Kellen Playford on Norwich Film Festival – Interview

Norwich Film Festival

Norwich Film Festival returns for its 9th year with 111 carefully selected short films in addition to 10 feature films and industry skills events. From its creation in 2009 the festival has seen immense growth in both submissions and official selection shorts showcased. In 2017 there were 70 films chosen from 494 submissions; whereas, this year there were 812 submissions of which 111 short films have been selected. These came from 56 countries, worldwide including Zimbabwe, Japan, Canada and India. The festival prides itself on supporting independent filmmakers and animators who are based locally, nationally (UK) and worldwide. It is accredited by The British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) and The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). This means that the films screened at Norwich Film Festival qualify for submission at both BIFA and BAFTA, opening doors to the creative industry for many aspiring filmmakers.

Kellen Playford founded the Norwich Film Festival in 2009 in hopes of highlighting East-Anglia’s regional filmmaking talent. He, himself, is a home-grown documentary filmmaker with a BA and MA in film. What I find the most endearing about the festival and the people behind it is that they are all volunteers. They have embarked on this journey out of pure love and passion for film and the independent filmmaking industry. If you’re interested in discovering some of Kellen’s work make sure to visit his Vimeo here and to visit the festival if you have the time. I’m personally excited for the Late Night Shorts on the 16th of November, being a horror fanatic and all.

NFF2019 Trailer

Q. As the Co-founder and Consultant of the Norwich Film Festival, what prompted you to start what is now a BIFA qualified festival?

A. I founded the festival on my own back in 2009 after having a drink with a friend. I was listening to him complain about the fact that he had just completed a short film; however, there was nowhere in Norwich that he could screen it. I had just come back from travelling through Asia for six months, didn’t have a job, and wanted something fun to do for a bit. I completely underestimated how much work it would involve, and just how popular it would become, so I was incredibly naïve. It was fun though, and I met loads of wonderfully talented people, so I just kept at it. After about five years of annual events, it became too much for me to manage on my own. I invited Craig to run the festival with me. He had been a volunteer for the previous two years and had shown tonnes of enthusiasm and commitment. He has been instrumental in helping the festival grow to what it is now over the last few years. As well as gaining BIFA accreditation back in 2017, we are now a fully-fledged BAFTA qualifying short film festival as well – something which seemed like an impossible dream back in 2009.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your own filmmaking practice?

A. I completed a BA in Film and Television Studies in London about 12 years ago, but it was very theoretical, and not really what I wanted to do at all. I just wanted to write things and play with cameras, not learn about the history of Russian expressionism in the 1920s. After floating around Norwich for a few years, setting up the film festival seemed like a good way of keeping me engaged with the industry while figuring out just exactly what I wanted to do. Over the last 9 years with the festival, I’ve probably watched about 4,500 short films, and they’ve all played a small part in helping me decide what I like and don’t like in a film. So, a couple of years ago I started an MA at the Norwich University of the Arts and that helped me hone my focus and figure out what I wanted and what I could do. I now work mainly on short artistic documentaries and profile videos for artists. I love the small-scale collaboration of working with someone passionate about their work and finding ways to express that on-screen in a way that reflects both of us. I’ve also just finished writing a short narrative film which I hope to produce early next year once work on the film festival dies down a bit.

