The UK’s major queer film festival receives entries from 32 countries
Planning for the 2020 Iris Prize film festival is continuing on schedule – the event will be held on 6-11 October in Cardiff.
Submissions will close on 22 June, but already organisers have received hundreds of films from 32 countries.
The Iris Prize, supported by Michael Bishop Foundation, continues to be the world’s largest short film award, with a cash prize of £30,000 to make a new short film in the UK.
35 short films in total will compete this October for the Iris Prize, with another 15 featured in the Best British Short Supported by Film4.
As well as the traditional submissions process, a total of 25 Iris Prize competing films are nominated by partner festivals located in 19 countries.
“The global pandemic is having a devastating impact on the film festival circuit…” said Berwyn Rowlands, Festival Director. “Many festivals have been cancelled and even more postponed until later in the year. Luckily, most of our Partner Festivals have confirmed that they are able to nominate a short film this year. This is wonderful news for both the filmmakers and the Iris Prize.”
We caught up with Berwyn Rowlands, Festival Director, for a behind-the-scenes look at the Iris Prize.
Why are LGBTQ film festivals like Iris important?
Representation is the key reason why LGBTQ film festivals continue to be important. It’s very difficult to challenge the fact that we’re seeing more representation of our communities in mainstream media - especially television where every soap must have a quota of gay characters - but this is not yet true of the film industry. Do we need more LGBTQ characters in movies, yes! Do we need more diversity within the movies, yes! This is where film festivals fit in. We’re a great place for the communities we represent to see themselves on a big screen.
Festivals are also important because we can also make a stand and be political with a small “p”. Taking for granted our liberties would be complacency on a grand scale - things change in the world very quickly. As LGBTQ communities, we need to be able to talk and listen to each other. Social media is a powerful tool for communication, but it can funnel discussion into an echo chamber, where it’s difficult to listen and understand each other. Festivals like Iris continue to have a role as we offer people a chance to watch, talk, and listen in a safe environment.
With the availability of content online and streaming services, are LGBTQ film festivals still relevant?
Festival audiences are generally getting older, but most film festivals that are still relevant today will work with the other platforms to maintain and build their audience.
Well-produced film festivals, with the right resources, offer something that streaming and online platforms can’t offer - direct access to the talent. You’ll meet directors, writers, producers, and actors if you come to Iris in October. This is fantastic for the audience, as it gives them an opportunity to engage directly with the film makers and ask questions, or simply take a selfie.
Festivals can also be a great way for the industry to meet and share experiences – the good and the bad - which will contribute to a sustainable LGBTQ film sector.
Each year the Iris festival seems to be becoming bigger - what’s driving interest in the festival?
The main reason I guess is the £30,000 cash prize to make a new short film. I’d also like to think that it’s word of mouth. We look after our visiting film makers by offering hosted accommodation, a free festival pass, and daily lunch.
Cardiff is also a fabulous capital city – small enough to feel intimate, but with all the attractions you’d expect from a modern city. We always talk about the Iris Family, and over the years this has grown from the modest 1,500 admissions in 2017 to the 10,000 we’re expecting this year.
How is the festival evolving to reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community and experience?
When we launched in 2006, the Iris Prize was focused on stories about sexuality – primarily gay and lesbian, bisexuality was invisible or just ignored. The main change since those early days has been the increase in trans visibility, which culminated in a name change in 2013 when we added “T” to “LGB”.
Where do short films fit in the creative development of LGBTQ filmmakers?
I’ve always enjoyed watching short films and get quite angry when some just see them as a calling card on a journey to make a feature film. In the same way that some writers enjoy writing short stories, we have film makers who enjoy the short film form – a place to be experimental and challenge some of the norms of story-telling.
You’ll find more originality at Iris than in many a mainstream festival, because of the freedom that is afforded to short film makers. The digital revolution has also made it easier to create content – but that doesn’t make everybody a film maker!