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Curating The Sydney Film Festival: Clare Stewart

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Promotional banner for the 2010 Sydney Film Festival I’m just back from a talk at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art called “Creation + Curation”, run as part of the Creative Sydney festival.

The Sydney Film Festival is also running at the moment, and festival director Clare Stewart was one of the speakers at this afternoon’s event, along with Ute Noll (photography curator), Dom Alessio (Triple J Radio) and Joseph Shea (IzRock).

The gorgeously attired Clare talked through her background as a film programmer and the process involved in putting together the Sydney festival. Here are a few highlights.

 

Making the program accessible

When it comes to film festivals, one of the challenges for all of us is just the sheer number of films being screened. Like a kid in a candy store sucking on his finger, choosing from 157 films can be overwhelming. And they’re mostly films that aren’t already heavily promoted, so you do need to do a bit of research.

Clare talked about how this is a challenge for festival curators, and how SFF changed the way things are done this year. She also explained how film festivals traditionally haven’t made it any easier for audiences by categorising films as Discovery, Masters, Vanguard and so on. What do these terms mean to non-industry people?

Clare explained how the festival took a different tact this year, and unwittingly put a whole mystery to bed for me. Dogs.

The festival developed a set of “Pathways” – basically, genres – to categorise the films, and these categories were based on archetypal viewers or the expected experience. In the marketing of the 2010 Festival, each type was portrayed by a different dog. There was also a tagline containing some kind of reference to a film, director, actor or genre. Here they are.

2010 Sydney Film Festival promotional banner

2010 Sydney Film Festival promotional banner

2010 Sydney Film Festival promotional banner

2010 Sydney Film Festival promotional banner

2010 Sydney Film Festival promotional banner

2010 Sydney Film Festival promotional banner

Which dog are you?

Until now, I was completely perplexed as to why the Festival was fronting their marketing with dogs. The connection wasn’t immediately there … that is until Clare’s explanation prompted me to read. A blond moment on my part or questionable marketing?

That question aside, I thought it as a great approach to making the festival accessible to an audience outside of obsessive cinephiles.

Clare explained all of this in the context of the curator’s responsibility to audience. She explained it as the nexus of marketing and critical theory.

 

The other 50 weeks of the year

Of course, the Festival is less than a two-week affair. Clare talked through organising the Festival throughout the year’s remaining weeks. They visit international film festivals around the world to see what films are coming up and could be screened in Sydney.

She talked about the challenge of getting films screened at the Sydney festival ahead of general releases, and when producers might be more interested in focusing on the bigger festivals on the international scene such as Cannes, Sundance and Toronto.

SFF also open up the program for submissions. Just months out from the festival’s program is compete, explained Clare, they received over 1200 submitted films. A lot of hours of watching there.

So, it’s an incredible amount of work.

This year’s Festival opened last Wednesday (2 June) and runs until 14 June. I created my own “pathway” of queer flicks fro the Festival, and you can see that list here. I totally recommend seeing Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) and J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), from Québécois director Xavier Dolan.

 

Related links

» More on Clare Stewart
» Creative Sydney program
» Sydney Film Festival program

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Written by Darren Smith

5 June 2010 at 7:05 pm

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