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Fleadh Short Film Programmer Eibh Collins talks with IFTN
13 Jul 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Eibh Collins, Short Film Programmer.
Following the successful delivery of the Galway Film Fleadh’s first digital edition, we spoke with the Fleadh’s Short Film Programmer Eibh Collins to get a better insight into the shortlisting process, the benefits of bringing the short film strand to an online audience, and the future of short film on SVOD platforms.

Eibh Collins is a hugely experienced film programmer and festival manager who has worked extensively on the circuit in Ireland and abroad. She began working with Ireland’s Leading Film Festival the Galway Film Fleadh in 2010. After working in Film, Fringe, Live Arts, LGBT, and Documentary film festivals domestically, Eibh began working at International Irish Film Festivals across Europe and the US.

In 2013, she became the manager at both Irish Film London and IndieCork Festival, the latter from its inception through to 2018. In 2016 Collins began programming short film internationally and touring her curated selection of Irish shorts programmes; showcasing the wealth in Irish film making talents across the world in Malta, Moscow, Luxembourg, London, and LA.

Collins is currently the short film programmer for the Oscar-qualifying Galway Film Fleadh, the Head of Programming at Kerry Film Festival, and is currently the Deputy Director of Irish Screen America, while having also curated several international programmes and events for a number of festivals including Torino Film Market in Turin, Italy. 

What sort of short films do you look out for when curating a shorts programme for the Fleadh? 

“Firstly, all our shorts come from submission, with the only exception being the Screen Ireland’s World Premiere Slate programme. So, the process for Irish shorts starts on a very simple level and I watch everything to see what is interesting and entertaining; from here around 30% of the films are marked; then I watch them again, and of those, 20% are cut for various reasons. It is usually that they don’t fit our T&C’s or it is a gut reaction about the narrative or skill set - usually meaning skill level can’t handle the topic, that it doesn't do the topic justice, or the narrative has been done to death.

“The films then go out to our viewers and they give their opinions; the films that get two or more yeses move onto the next stage. I then watch the films again but from a programming headspace: thinking what works with what, what do I want the audience to take from each programme, where is our new talent, new voices, new perspectives or new narrative coming from? What clashes or is too similar (repetitive point of view or narratives, actors, location) and needs to be separated or cut.

“From there it is like a jigsaw; to build each programme with the journey of the audience always in mind. Once I settle on the first draft of a programme, I then re-watch them in this running order to see what the viewing experience as a whole feels like and from here swap a few or cut and add a few. A film can make it to this final selection but it didn't suit the rhythm of the programme, sometimes that is very hard to relay to filmmakers as they want a clear cut reason and sometimes it just doesn't fit or it's odd but there is a tempo to a good viewing experience and you know it when you see it; it is trial and error. We don’t always get it right but we try.”

“So I never start the viewing with anything but an open mind, you can’t go in looking for a type of film or theme, as I think you aren’t really listening to what the filmmakers are trying to say or make in that case. The process is similar for the world shorts but I also try to be as daring and quirky as possible here, so Irish filmmakers attending the festival can see some more off-beat work as the Irish Submission tends to be very structured and classic in narrative and progression. So I try to have a bit more fun or variety with international selection. 

“You will find most festivals have a ‘taste’ in shorts, and we are relatively new to the international shorts game so we are only growing that taste but originality, narrative, and skill always win out but I have a special spot for the unconventional.”

2020 marks the first time in the festival’s 32 year history that this year’s edition of the Fleadh takes place entirely online. How has this changed things for you as Short Programmer?

“So I had not even started to watch the shorts before we made the call to go online. I didn’t want to start until I knew who and where the audience would be. So when Miriam made the call to go online, she explained how this was a big opportunity for shorts as it will open up a whole new audience to short films. And she was right!

“With this in mind, I tried to keep the programmes a bit softer than normal, keeping to the same high-quality but also being aware that we wouldn't have the communal experience of dramatic tension or fear that spreads so nicely in an auditorium (plus the real world was scary enough without adding to that). So instead we wanted to keep the films a bit more uplifting, not necessarily comedic but brighter; be it in narrative, cinematography, or simply the light and sound design to make sure there was air to each of the programmes. Now sure, there are always some darker films in there but overall I think they are just a touch lighter than normal, particularly when it comes to sound and music this year.

“We also had fewer programmes so we had to be even tighter on selection, which was very hard as the standard of submission this year was very high. There were many films I would have loved to screen but they just didn’t work for this year. We also made the programmes a bit shorter, as I think it is a bigger task to ask the audience to sit on their sofas for 100min than it is for a cinema.

