Youth Film Festivals: Celebrating young filmmakers

By Film Hub Wales

Dan Thomas at YCN in Hanover...

Back in the Summer Film Hub Wales commissioned me to do some research into youth film festivals. You may, or may not know, that we have a number of them here in Wales (Zoom, Pics, Ffilmic to name but three) and there are many more around the UK. Although Youth Festival provision is something that’s grown over the last 10 years here, festivals such as Cinemagic in Belfast have been running considerably longer.

Over in Europe however they’ve been running youth film festivals for decades. Zlin in the Czech Republic for example will be in its 56th year in 2016. There are a plethora of festivals across Europe (it’s taking some time to map them all!) and they all vary in scope, size and ambition. In terms of USP they can be split into two distinct categories. Some festivals screen features from all over the world made specifically for young people. Others celebrate the films made by young people, and there are a lot of them.

I recently visited the Up and Coming Festival in Hannover, which fits into the latter category. Now in its 13th year this international festival has more than 3000 entries from 57 countries. Out of that they chose 81 films from 33 countries for their international competition program. I wasn’t just there for the festival however. A committed and passionate group of festival managers from all over Europe have formed a network to not only promote the work they do, but more importantly to promote and advocate the work of young filmmakers. The Youth Cinema Network (YCN) comes together across the year to share their festivals and ideas, and generally support each other in their collective aims and objectives. I spent two days with the YCN in Hannover interviewing some of the members about their festivals and the sorts of challenges and barriers they face. What struck me was that they are the same challenges and barriers no matter where in Europe they were from – Croatia, Slovenia, Norway – all were incredibly tireless in what they do yet are battling constantly against the lack of funding and support. They also struggle to attract the typical cinema and festival audience which suggests there is a perception around films made by young people that perhaps they are not of sufficient quality to go and watch. It couldn’t be more different.

But the show must go on and they do what they do on limited resources because they recognise the value and the opportunities these types of festivals give to young people. Most of the festival directors have other jobs to make a living.  Sanja, who runs Four Rivers Festival in Croatia, sells yoghurt and her colleague Lea works in a shoe store. They have to take vacations to develop and run their programme. Yet without Four Rivers where would the numerous great films made by 14-20 yr. olds, the diverse workshops, the roundtables, fieldtrips, and music concerts for youth actually happen in Croatia? It’s about giving young people a voice and a chance to work in an industry they clearly enjoy. Many of the festivals cited examples of young people they’ve worked with who’ve gone on to make features.

At the YCN meeting I attended we discussed some pretty terrific ideas about how to raise the profile of the work of young filmmakers around the world. We need to smash through the negative perception that says films made by young people aren’t worth our time. We go to youth choir concerts and we watch Young Musician of the Year competitions, so why not celebrate young filmmakers?

I think most of the ideas will happen simply because there is a will and a collective desire around that table to advocate and work on behalf of those they work with.  The good news for Wales is a new festival is currently being developed in Prestatyn. Wicked:16 has been born out of the YCN and will offer young filmmakers in Wales and further afield the chance to come together and show their films. After all, if we can’t support young talent, how does the film industry survive?

Four Rivers Festival: http://www.hfs.hr/hfs/festivali_782/Default_e.aspx#.VlcPBvnhDIV

The YCN webpage can be found here: http://www.youthcinema.com/index.html