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Aesthetica Short Film Festival just rounded up its four day run of short film screenings, masterclasses and awards ceremonies in the quaint city of York in the United Kingdom, and as a cinephile with an affinity for culture, architecture and communal art appreciation, I really don’t think that I could have had a more fun and enlightening experience.
Intertwining the cobbled streets and historical landmarks of one of the UK’s most beautiful cities were screens set up in private cinemas, university lecture halls, churches, theatres, museums and bars. This gave ASFF an intimacy quite unlike many other film festivals and helped to truly create the impression that ASFF and the city of York were each out to support one another. In many ways ASFF was the centrepiece of the city’s presentation this weekend, which is quite the remarkable feat given how the city is filled with undeniably charismatic attractions such as its near 1400 year old Minster. Film truly was the dish of the day between Thursday and Sunday, and Aesthetica certainly delivered a tasty meal.
ASFF 2016 was a success so far as organisation was concerned. A detailed (and free) programme was the perfect guide to the intricate layout of its historical location and the 18 venues that were dotted around it, and clear signposts were placed in useful locations to reassure visitors that they were on the right path. Each of the hosting locations were within walking distance of any of the others, which created a great city-wide atmosphere of people exploring the streets in search of the next thought provoking piece of art they could find. This organisational technique created the all important ‘sense of community’ that any good festival (of any kind) must have, and also invited the art and culture of the host city into focus during thoughtful journeys between screenings. Perhaps just as importantly with regard to the communal aspects of the festival and the success of the organisation was the friendly, polite and respectful attitude and presence of the festival’s staff, a number of whom were volunteers. Their presence was at all times welcoming and helpful, and their respect for the films and filmmakers was apparent via their management of late comers of whom they sneaked in with suggestions on where to sit and how to least disrupt the screening in progress. From top to bottom, ASFF seemed to understand and appreciate film, filmmakers, and film fans, and it shone through in their general management and organisation of the festival.
Aesthetica Short Film Festival is, of course, nothing without the films which they present. In 2016, ASFF had an incredible 400 plus films showing across its four days, meaning that even the most avid and dedicated film watcher was unlikely to catch everything. Even so, it offered an outstanding variety that was cleverly organised into themed screenings such as: music videos, fashion, experimental film, documentary film. These screenings were typically 90 minutes in length – the length of your average feature length – but screened between 5 and 10 different shorts at any one time. This was, at least in this film-lover’s opinion, a perfect amount of time to dedicate to any one sitting. Rarely, if ever, did I see people leave before the end, and when they did it was easy to presume that they were doing so simply to make it elsewhere before another screening started as opposed to their reason being their dislike of the film being screened. Similarly, there were rarely any disturbances in terms of noise from audience members and so on. In fact, on the one occasion in which there was a disturbance, a rather abrupt yet polite “if you want to talk go outside, this is a film festival” was assertively forced towards the culprits by someone nearby, summarising the respectful attitudes of those in attendance and the overall pleasant atmosphere of the festival itself.
Film was of course the focus, and among audience members and film crews was a mutual respect for some of the most creative and fascinating work you’re likely to see. In this way, ASFF was reassuring of the sort of art that we, as humans, are capable of, as well as being reassuring in terms of how the film industry can remain creative and artistic when so much of the mainstream is nothing short of nonsense. Personally, I used the festival as an opportunity to search out new things and thus experienced some screenings that were outside of my comfort zone, like ‘fashion screenings’. What I came away with was an overwhelming appreciation that when film is art, the art is to be appreciated. Indeed, some of the best work I saw at the festival was presented in the screenings I would have previously associated less with the type of work I’d usually enjoy. Interestingly, the same filmmakers that had wowed audiences in screenings across the city throughout the weekend were also present for masterclasses and social gatherings organised by ASFF that were undoubtedly a success judging by the amount of mutual respect shown between the filmmakers on social networking sites. This is, of course, an important aspect of any festival for filmmakers and fans, for the simplicity of human interaction is often the birthplace for such wondrous artwork and can be used as inspiration to many.
Clearly then, from top to bottom there were talented people presenting some incredible work that became the backbone of the festival’s success and ultimately made for the most enjoyable of weekends. Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2016 was able to tap into the city of York’s art and culture, its huge arts students audience (based across two distinguished universities), its prime location on the travel map of the UK, and their own clear respect and appreciation of filmmakers and filmmaking to present and organise an incredible festival in every aspect from attendance to location, the films shown to their filmmakers’ integration.
Take it from me: if you didn’t attend in 2016, you’re not going to want to miss it in 2017.