Started several years ago over a few backyards in Chippendale, Chippo Film Fest has expanded more than any of its founders expected to the point of international entries from Armenia and the USA. I caught up with one of the founders, Eryk Bagshaw ,to discuss what it’s like running an independent film festival in Sydney; the democratisation of the industry, shifting barriers of production, the importance of spontaneity in festivals, and the difficulties in running a more regular event. With all donations to the festival this year going to the Redfern Foundation, Chippo Film Fest – happening May 31st – is a must for lovers of independent film.
Jeremy Elphick (J): How did the festival get started?
Eryk Bagshaw (E): Well, it sort of started over a summer two years ago where a lot of us were in a break from uni and kind of getting sick and tired of doing essays all the time, and wanted a more creative outlet. So yeah, a group of friends kind of got together and basically decided that a really good thing to do would be to check a date and try and make some films for it and the response was pretty overwhelming.
J: Did you ever expect it to take off in the way it has?
E: No, I mean we never expected – I mean, it’s still kind of true to its roots in that its still a very local and relatively small festival. But, I guess, people are always looking for something fun to do and an excuse to get out there and make something creative. I think we knew we tapped into that sort of feeling that people are talented and have a message out there through whatever medium. So yeah, it was unexpected but I think we knew we were onto a good thing.
J: Has film always been a key interest in your life or have you moved there more recently?
E: When I was a kid yeah, absolutely; I had many a dream of being a director and so on. But the sort of thing with this is, most of us – I mean, there’s a couple who are in the festival who I would say are full time filmmakers – have other passions and other hobbies that keep us going and film is just something really enjoy making, doing and sharing.
J: Do you feel that with Kinema closing in the last year, and a lot of other screening institutions faltering, do you feel running the Chippo Film Fest as a yearly festival rather than on a more regular basis allows it to continue to thrive in a fairly volatile atmosphere for Sydney film spaces?
E: Absolutely, as I said, most of us have other commitments, so for us it wasn’t feasible for us to put the time in for a regular thing. I mean, there was a time last year where we were doing weekly Game of Thrones screenings in the backyard and that drew a crowd occasionally, but we didn’t want to make it any more regular than that. The festival is really about a sense of occasion; we roll out the red carpet, we hired a limo last year to just sit out the back – and people coming to to festival last year would get in one end of the limo and get out the other, onto the red carpet – there’s a bit of hype, there’s a bit of excitement and it builds up. It also means that people end up submitting high quality films. Because it’s not really about showcasing feature films or art house cinema, it’s about showcasing the talents of a creative community, having a regular thing would make the time pressures too large. For now, once a year, or twice a year, maybe, is probably right for us.
J: Looking at what you’re working with – primarily short films, as you said, made by a “creative community” – what do you feel is special about this sort of atmosphere of filmmaking that has continued to draw you back for the last few years?
E: It’s collaborative, it inspires people to work together, people make connections. So every festival you might meet someone who’s say a great animator and you for your next film – whether it’s for Chippo or whether it’s for something else – you’ve got that contact there who you can collaborate and work with. That’s kind of the process of kind of incubating creativity and kind of nursing it so people end up making genuinely good stuff. That’s fostered by bringing people together a couple of times a year and seeing what other people have come up with. The other thing is: if the concept is good, that’s one of the key things – a lot of people don’t have the resources to produce 35mm looking film. We’re about sort of exploring ideas; exploring uncomfortable topics, with whatever filming resources you have – that could be a GoPro for all we care. It’s a matter of kind opening up – as wanky as it sounds – kind of democratising the process of filmmaking – because we can now. Barriers of production have come down and you can produce some pretty remarkable looking films from a 7D with a 50mm lens and that’s a wonderful thing. People who previously would never have had access to the means of production all of a sudden are realising “I can tell this story through a visual medium” – that sort of thing is kind of the idea of it all.
This year actually has had a few international entries as well – we’ve got a really great one from Armenia, which is super cool. It’s actually quite violent and full of action, it’s definitely obscure. Another one from Thailand, a couple from the States; so it’s kind of expanding in that sense. We’re trying to keep it local but we’ll definitely show a few international features throughout as well; a balance.
J: Do you have any kind of selection process once everything gets submitted – are there things that wont get screened just because of time constraints – and if so, do you have anything you look for?
E: We try to be as generous as possible – and in first year we literally screened everything entered into the festival. This year we kind of need to have a bit of selection, and if stuff is just outright offensive and doesn’t really contribute anything to anything then we probably won’t screen it – but we try to keep the selection criteria as minimal as possible so that anything that’s remotely worthy of a screening is worth a shot. One man’s art is another man’s trash; we want people to be able to make of them what they will.
J: On this years festival which is on the 31st of May – what’s in store that makes it different from previous years and what are you most excited about?
E: Here’s an exclusive for you. Last year we had the limo, we always try and do a little thing that’s a bit kind of out there, but this year I guess we’re kind of getting into maybe… the corporate side of things, where we’ve managed to line-up a food truck from Tsuru. It does contemporary Asian food; as one of City of Sydney food trucks and will be hanging around the red carpet from 5. The red carpet we got is obscenely long it’s like 25m by 20, it’s so over the top – that’s just a bit of scale but it’s not particularly excited. What else? Bigger and better red carpet photography, and people get excited about that stuff. Most importantly, the films. This year they are getting better and better. People are submitting really good stuff. Hopefully people will have a few laughs and a few drinks and then we’ll head to an after party probably down at Marly Bar.
J: I guess to wrap things up, what are your future ambitions for the project? Do you always want to keep it in Chippendale to be true to its name and it’s history or do have a view for how you want it to progress in the future?
E: There’s a bit of a dilemma there where we would like to go into a larger venue but retain it’s local character. Part of the fun of it is there it’s literally across a few backyards in a lane way. It’s pretty unusual in that sense; kind of secluded in it’s little pocket. Something like Carriageworks would be amazing if we could the ball rolling there. I think it’s a few years away before we let go of the really spontaneous feel to it. If you start overproducing a festival, all of a sudden you’ve got all these resources to deal with and sometimes the festival can lose itself a bit in that. It’s a matter of balance. But yeah, one day I’d like to see it reach a wider audience because I think everyone wants to see good local film.