Screenings, Director Interviews and Wine Tasting - the 7th Renderyard Short Film Festival, Logroņo, La Rioja, Spain
Having spent an ungodly amount of time getting there, it was now time to actually meet the organisers of the 7th Renderyard Short Film Festival, and to attend and participate in the director and producer interviews, screenings and Q&A sessions. Oh, and seeing as the "Semana Audiovisual y Digital de La Rioja" which hosts Renderyard, is in... er, La Rioja, there was a better than fair chance that there may be an opportunity to sample the local produce.
Saturday 26th November 2011, 06:30, Café Bretón, Logroņo: Well, I don't quite make my 1pm appointment, but am there for about half past - it's only a ten minute brisk walk up the road. The Café Bretón and its namesake theatre opposite, are not, as I thought, anything to do with any Castillian common Celtic culture or heritage, but named after Tomás Bretón, a celebrated Spanish musician and composer. When I get there, the Makers | Our Story production team are already ensconced around a table laden with beers and coffees, talking to one of the festival directors, Mark Reid.
Left to right, then, are: Shibe ("Shai") Alawiye, Co-Producer, Editor and creator of Makers; Mark Reid of Renderyard; Alex Salter, VFX Artist and Cameraman; Amadin Ryan, Co-Producer and Director Of Makers; and Julian Gaskell, Co-Producer and Writer of Makers.
Mark explains to me that Renderyard positions itself as an "International Digital Platform" comprising an online Distribution Agency and an Independent Film Festival enabling aspiring, emerging and award-winning filmmakers, musicians and visual artists to promote and distribute their work as well as gain visibility of other projects, both local to them and from around the world. Mark also stresses the social networking facility of Renderyard, working as a filmmaking enabler for emerging new talent - Renderyard invests and dedicates an important part of its work into partnerships and building creative collaborations with leading video search engines and video platforms in Europe, the USA and abroad. The video below, produced by AMO Productions and the Makers team, provides more information (and is voiced over by Mark):
Curious about the venue, and more specifically the location of the Film Festival, I press Mark a bit more about the setup. Renderyard started off in London, where the early Short Film Festivals were held (places like the Escape Bar, the Roxy Bar and Screen, and others), before moving the Renderyard operation to Spain (the Logroņo connection, as I suspected, being a familial as well as business one - Estefania Merino, Renderyard's beautiful Press Director, is also Mark's wife!). While the Distribution Agency and "creative playground/sandpit" part of the operation are largely online, the Film Festival is still, and shall remain, a physical presence, albeit in Spain (the London festivals are no longer held).
Shortly after, Mark has to make his excuses and leave to have meetings with other filmmakers represented at the festival, giving us time to get some food, then repair back to the Hostal La Numantina, sup wine and gaze at the Concatedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda, the imposing Cathedral opposite, from the room's 4th floor balcony. A patina of ash and glowing fag butts fall on the tourist crowds below, and there is a passing shower as someone guzzles inadvertantly from the designated ashtray & slops glass...
Saturday 26th November 2011, 19:00, Think Tic, Logroņo: We get a couple of taxis to take us to the 7th Renderyard Short Film Festival venue, La Riojas Technology Centre ("Think Tic"), a modern single-story construction set at angle inclines and clad with what appears to be tennis court chain fencing and avian-hazardous strung piano wire.
The screenings have already started by the time we arrive, so we shuffle into the auditorium and find some places. I seat myself apart from the others, not for any antisocial reason, but because I want a central aisle position far enough back to avoid obstructions from other audience members, and to be able to use the telephoto lens if necessary, to flatten the depth of field.
The screening is of a new Spanish science fiction film called "Eva", introduced by its director, Kike Maillo, comprising excerpts from the film itself, and extended "making of" sequences, which are essential because of the ground-breaking special effects. EVA is distributed by Paramount, and so is not a film from the Renderyard 'stable', but is being shown because of a regional or familial connection (I never got to the bottom of that) - and I'm so glad they are featuring it!
