Between the cracks of the cobbled streets of an ancient city filled to the brim with astounding architecture and natural beauty rang a buzz of creative minds conversing, supporting and critiquing, as the Aesthetica Short Film Festival rolled into York, UK to present 5 days of film, masterclasses and festivities to filmmakers from all corners of the globe. Set across 18 venues that ranged from modern lecture hall facilities at York St. John University to the prestigious and newly renovated Theatre Royal, from the bar-turned-luxury-cinema 1331 to the historic Yorkshire Museum situated in the city’s most beautiful gardens (complete with ancient ruins) ASFF 2017 was more than a simple film festival, it was an artistic experience.
This feeling can largely be attributed to how the festival was meticulously prepared from the selection, categorisation and ordering of films, to the masterclass presenters and venues, through to the social gatherings set-up to connect filmmakers with one another as well as with press and audience members. ASFF, which was founded in York and has been a part of the City’s annual tradition since 2011, presented its marriage to the city in a seamless manner that allowed for exploration between screenings and the encountering of a hidden gem or two at the screening destinations themselves, creating a sense of adventure that encouraged festival goers to get in amongst the beautiful and historic city while appreciating the high quality of art that was on offer at the festival itself.
I was privileged enough to be invited to the festival by Aesthetica, and I was happily greeted with the same warm and polite demeanour that I had become accustomed to in written communication with the organisers. Never did their collective effort to remain calm, softly spoken and easy to talk to seem to waver in the midst of what must have been a stressful period, and their generally warm communication before and after screenings, as well as during community events, spoke volumes of the crew at the centre of the event and all of those involved. Their collective efforts, both in advance of and during the festival, created a calm and relaxing atmosphere of artistic communication and overall pleasantness that helped to make ASFF one of the friendliest and most respectable festivals on the circuit.
It seems the filmmakers agreed, with a number of screenwriters, directors and producers strongly communicating their adoration of the city’s historical beauty and the way the festival had worked to immerse them within its ancient walls. Many told our attending team members of how they had never been to the city but found it mesmerising, even in the midst of some of the busiest days they had encountered in quite some time. The artists were looked after, too, receiving information booklets in correspondence to their attendance and being directed towards press and other events that could be beneficial to themselves and their work.
There were some issues regarding the cinematic presentation of the actual films however, and this was the one bugbear the festival had. A screening on day 4, for example, was delayed due to technical issues that were poorly communicated to the awaiting audience and seemingly the result of poor on-the-day preparation, an event which frustrated the attending filmmakers and portions of the paying public, especially as it ran into the time of another showing. Similarly, one of the venues seemed to have a much poorer presentation quality than the others, presenting films on a screen with visible marks and dull streaks that distorted the quality of the overall presentation within an already crammed environment, making the viewing experience fall somewhat short of that at the pristine destinations elsewhere at the festival. These were, however, two hiccups in a much larger operation involving 18 locations and 300 films, the majority of which were ran to the highest quality and were clearly handled with the utmost care.
Somewhat incredibly, the biggest issue of the festival itself was just how many films there were that the TFM crew could not find the time to see. Even when attending for 9+ hours per day over the course of 5 days, it seemed impossible to see everything. It’s both a gift and a curse, as no filmmaker, audience member, or self-respecting journalist wants to miss out on the best films, but to have such an array of choice in an abundance of carefully calculated categories was an absolute pleasure. There truly was something for everyone, and no two screenings – even within the same category – ever felt the same, owing much to the construction of the screenings themselves but also to the sensational work on offer at the festival.
As is the case with any film festival, so much of its success comes from the work it presents, and in the case of ASFF, the work was outstanding. Top to bottom, wall to wall, the selections we were able to catch were filled with personal, artistic, challenging and creative work, the likes of which I’m sure we’d all love to help find more prominence in mainstream cinema. These were pieces of great personal worth, often telling stories we don’t get to see in the big multiplexes, highlighting issues that many are afraid to highlight. We’ll have a list of our 10 ASFF picks on site this week [bookmark us], as well as interviews with a number of filmmakers we sat down with at the festival itself and more, but the lasting impression ASFF gave us is this: film and art as communities are inspirational, motivating, uplifting and inclusive, but they’re also fragile, and it’s through great work from the likes of Aesthetica Short Film Festival that the communities are able to thrive and grow in a relaxed and nonthreatening atmosphere, making events as well constructed and organised as this a must-attend on the calendar for film fans, artists and creators alike.