Unlike most festival directors, clamouring to be the biggest or best or most niche or most independent, Bondi Short Film Festival (BSFF) director Francis Coady doesn’t particularly want to discuss what sets his festival apart. He knows journalists ask, however, so he’s got the answer ready.
“We’re very filmmaker focused. We’re the only festival in Australia that’s free to enter and there’s no theme or restrictions. We take the best quality three-to-15 minute Australian short films and that’s what we present. That’s what sets us apart.”
Promotion done and dusted, Coady continues. “I don’t like talking about what sets us apart. I think there should be as many focused outlets for young creative minds as possible. I don’t care if there’s 30 film festivals operating in the same building, I just want the films to be seen!”
Coady’s relaxed approach stays true to the genesis of BSFF ten years ago. Chatting with some film-maker buddies Coady was shocked to hear they couldn’t screen at many Sydney festivals if their film had been shown in another state. Coady pulled ten short Australian films together – regardless of whether it was their Sydney premiere– and put on a “film party” at North Bondi RSL. Film critic Margaret Pomeranz and ex-AFTRS’ boss Anne Deveson helped select a winner, lots of whooping, laughing and booing ensued, and a film festival was born.
Ten years on, BSFF has moved to Bondi Pavilion and sells out to about 1,000 people in advance of opening night each year. “There’s two key moments that really make it worthwhile. The first is the 14 calls to directors to tell them their film is accepted. They are genuinely excited and I don’t ever take that for granted. The second is when the doors close on the first film and everyone’s quiet and it’s about to start. I think ‘They can’t get away now, I’ve got ‘em!’”
This being the festival’s 10th anniversary, Coady says he paid keen attention to see if any cultural or political themes emerged from the entrants. “Film festivals are often at the forefront of cultural voice because there’s lots of young directors pushing boundaries. A lot of films this year are about mental illness. One of the finalists ‘Mad’ is a stunning look at a woman explaining how she feels when she goes into a psychotic state. It’s an absolutely riveting film, it’s so raw and truthful and beautifully shot too.”
After a decade sifting through over 200 short films a year, Coady has some firm opinions on what makes a good short – and a bad one.
“Don’t waste time explicating and repeating a theme. If a short film maker can be succinct with their idea and reduce explication, it’ll be a really solid film. The quality of the acting is another common problem. Often people use their friends and they’re just not solid actors. If you’ve got a character-driven short film you need seriously good actors, otherwise don’t bother. Also, a lot of short films lack great plot lines with decent turns and twists and resolution. Workshop the hell out of your script! Do multiple drafts, absolutely hammer it. If you have an amazing script, you’ll attract great actors.”
Coady’s background in band management and TV music supervision mean he’s pretty passionate about good music too.
“A good original score pays dividends; a lot of people use library music to the most horrible effect. The best music is an incredibly fine balance between being poignant but not over-powering the film – it’s a masterful juggling act.”