Set in 2041, and starring Daniel Brühl, "EVA" tells the human story of a young robotic scientist's relationships with his brother, sister-in-law and with his niece Eva - and of course there are the robotics, and the robots, themselves. Here's the official trailer:
Set in the near future, "Eva" has a Seventies feel to it, at least until the "Minority Report" hologrammatic special effects kick in, and the protagonist starts throwing shapes. One of the questions asked is about marketing and merchandising - Kike is unaware. Hopefully Paramount are dealing with this side of things, because one thing I can predict is this - when this film is released, EVERY kid is going to want a robot cat!
I ask Kike about his inspirations and influences (he's already acknowledged Doctor Who) in the genre (he earlier points out that there is no Spanish tradition of sci-fi films), and suggest Guillermo del Toro and Almovodar, but he shakes his head. I think he wants to don the Spanish sci-fi/horror mantle unencumbered by precedent! Later on, someone points out that Guillermo del Toro is, in fact, Mexican. Worse still, I may have mentioned Benicio del Toro rather than Guillermo. He's Mexican too. Oh, it's all Spanish anyway, isn't it?
Evocative of Blade Runner, Silent Running and AI, I 'd urge anyone who enjoys intelligent sci-fi with a human element to go and see EVA. It won't be dubbed, but subtitled, and should be in our UK cinemas sometime next year. Two thumbs up!
After the presentations, screenings and Q&A sessions, we break for refreshments (fruit juice and pastries) and a bit of networking. Alexandra has been climbing mountains (well, a hill) with Jarek Zabczynski, a filmmaker from New York. Rather them than me. We chat a bit, and I fancy I've restored my reputation somewhat, before returning to the auditorium for a sequence of indie shorts - UK, European and from further afield. Documentaries, fiction, live action, animations. Some are comic, some have a serious message, be it climate change, world poverty, homelessness or suicide.
We leave at about 11pm, deciding to walk rather than spread ourselves between two taxis again. It's only about 3 1/2 klicks by Shank's pony...
Sunday 27th November 2011, 04:00, Hotel Ciudad de Logroņo: I thought they'd never bloody go! I invited the team over to my hotel, so they could make final edits to their presentations, as I have free wi-fi here. They called at their hostel first to pick up some bottles of cheap 70 cent red and rose from their room, and we passed by the bar next to my hotel for a couple of generous Spanish brandies before ascending.
In my room, we have a tower of plastic glasses, some plonk, an ashtray and a couple of laptops. All the consummate professional needs. We start off with Amadin dictating and Julian trying to type, but it doesn't flow and there are too many interruptions of a grammatical nature and niggles about vocabulary (mostly from me). We try again with Shai typing and my reading back what is transcribed, before giving up entirely on that course of action and recording bullet points instead.
It's about 3am when it all kicks off. Suddenly there's an explosive, expletive-laden and gesticulatory screaming match between two of the co-producers (who shall remain nameless), ostensibly about credits. I think this may be partly my fault, as I was the one who brought the subject up, but I did discuss this earlier on with one of them, so I can't be held entirely to blame! Just before this went off I asked Shai for the DVD so I can skim through it and check the credits - with this going on around me I'm able to rip the DVD to disc without anyone noticing. If nothing else, it'll save me Ģ3 in Sainsburys in a couple of months' time..
Twenty minutes later and it's all calm, and as if nothing had happened, but not before the Night Manager turns up banging on the door, and saying "There are 150 guests in the hotel AND THEY ARE ALL COMPLAINING ABOUT THE NOISE!".
I give them all the bum's rush shortly after that, and settle down for a few pages of Karl Pilkington's adventures. That's when I realise that Amadin's pissed off with my lighter. I now have to go and find a highly-irate Night Manager and ask him if he's got any matches...
Sunday 27th November 2011, 16:00, Restaurante Carabanchel, San Agustin, Logroņo : Mark and Estefania have done us proud with a wonderful meal at the Restaurante Carabanchel, a family-run restaurant in San Agustin, a little street in the old town, not far from everyone else's hostel and the Cathedral. Plenty of courses (bread, chorizo, fish, wild mushrooms, meat, vegetables, desert), and plenty of vino (presumably from La Rioja), and everybody's mellow, if not outright plastered. A large part of our party, including Kike Maillo, peel off at this point as they are having to catch flights to points unknown, later today. This is all boding well for the presentations, screenings and Q&A tonight...
