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netribution > features > interview with graham fletcher cook

Highgate has no cinema but it has an utterly unique festival in a friendly screening venue and draws film from all over the world despite celebrating only it's second birthday. Many may wonder why we'd be covering such a minor event on the festival calendar, apart from Tom being an ex Highgate pat twice removed, that would never have anything to do with it. What's really impressed us from the beginning is their appetite for profile guests, their construction of high end panel streams and especially their innovation in raising budgets through the local community.
There are some great tips here for setting up and continuing a film festival from scratch but what really comes through is the lateral thought and improvisation without experience - sounds a little like a company I know.

| by tom fogg |
| photo courtesy of the highgate film festival |
| in london |

Tell us a little about your background as a filmmaker.
My background is that I have acted for many years after having attended the Anna Scher Theatre. I started the Timber Theatre company in 1990 and devised and directed productions in North London at Jackson's Lane, Interchange Studios and at Hoxton Hall.

What inspired you to start up a film festival in a part of London with no apparent cinema?
There isn't a cinema actually in Highgate, perhaps that's the reason the film festival happened because, having wrote and directed a short film Footprints last year I began to look around for a screening venue.

How does one go about setting up a festival, and why Highgate?
Everywhere proved costly, even for a Sunday morning slot so the next step is to take a projector and screen then set up in the largest space that you can blag, that's basically what happened.

We created a cinema from scratch in effect becoming our own distributors and exhibitors. Highgate is well worth a visit anyway as it has some great pubs and the best views over London. And of course, Peter Sellers lived here.

Is there not a fear that the festival will utterly consume your life?
The festival has taken over my waking hours but it's not a fear because you don't have that much time to think about it. You just get swept along really.

How have the rather notoriously protective 'Highgate Society' taken to the festival?
I think the 'Highgate society' actually turned up to our last event as I was most surprised to see so many people sporting sandals and beards. Last year we showed thirty new short films. Noteworthy was Mary's Date by Jan Dunn. and Minutiae by Matt Tizard which was made with an electron microscope. Ross Thomas received praise for Checkpoint as did Pollard written by Jude Alderson.

Highgate obviously boasts some pretty noted actors and filmmakers, did you manage to gain their support or presence?

Local support came in the form of a judging panel that included Maureen Lipman, Bill Paterson, Jill Trevelick, Marc Bannerman and Jonathan Pryce. This year the awards will be handed out by Charlotte Coleman and Trevor Laird.

You have some major industry panels throughout the festival, how are they broken down?
Well the opening night panel consists of industry professionals like David Nicholas Wilkinson of Guerilla Films, Jacqueline Swanson from the Short Film Bureau, David Castro of the NPA, Maggie Ellis of the LFVDA and Piotr Szkopiak. On the Wednesday we've got Liz Rosenthal from Next Wave Films, Jonathan Rawlinson of the First Film Foundation, Clare from the British Film Commission and the case study filmmaker is Danny San (Understanding Jane).

Then there's a real diverse, profile event on the following evening chaired by Jan Dunn. That groups together Mia Bays from the Film Consortium, the BFI's Head of Cinema Paul Brett, Robin Gutch of FilmFour Lab and noted actor/director David Morrissey.

Where have the films come from geographically and do they fit into any particular category?
Films have come from all around the world; Slovenia, Australia, Israel, USA, Ireland, Argentina. Categories include local films for local people on Monday, films coming from surrounding areas like Hampstead, Muswell Hill and Holloway - Kids Cartoon Club happens most afternoons. Tuesday is a dark/banned and twisted and that then moves into an Irish theme as the evening progresses. Thursday is documentary day - not as boring as it sounds. Then Friday is all cartoons and comedy, all the funny stuff, one feature to start the day then a relentless stream of comedy shorts until last orders.

I think England could be in for the medals despite strong opposition from the Germans and the Aussies. Saturday morning is a programme of skateboarding films from archive to present day while Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon focuses on Yugoslavia and avoidable war themes.

How did you go about raising a budget?
We raised the budget thanks to the London Film and Video Development Agency who have supported us from the beginning. We also shoot low/no budget ads for local businesses for screening at the festival, we believe this is unique amongst film festivals and the entire budget for the last event was raised thanks to the generosity of the traders of Muswell Hill Broadway and Archway Road.

How have you publicised the event within the local community?
We put up posters in local educational establishments and got a lot of support from the Ham and High and Hornsey Journal newspapers. The ads hark back fondly to the era of local cinema advertising and have become a festival attraction in their own right. Last years best ad award went to a local Indian restaurant called Village Spice, it's still streaming on the Internet.

What are your plans for the fest, are you not limited by the lack of cinemas in terms of how big it could grow? Could it potentially become The North London Film Festival?
In the future we would obviously like the festival to grow, how far away from Highgate is Camden anyway or Hampstead Muswell Hill or Barnet? I am really not that precious about the festival staying in Highgate, the more people that get involved the better. It's about getting people excited about going to the cinema, even if that means screening a skateboarding film they have just made or putting a Playstation 2 game up on screen.

What are your plans for next year?
Next year there'll be more of the same but we will be bullying far more venues into accepting our warped sense of programming. We could have filled the programme at least twice over with really excellent work. Personally, I'd like to have finished my own latest project Toads and Henbane.

For more information on the Highgate Film Festival check out: For more info and daily updates from the festival, check out:

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