“Same can be said for film length, I was aware when testing the programmes it is harder to ask a new audience or a sofa audience to watch dramatically different duration in one programme. We are used to short content like, TV, or TikTok from our sofas, but there is an unconscious discomfort that happens when you go from a three-minute film to a 23-minute film and back again. Due to this, all the programmes build in length or pace so as not to mess with viewer's headspace too much. So there were certainly a lot of new challenges to tailor the programmes for an online audience.” 

What was involved in bringing these programmes to an online platform?

“A hell of a lot of Wi-Fi, I can only speak for the Fleadh and not the Film Fair, as they are their own beast, but overall it took a lot of thinking outside the box, communication, and long zooms & phone calls with our head tech, Barbara Nic Dhonnacha who acted as our tech talk translator.

It was a mammoth task. We were all flung into a totally new world overnight but I don't think anyone had the chance to be nervous, worried, or even think about it; we had to dive deep and fast. We all love the Fleadh and in no uncertain terms, Miriam was saving our jobs so we all rallied, got our hands dirty, and didn't think twice!”

“I must say, it helped that we did it right, in terms of, what we wanted was the best for our filmmakers and audience, so Miriam pulled together the best people she could find from each field we were lacking in or not knowledgeable enough in and they, in turn, stepped up. She didn’t take any shortcuts or take the easy route. She made sure that we as a team were fully supported by the best professionals out there, and that we in turn could make it the best and smoothest online festival possible; I think the platform and programme have been a testament to that.”

What software considerations were made to optimise the user experience for this year’s online edition?

“The goal was for it to be easy for the user. We have a youthful tech-savvy audience but we knew we would be bringing a new audience online too; one that had been attending the Fleadh for 31yrs and wasn’t going to stop now. So making it clean and clear for them as a user was important. The festival website was stripped back; the platform was designed to be simple and clear. We were conscious that this was the ‘physical brochure’ for this year so it needed to be neat and informational. I also worked hard to build all 80 film/filmmakers, and programme their own profile page, so that they each had something that was all theirs; that they could be proud of and share. It was an exhausting job, but it was very important to me that they each had their own space and page.

“Before the call to go online was made, Miriam, Barbara, and the team did a lot of research on the best software, attended webinars on ‘Getting your Festival online’, and they spoke to other international festivals so they could make an informed decision. From here we researched the FAQ, complaints or issues other online festivals/streaming services had and we tried to make sure we had any issues or red flags ironed out in advance of the launch. Now we still have had a few tech or layout issues over the past few days, but we had a great informed team behind us ready to help at all hours.”

How has moving the short programme to online actually benefitted short filmmakers?

“Honestly I have been blown away by the response they are getting this year. We have a whole new audience who wouldn’t have made it to a Wednesday 10 am programme in the THT or didn't even know that shorts were of this high quality and now they are hooked; watching shorts daily as part of their own Fleadh schedule. I hope this love and support of short films will stick.

“We also have filmmakers getting to catch up on each other’s work whenever suits them, I even know of a lot of diehard short film fans who have every programme booked and they are saving them for shorts marathons at the weekend, when before they would have only made it to one of two over the physical Fleadh weekend.  

“I've also seen people online raving about a programme or film and then (thanks to our platform) I can then see people going back to said past programme and renting and watching it just from the feedback on socials. 

“I think they are having the support, wide audience, and attention across the board that they haven’t received before. It is so heart-warming and exciting to watch. No doubt the filmmakers miss the networking and relationship building (and pints together), as I know I do, but I think and hope that the time/love we put into the platform coupled with the reception they are all getting online is somewhat making up for that.”

Currently, major SVOD platforms don’t offer a designated ‘short film section’ on their platforms. Do you think this is an avenue that could be explored in the future?

“Oh man, a girl can dream! The number one question I get after a screening is, ‘That film/programme was great, how I can see it again or show it to a friend’, and for Irish shorts, I never have a good answer. As all we can do is wait to see if RTE short screen picks them up and they are on the RTE Player or hopefully the filmmakers or funders make the film available online but this is usually after 3 years after the premiere and even then it takes a lot of work to get eyes on the film.

“For international film, it is a bit different, the big ones can be picked up by platforms like Short Of the Week or Vimeo Staff pick or even publication like New York Times online, as some of the more successful Irish shorts have had been this lucky but it takes so much work and time, which a lot of double jobbing short filmmakers don’t have. I am always so gutted when I see the amazing start to a films festival journey but not see it celebrated any further, the Fleadh and I try hard to support the independent Irish films on the international short film circuit, but I think if Irish shorts had a VOD home just for them it would be a great success for filmmakers and audiences. I think this year’s Fleadh proves that there is an industry and ‘general’ appetite for short films.”

Click here to find out more about the Galway Film Fleadh 2020 Short Film Programme.

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