Earlier, I roused myself at an ungodly hour, given when I'd actually got to bed, and sprinted (well, OK, stumbled) across town to get to the designated meeting point of the Murietta fountain by 10:30 for a trip to a bodega (winery), where we would be given the obligatory tour, followed by a tasting. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one from the Makers entourage to, er... make it.
I met up with Alex and Jarek at the roundabout where the fountain stands, and we were then picked up by Ernesto Rodriguez, the Think Tic studio technician, in his little buzzbox car, while Estefania provided a similar taxi service to those staying at the Hotel Murietta. We headed off up into the foothills, where not only did it soon become apparent that no-one knew where we were going, but also heavy fog closed in. As we approached the gated entrance to the estate, and the coat of arms and logo revealed itself slowly through the fog, Alex and I burst out laughing. "Campo Viejo". We explained to Ernesto that we knew the brand very well indeed, and that it was a staple in our British supermarkets, possibly the best-known Rioja in the land. "Four ninety-five, half-price at Sainsburys!" we chanted, apparently to his dismay. We got a similar reaction when we repeated this to the tour guide later. I don't know, don't these people want their wine to be popular? Ernesto was equally unimpressed and recalcitrant when I quizzed him on the Basque separatist movement, ETA and Herri Batasuna. Apparently they don't like to talk about it, apart from pointing out that they are not part of the Basque country. "The border is 3 kilometers away from here", commented Ernesto. "Some of them come here, to live a quiet life".
The approach from the gate to the Visitor Centre was amazing, possibly only due to the weather. The heavy fog accentuated and focused the light, so that your attention was drawn to the vines closest to you, so that you noticed the variegated autumnal leaves, the still-extant small clumps of grapes, the chalky, stony terrain, rather than the perspective tunnels of vines laid out in rows which would have drawn your attention on a clear day. We drew up to what appeared to be a single-storey concrete bunker, no more than 50 metres on a side, bang in the middle of the estate, and disembarked. I must admit that this was an impressive tour - the vineyards are planted on a plateau, and the winery itself is built deep underground - under the vineyards. The Campo Viejo bodega planted their vines here as a family business back in 1959, but the whole estate was re-architected in 2001 when it was acquired by the French Group, Pernod-Ricard. I can honestly say that I have never seen a more modern operation, nor a larger one.
We ended up back up at the surface, in the Visitor Centre, where the windows afforded a panoramic view of the vineyards, now cleared of fog, and where we were given an opportunity to taste the wines in a private room, with assorted local nuts and charcuterie as accompaniments. Jarek updated his video diary/blog, while Estefania and Mark tried to raise the Makers mob... which was successfully effected before we had to arrive at the Restaurante Carabanchel!
Sunday 27th November 2011, 18:00, Think Tic, Logroņo: It's an earlier start at the Think Tic tonight, and everyone's half-cut after the winery tour and five course meal. But it's Sunday night, and Sunday night means documentaries! No turning back now - "Makers | Our Story" is headlining. I head into the auditorium to check out the best positioning to take my shots. Ernesto is doing the same with his video rig and checking the lighting.
Interviews are done. Screenings are scrun, and questions are asked, including mine about how Shai got his original inspiration, on a vist to New York, investigating how independent filmmakers get on there (as opposed to in Hollywood), financially and creatively, and transfering that experience to what happens in London and elsewhere in the UK. Rather than repeat what's been described in previous blogs, here's an alternative Makers | Our Story trailer:
After the screening and panel discussions, we get to break out for another refreshment and networking break. Alex Sufit is cornered for an interview to camera, as am I, in my half-cut state, sometime later.
The Makers team seem to be happy to stay on, but I'm bushed by this time, and Alex is ready to leave, so we agree to share a taxi back to town.
