Filmmaking is an art like no other – storytelling in visual motion, it has its own language, rules and nuances. The challenge to tell a compelling story is heightened in short film, so we were delighted that this year’s Nikon European Film Festival drew an exceptional standard of entries with its maximum film duration of 140 seconds.
Now in its second year, #NikonFF offered an opportunity for filmmakers around Europe to come together to compete in five prize categories, including the ultimate Grand Prix award: winning a Nikon D810 film kit and an all-expenses paid trip to the Cannes Film Festival.
The call for submissions went out in October 2015, introducing this year’s theme of ‘Everyday Moments’. Entrants were challenged to make an everyday moment memorable, reflecting on daily life from a different perspective. The open style of the theme allowed filmmakers to pick any mundane moment and reinterpret it in their own unique voice, inspiring them to express their creativity in the most commonplace aspects of life. Eligible films were required to have a duration of 30-140 seconds, be shot in HD, and be recorded in English or have English language subtitles.
Prizes were spread over four jury-voted categories: Grand Prix, Best Narrative, Technical Excellence and Best Student Entry, plus there was a publicly-voted People’s Choice award.
By the time submissions closed at the end of January, more than 550 films had been entered into the festival from 40 countries across Europe – an increase of more than 250 submissions from the previous year. Poland, Great Britain and Italy all vied for the title of the country with the most entries, with Sweden, Greece, Germany, Spain, France, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine and the Russian Federation also showing significant numbers of submissions. Entries came from as far afield as Armenia, Latvia and Cyprus. With no restriction on genre, filmmakers found ways to reflect everyday moments as comedies, drama, horror, action, and even animation.
The job of whittling down the 550 festival entries to a shortlist of only 55 fell to a dedicated Nikon team who spent several days viewing every entry in preparation for the jury to view them at a judging day at the British Film Institute in London in March. It was a tough job to select the best entries, as the submissions showed an exceptional quality of filmmaking that went on to impress the judges in the final shortlist.
The #NikonFF jury line-up this year was unprecedented. Filmmakers had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have their submissions judged by the Oscar-winning director of AMY, Asif Kapadia, who headed up the jury along with jurors Emmy-nominated filmmaker Pieter ten Hoopen, Raindance Film Festival founder Elliott Grove and Nikon Europe’s Product Manager for Professional Products, Dirk Jasper.
The jury was a powerhouse of filmmaking talent and achievement, with each member keen to give up-and-coming filmmakers a platform to have their work viewed. “Competitions like this are key because that’s the only reason why I was able to make films continually and to have what eventually became a filmmaking career,” Asif told us. “My short films went to festivals and won a few prizes and that gave me the opportunity to make another film and another film, and the motivation to keep working.” For Pieter, it was vital to motivate young people and students to continue telling stories on film. He said, “It doesn’t matter how big the budget is or how much time you spend on it, just shoot your stories. With compact cameras and DSLRs these days it’s easy to make a film. It’s just a matter of getting started.”
The jury met for the first time on judging day, settling in to the BFI screening room to watch all the shortlisted films in batches of four, then taking a break to score each of the films they’d just seen. Expectations were high and the jurors were not disappointed with the quality of the entries. As Elliot said, “The time went like water, because quite simply, the films were of an exceptional quality and from a diverse range of countries, in so many different languages and all with different ways of telling a story. It was thrilling to watch.”
Dirk was delighted to see the same filmmakers coming back again with new work in the second year of the competition, and to discover how their work had developed. He also noted how strong the cultural impact was on filmmakers’ creativity, their way of storytelling, and the themes and topics they chose: “You could see certain tendencies all over Europe, reflecting what people are struggling with, what they’re having to deal with and that was really fascinating.”
The ambition of the filmmakers in attempting big stories impressed Pieter. He told us, “The most inspiring thing during the screenings was the longing for storytelling and the ambition of topics. Some people have enormous ambition and even if it doesn’t work out so well in the film itself, I still get such a warm feeling because they have that much ambition. It’s incredible.”
For Asif, the most impressive films had a strong story arc: “For me, the standout films were the ones that had a really strong idea and story in the heart of the film. They were the films that really stood out – the ones that took me on a mini journey. Some of them are epic films but they’re really, really short.”
Summing up the judging experience, our Chair of the Jury Asif said, “The most interesting thing is how film had its own length and time. Some films went really quickly and some films managed to fit a hell of a lot of story in the amount of time that they had. Then there’d be another film that was literally one joke or one moment that they were trying to represent. Some of them were one shot, and others might have hundreds of shots, so what’s interesting is that it has been a really incredible range of work. Generally the jury agreed, but it’s always interesting when there are a few disagreements. I think the prize-winners are all brilliant movies.”
