birds in the city’s beautiful cathedral to its various topical panel discussions, this year’s St Albans Film Festival programme is bold, quirky and relevant.
In an industry still sadly dominated by male directors, studio executives and storylines, it is refreshing to discover a festival prepared to embrace “birds” in both senses. As well as a panel discussion on the role of women in film and media, this year sees the introduction of an award for the best short film which passes the Bechdel Test, a set of criteria which establishes how gender biased a film is. That’s something you won’t see at traditional festivals like Cannes and Berlin, not least because they know how few films would actually pass the test.
Ok, so it’s unlikely that Shiah LaBeouf will turn up to the festival’s screening of Nymphomaniac complete with paper bag on his head. But then the Berlin Film Festival didn’t have a special screening of Jaws taking place in a swimming pool, or a “how to fight like a superhero” workshop.
This is certainly a festival that knows how to have fun, and with over 500 entries from 35 different countries across its various competition sections, it is also a festival literally bursting with talent.
And given that the event is still young –this is the second year – it seems entirely appropriate that it should be nurturing young filmmaking talent too, through its Childrens’ Short Film Section, which will feature films made by children aged from 5-15 years old, many of whom are from St Albans. Who knows, we might have the next Steve McQueen right here on our doorstep.
As for me, I will try and get to as many events as having a toddler will allow. And if all else fails, I’ve always got the festival’s mother and baby screening of Mamma Mia.