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Exclusive Interview: Kevin McDonagh, director of The Birmingham Film Festival

We here at Filmotomy were lucky to get a chance to speak to Kevin McDonagh, the director the Birmingham Film Festival and as you now we love film festivals especially those festivals who campaign independent cinema. Being born and bred in the West Midlands of the UK, the Birmingham film festival feels extra special to me, as it celebrates homegrown film in that region. Kevin took the time to answer some of questions by email, so without further ado please find our interview below. Enjoy!

Bee Garner: Could you give us a brief introduction to the festival? What is it about and when does it take place?

Kevin McDonagh: The Birmingham Film Festival is an annual event held Each November in Birmingham. It’s an international Film Festival competition which screens shorts, features, documentaries and music videos from around the world. The BFF culminates with an awards gala at which the awards are handed out to the winners of several categories, not just best short, best feature, best documentary etc but also technical achievements such as hair & make and cinematography as well as best young Filmmaker, best international film and of course best local film. We also have a festival Grand Prize the BFF Bull award given in honour of our patron Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders creators).

BG: How many festivals have there been prior to this year’s?

K: 20th to the 25th of November at Millennium Point in their amazing 350 seater theatre. It’s an amazing venue and we’re so pleased to call this stunning Birmingham landmark our home.
 This year will be the third festival, our first being in 2016 following nearly 12 months of work that was undertaken in order to give Birmingham a film festival once again.

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BG: How did the festival come to be?

K: It came about due to the need for the local film community, primarily our own. I had recently just finished directing a feature film (which was produced by my fellow festival Director Dean Williams) and as we weighed up our options for a release we were quite frustrated by the fact that we didn’t have a festival in our own city to showcase it, so we set about setting one up. Initially we thought that perhaps there was a reason why Birmingham had lacked an international film festival for so long but as we worked on it more and more we found nothing but support and enthusiasm from other filmmakers and the community.

BG: What makes the Birmingham Film Festival so different from other festivals?

K: We pride ourselves on making the festival as accessible as possible to filmmakers of every level of experience. We keep submission prices low, well aware that by the time most filmmakers have finished their films, they have very little money left. We also focus our event to be an opportunity creator, giving people chance to network and meet other industry members. We want to make the BFF a gateway to industry for students and first time filmmakers as well as beacon for the city as top level film making destination.

BG: What has been your favourite film (or films) that you have screened at the festival? And has there been any submissions that surprised you?

K: I could list so many films that we’ve enjoyed and really were something special, the winner of the Bull award in 2016 was “Beverly” directed by Alexander Thomas. It was a stunning pieces in the 1980’s with an amazing cast which has won awards all over the world. Dean enjoyed “The 7th Day” by Lee Page, for such a low budget, how he edited an episodic project to a short film for the festival was a real surprise. It worked extremely well and was one of the stand out films.

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BG: How do you select which films to screen,  and what’s the process behind organising screenings?

K:The organisation is a huge task. Fitting in so many films as well as ensuring there’s time to hold Q&As as well a the most important thing, chatting in the bar. But the selection prior to that is a huge task, We have a panel team made up of script writers, producer, directors and even critics who watch all the films and help us generate a short list of films for each category.

The nominees make up the majority of our screening program ensuring the audiences have a chance to see every film that’s up for an award.
Those films are presented to the judge for each category to select the winner. We will be announcing the judging panel soon but previous judges have included BBC producers, BAFATA winning producers and even Martial Arts world champions (which comes in handy when judging the Best Stunt).

We also have a screenwriting award, which allows scripts to be submitted which we didn’t know would be a success or not but previous winners have gone to have great success (which sadly I’m not a liberty to give details about). That’s not to say their success has anything to do with us, but we do like to think we we’re at least involved in their journey.

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BG: How do film-makers submit a film?

K: Submission to the festival is mainly via FilmFreeway which is a great platform for filmmakers and for festival hosts as it allows for great communication between both parties making our job easier and also enjoyable, which running the festival definitely is. It really is a privilege to get to see so many amazing films, we often joke that we’ve been able to cancel our Netflix account as we have so much great content to watch.

BG: How do people get involved in helping out at the festival?

K: If people wish to get involved they can get in touch directly with us via info@bhamfilmfest.co.uk or through the website www.bhamfilmfest.co.uk

BG: And lastly, what can we expected from this year’s event?

K: This year people can expect an even better event, with more of the things that have made the last two years such great events. We have a duty now as the festival which bears our city’s name to be the best event we can possibly be. So there will be lots of great films, greta people to meet and opportunities to meet other members of the industry as always. This year however also sees the addition of our Event’s Program which will be announced very soon, offering workshops, Q&As, talks, seminars and other networking events throughout the festival.
Make sure you check out the festival, their website is here www.bhamfilmfest.co.uk and you can follow them on Twitter @BHAMFILMFEST

Thank you to Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions and we wish him good luck with this year’s event!

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