Grand Prix – Not A Pizza Order by Cécile Ragot (France)
Asif told us the jury chose ‘Not A Pizza Order’ because they all felt it was such a meaningful film conveyed in a short space of time – and despite having few locations or characters, it grabbed their attention. He added: “I felt personally that it was an incredibly powerful short film. It starts off and you think it’s a comedy film, you think it’s a film with a little twist and a joke, but actually it’s a really serious piece of work about something very important. And it’s actually quite a moving film as well, which I think as many people as possible should see.”
Cécile took her inspiration for the film from a true story, telling us: “I remember reading an article about it that gave me chills. I immediately thought this story should be told through a film. I was right away drawn to the character of the dispatcher, this ordinary man, stuck in a tiny space behind screens who was able to look beyond appearances and save a life.”
Cécile is on her way to Cannes this week to be presented with her Nikon D810 kit and spend the week going behind the scenes at the Cannes Film Festival with Raindance founder Elliot. We’ll have an update from her trip very soon!
Best Narrative – Bad Luck by Martin Taube (Sweden)
Elliot explained that two-time #NikonFF winner Martin Taube picked up the Best Narrative prize for ‘Bad Luck’ because it squeezed so much story into just 140 seconds. He said, “It left a whole bunch of open questions and it ended right at the perfect moment. That’s what makes a good story. ‘Bad Luck’ engaged me because I wasn’t really sure what was going on. That doesn’t mean to say I was confused. I was intrigued and I was always trying to get my head around what trouble this guy was in and why he was there. At the end it’s what I call an ambiguous ending, a bit of a head-scratcher. It made you think.”
Martin wanted to explore a new genre this year after winning the Technical Excellence award last year. He told us, “Having watched so many different films from the film noir era of filmmaking, I felt like I wanted to try it for myself. I had never made anything with that type of touch before and it seemed like a good way to explore the art of filmmaking.”
Technical Excellence – Évasion by Pierre le Gall (France)
Pieter gave us an insight into how Évasion won the Technical Excellence award, saying “We chose Évasion as the winning film because it had superb timing, was shot on so many different locations where it’s hard to do good timing, and when you put it all together in the end it functions as one film so well in just a couple of minutes. We quite easily agreed on that it worked amazingly well.”
Pierre was inspired by the cacophony of sound on Parisian streets. He told us, “As in all large cities, sound is omnipresent and influences our perception and management of space. I’ve always wondered if our sonic memory was as well developed as our visual memory. Could the sound of a passing Vespa trigger a vision of a beloved face from the past? Certainly a melody can stir an emotion felt long ago. Such notions have always intrigued me, and I wanted to bring to the screen not only this idea, but the idea that someone could record such sonic memories and make a gift of them to a third person. That such a transmission would be from mother to son came to me naturally. My desire with this film was to convey the emotion and poetry of this unconditional love. ”
Best Student Entry – Diamond Jaw by Tormi Torup (Estonia)
Asif summed up the jury’s impressions of this film for us, saying “I thought DiamondJaw was amazing because it’s a little action film, packed in a couple of minutes. It’s got pacing, it’s got timing, it’s got an action scene, and it plays with your perception on where the story’s actually taking place. It’s really well cast, well cut, and it’s just got a hell of a lot in there. Of all the student films, this one stood out because it’s one in which the filmmakers and the collaborators have all got together and almost tried to make a ten-minute film in two minutes. It’s an incredible achievement.”
Tormi explained how ‘DiamondJaw ‘evolved from a real-life everyday moment, saying “Andreas, the screenwriter, and I were working on the project for a couple of weeks and getting nowhere. In that time, I had two dental appointments, so we started talking about little children’s fears of the dentist. We added in some of our own experiences, and voilà we had our main plot!”
People’s Choice – At Night They Work by Ad van Brunschot (Netherlands)
The public were given around four months to vote on their favourites. The winner, Ad van Brunschot, wanted to interpret the theme of ‘Everyday Moments’ through a normal working life. As he said, “You have to go to your job every day. If you’re on your way to your job, you use the road. The connecting factor in the film was the workmen making the road.”
The Last Word
We’ll leave it to Dirk to give us a final recap on this year’s festival. He summed it up like this: “We created the festival to give a platform and a new chance for upcoming filmmakers to show their work. We’ve seen real success as filmmakers are coming back to us now in the second year. They submitted last year and have come up with a new work this year. It’s really rewarding to see how they’re developing. Technology is one aspect, but the other key area in the creativity of filmmaking is storytelling. That is something you don’t have many platforms to show on a more European scale, one that gives you the diversity of different cultures, countries, languages in one festival. We’ve done that with #NikonFF, which is really amazing.”
Curious to watch all films that were submitted? Head here