Monday 27th March

| BY Finn Blythe

ICA’s Stephen Cairns Talks About Playback Festival


Playback Festival in association with Random Acts, is one of those projects that we personally think there should be a lot more of. Dreamed up by the joint mind power of Arts Council England and Channel 4, it aims to support the fledging careers of young film makers from every type of background. And you know how we feel about young talent. From Josef Atlin, taking a break from Game of Thrones to bludgeon his way through a zombie apocalypse, to Cornell John (yes, Uncle Curtis from Kidulthood) reflecting on the events that led to his incarceration, the project is filled with gems sometimes surreal, sometimes moving, but always diverse. The films, most of which are no longer than three minutes, have all been produced by 16-24 year olds, and allow young filmmakers to better find their voice and push the boundaries of their work. I cornered Stephen Cairns, ICA Associate Curator of Artists’ Film and Moving Image, to find out more about the project.

FINN BLYTHE: Steven, first of all, can you tell me a bit about how it all came together? What was the thought behind it? 

STEPHEN CAIRNS: Playback Festival is the culmination of multiple projects taking place across the country. What links them all is the ambition to find the best emerging artists and filmmakers, aged between 16-24, and support them in making a short film, no more than 3 minutes long. It’s a project with equality at its heart. We’ve been working with artist filmmakers with a range of experiences and backgrounds. Five production hubs across England have ensured we are reaching people all over the country. At ICA you can see over 145 films that have been made in the last two years. You can also join screenings, talks and workshops to find out more about making films or hone your skills.

FB: So did these young film makers have any criteria to follow, or was it truly random?

SC: We want them to experiment and take risks in their filmmaking in a safe and supported environment. We’re giving amazing new talent access to professionals in all areas of filmmaking. The only criteria we push is that the filmmakers are true to their ideas and push the boundaries with what they are doing. We’re not interested in the status quo – that’s an ethos we’re encouraging. We want to help the filmmakers find their true voice as individuals. The project was initiated by Arts Council England and Channel 4’s Random Acts, so all the films are made with the ambition that they might be broadcast on TV or online.

FB: How did you go about selecting participants?

SC: There were a series of open calls to young emerging artists and filmmakers which resulted in hundreds of applications from across England. There are several opportunities annually through the five production hubs ICA, Calling the Shots, Rural Media, Screen South and Tyneside Cinema depending on what part of the country you are in. At ICA we have one open call a year through our programme Stop Play Record. The current call closes 17 April for people based in London, from the hundreds of applications we receive 24 films are commissioned.

FB: How does it compare with your previous projects with the ICA?

SC: At ICA we have regular events in our Stop Play Record series which is aimed at young artists and filmmakers aged 16-24, but open to everyone! These events are aimed at supporting emerging talent and enabling opportunities for them to hear and meet with the best people in the business. The events are a great way to network with others interested or working with film. We’re not just interested in supporting directors though, we cover everything from sound design to script writing to cinematography. The events are free to attend – another aspect that’s important. We want to break down as many barriers as possible so everyone has the opportunities that are traditionally quite difficult to access.

FB: What were some of the challenges of working with so many different film makers?

SC: With so many productions on the go, the biggest challenge we face is scheduling! It’s a universal challenge, but working in a production environment it’s often a precarious juggling act. That said, out of these high-pressure situations some of the best work emerges, the artist filmmakers are all putting their heart and soul into getting things just right.

FB: TV is a notoriously difficult business for young people to get into. How do you think this project will help those who have participated?

SC: What is TV today? It’s changing so quickly, with on-demand content and online activity working hand in hand with traditional broadcast. Who better to shape what is seen than the next digital-native generation who are really carving their way into the industry, producing films and content that they want to see. They are a generation that should be, and are being listened to.

FB: Are there any recurrent trends you’ve noticed in the films that you think offer some reflection on the issues young people face today?

SC: There is a great degree of honesty in the films that have been made. One thing to underline is that they are all different, made by individuals with different voices, experiences and perspectives. Picking a trend is difficult if we’re talking about visual styles… On a more practical level all the artist filmmakers have pulled out the stops. None of the filmmakers are afraid to make themselves heard, from the start of the production process through to the films they make.

FB: What exactly is an interactive festival?

SC: The festival is interactive on all levels. We expect our audiences at events to participate in discussions, tell us what they think and how we can make Playback Festival better in 2018. As part of the festival we have a large-scale exhibition of the 145 films made over the last two years, there’s a black box cinema at its centre, playing all the films sequentially. There are also ten interactive screens which feature all the films for visitors to select from. Each of the ten screens have the functionality of an online streaming site, but rather than watching the films on your laptop screen or on your phone you can watch them on massive flat screen in HD with high quality sound through industry quality equipment!

Playback Festival will be touring venues across England until March 2018, more info can be found below…