Sunday 27th November 2011, 23:30, Hotel Ciudad de Logroņo: We stop off for a nightcap at the bar next to my hotel, then I walk Alex back to her hostel. We both have early starts, then realise we're both on the same flight, although we're getting there by different means. We'll hook up in Bilbao tomorrow lunchtime.
After a quick brandy at the bar, I get back to my hotel and pack what I can. I dip into Bill Bryson. Did you know that maize(UK)/corn(US) does not, and cannot grow, naturally? It must rely on humans to seed, germinate, maintain and cultivate it. It's the world's first genetically modified (albeit by traditional agricultural husbandry techniques) plant, only this was done 10,000 years ago. Modern science cannot explain it, nor recreate the process. No, I didn't know that either. It sort of puts the transition from tape- to file-based workflow over IP transports into perspective... time for some kip.
Monday 28th November 2011, 22:00, Home: And so here I am, back home, finally. I was up early, checked out and at the station in plenty of time, ready for my train. Which was late. Well late. To be honest, the return trip was relatively uneventful (almost anything worth describing was covered on the way out), but everything was late, and any plans to meet up prior to the airport were abandoned. Massive queues at check-in, lucky to make the flight with (t)rusty old Vueling (they actually bothered with the safety checks/emergency procedure this time). The chap sitting next to me appeared to have emphysemia, coughing his lungs up constantly into a napkin, then opening it and inspecting it, presumably checking for blood. It quite put me off my tuna and red pepper foccacia*. The usual crowded nightmare on the Piccadilly Line. At one point the carriage filled with a pungent faecal odour. "Was that you?" asked Alex, before getting up and alighting at the next stop. What an exit line!
So, what have I learned, or got out of this trip? I've seen some interesting and thought-provoking videos and short films, and seen teasers for what promises to be a hugely entertaining feature. I've heard people moan, and seen people fight, and then patch up their differences and pull together again. I've seen how resources can be brought together for very little outlay, if the creative will is there and if the supporting infrastructure is sound. I've done my small bit to contribute to the process, with commentary, critique, words and pictures. I've observed at first hand the value of independent filmmaking and how online distribution can make this viable with constrained or zero budgets. I've made new contacts, made some good friends, and enjoyed their hospitality and companionship.
Oh, and the credits thing? The IP Performance logo didn't make the grade, I'm afraid, although I'm assured this will be rectified in time for the next pressing or any cinematic release (?). We got full mention in the press pack and promotional materials, though. And anyway, I got mine...
*As it transpired, the shaking, vomiting, Diarrhoea, splitting headaches, streaming nose and hacking cough that I started experiencing the next day, and which got worse as the ensuing week progressed, were not purely down to tiredness and hangover, but to the filthy contagion that wretched passenger transmitted to me.
Update: With regard to my closing comments, I've been asked, not so much what *I* got out of it, but what did the Makers | Our Story production team get out of the whole thing, from their attendance? While it is true that the expenses involved in time, transport, accommodation and subsistence are difficult to justify for a cash-strapped team of filmmakers, it must be remembered that Renderyard are also their distributor, and support works both ways. While a largely-foreign language forum in a remote location may not seem to bring a whole raft of benefits, all the screening sessions were filmed and streamed via the Renderyard site, and will be used in (and can be made available for) other events. The whole online platform is a resource for the film's intended target audience - aspiring and emerging talent in the independent film, music video and visual arts arenas, looking for inspiration and direction in this most competitive and under-funded of industries. As Mark Reid pointed out earlier in this blog article, Renderyard and other online resources like it, leveraging the power of the Internet and Social Media platforms, are the future for independent filmmaking, distribution and revenue streams. Physical, real-world film festivals are still essential in order to bring people together and to facilitate social and professional networking, but to a lesser extent than before, and geographic location is no longer of paramount importance. The Makers team take away with them some valuable contacts, interviews and film footage as collateral for the ongoing Makers project, as well as the aforementioned Renderyard material shot during the event. My thanks go to Mark, Estefania, Ernesto and the rest of the Renderyard team for making all this possible.
by Pierre | 7 December 2011
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