Presenting its 38th edition, St Kilda Film Festival 2021 is set to be a cracker of an event

Presenting its 38th edition, St Kilda Film Festival 2021 is set to be a cracker of an event

'System Error', featuring as part of the Top 100 Australian Short Films competition
Words by Andrew Maclean

We catch up with Festival Director Richard Sowada ahead of the 38th running of St Kilda Film Festival.

Australia’s longest-running short film festival, St Kilda Film Festival (SKFF), will present its 38th edition in 2021.

The exciting showcase returns to theatres this year after running its entire 2020 program online, which despite the inconvenience caused by the pandemic, turned into a resounding success, seeing the festival win an award for Digital Resiliency.

According to Festival Director Richard Sowada, renowned former Head of Film Programs at ACMI and Founder of Revelation Perth International Film Festival, the internet provided accessibility to a much wider audience than ever possible prior to the pandemic.

“Traditionally we did 12,000 people through the doors, but last year we had 47,000 look at the festival online which was incredible,” Sowada says.

“It opened a whole different perspective about the relationship filmmakers can have with an audience.

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“What I found really valuable and profound was when you are putting on programs of films that are of a political nature, or when you’re putting films on about gender and LGBTQIA+, and indigenous stories, the whole marginalised world, you can reach communities that would never see those types of works.

“And those people who are maybe trapped in that world but have no reference points to get a handle about their life and their feelings, when you think about the impact that that can have in reaching those people in something as simple as the internet, that was really an important thing for me.

“It is kind of a philosophical reframing about not only what St Kilda Film Festival can do but what film festival culture in general can do based around the challenges thrown at it.”

Produced and presented by the City of Port Phillip, the festival will kick off with its Opening Night event at St Kilda’s much-loved Astor Theatre on Thursday May 20, with the event to be hosted by famed local actor Gyton Grantley.

The program will run until Saturday May 29 and features the eminent Australia’s Top Short Films Competition, in which 100 of the country’s best short films will be shown.

Such films will be shown at The Astor, The Alex Theatre and at other venues across the City of Port Phillip through the festival and for those unable to attend physically, the screenings will also be available completely free online.

“The Top 100 is broken into 15 individual components of curated programs – gay and lesbian titles, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, drama, coming of age – they’re broken up into individual journeys, which is really great,” Sowada says.

“If you’re leaning towards a particular taste, if you like horror or drama, you can get your fix. If you want to have a look you can do it or it’s all free online.

“[Being free] is a really big thing, not just me but for the council, to be as open and as inclusive and as authentic as we can possibly be.

“We don’t want price to be a barrier, we know not everybody has money and particularly young people, so we want it to be open and we want people to experience these things without barriers.”

Other program highlights include Under the Radar – the annual youth short-film competition and VCE showcase; a program of new animated shorts from around the world made for children, the International Family Animation Explosion; and a special retrospective to remarkable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performer and activist Bob Maza.

Outside of the screenings, The Big Picture Professional Development Day is a key event in the festival program. The initiative is completely free and allows aspiring filmmakers to gain invaluable experience from attending talks, workshops, immersive experiences, masterclasses, panels and screenings.

SKFF 2021 will also display a number of moving image installations around the St Kilda precinct, including a special commission by Melbourne artists.

Films included in the festival are also eligible for consideration in the Oscars Short Film and Documentary Short Awards, with Jane Campion (The Piano) and Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) just some of the names who had their early works shown at the festival.

Despite the challenges faced in filmmaking over the past year, Sowada says this year’s entries have surpassed his expectations.

“We were thinking that COVID would put a big hole in the quality and volume of works that were submitted to us but that wasn’t the case. If anything, what COVID has done for this year has made filmmakers think in a different way.

“It has made filmmakers think in a more considered way, there’s much more depth in the writing and film craft,” Sowada concludes.

St Kilda Film Festival is happening from Thursday May 20 until Saturday May 29. For more information, visit the SKFF website