Q. Could you give us a rundown of your favourite events happening this year at the Norwich Film Festival?

A. We’ve got so many things happening this year, I often forget some of the best events. Our launch guest is the excellent David Morrissey who will be having a conversation with Peter Bradshaw (from the Guardian) about his career in film and TV. We’ve also got a host of exciting UK feature films, such a The Fight (written, directed, and starring Jessica Hynes), and Widow Walk, a tense ghost story shot just down the road in Suffolk, which will be screened with a Q&A by the director and the film’s stars. We’ve also got so many short film screenings, including specialist events such as our Late Night Shorts for fans of horror and dark comedy, our LGBTQ+ Shorts, and our OSKA Bright Shorts, which is a partnership event with the brilliant OSKA Bright Film Festival who are the leading film festival for films made by and starring people with learning difficulties, autism, or Asperger’s. Our Short Documentaries screening is also going to be fantastic, and just so happens to be sponsored by Wex Photo Video [thanks for the tickets]. And then we’ve got our industry sessions with huge names like writer/director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block, Ant-Man) and Visual Effects maestro Julian Foddy of ILM (Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Solo: A Star Wars Story). We’ve tried to put on a varied programme this year so that no matter what you’re in to, you’ll find something with us.

Q. What was your reaction to seeing the festival you started being supported by such tremendous British and Scottish talent such as Olivia Colman, Brian Cox and Stephen Fry? 

A. It’s always quite surreal when anything happens with the festival, to be honest. I’m extremely proud of everything, we as a team, have achieved over the last few years, but I also think it’s so weird how none of this would be happening if I hadn’t had that cup of tea with a friend back in 2009. Not long ago I had dinner with Michael Palin. That’s so bizarre! While I was at uni I used to watch Monty Python DVDs, and now I’m having dinner with Michael Palin. I am really happy though that Norwich is slowly becoming a cultural hub for the whole of East Anglia, and that we’re playing our little part in that. In the past, Norwich has famously been mocked for being a bit backwards and a bit isolated, but those opinions are completely unfounded. People are finally starting to see what a wonderful city this is. We’ve had great support from the likes of Stephen Fry and Olivia Colman, but we’ve also had people like Neve Campbell signing up to be one of our judges this year, and Alfred Molina did the same last year. Having big profile names like this has helped us go global and is one of the reasons we’ve had submissions this year from 56 countries around the world.

Q. In your opinion, what does Norwich have to offer in terms of its home-grown filmmaking talent?

A. One of the things we’re most proud of is that we have a dedicated film category for East Anglian films – these are films made by filmmakers from East Anglia or films that have been made predominantly in the area. I think this gives a bit of a boost to local filmmakers as it increases their chances of getting their film seen on the big screen, alongside work from other high-profile filmmakers. It also gives them a better chance of winning one of our cash prizes! Recently, we’ve seen a real upturn in the quality provided by these East Anglian films, and I think that’s down to places like NUA and UEA who offer filmmaking courses. Norwich is a wonderful place to live, so quite often, students opt to stay here after they graduate, and that is also helping to improve the talent pool in the region. The more people who stay here, the easier it is for people to collaborate and create incredible films. It is not always necessary to move to London to get a good job in the industry, and slowly, people are starting to realise that.

Q. In what ways has the Norwich Film Festival benefited the local and international filmmaking community?

A. One of our core values has always been to promote Norwich and Norfolk as a cultural hotspot and as a place where artists can explore their work with likeminded people. I think that the festival exists to give local audiences (especially filmmakers) a chance to see a whole host of films that they perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily see. As an audience member, it’s great to see a short film on the big screen, because where else would you get a chance to see that? But also, if you’re looking at becoming a filmmaker, short films are the way in, and places like the NFF allow you to see what is already out there and what you need to achieve in order to succeed. From a separate standpoint, we’ve been able to bring a variety of industry professionals to the city to share their knowledge with anyone who cares to join us. People learn, they have fun, and they meet new and exciting people.

Q. Do you have any advice for filmmakers applying to next year’s Norwich Film Festival run? What films are you looking to showcase?

A. Next year we’re looking to push the focus onto more short films and more industry sessions for filmmakers. We love the fact that our festival can support and promote so many young and new filmmakers, so we are always looking for ways to improve on that. We will hopefully be planning more screenings so we can fit in more films, and more industry sessions so that we can offer more opportunities for people to learn from industry pros. If you’re an up-and-coming filmmaker, then we want you to come to Norwich.

In terms of advice for filmmakers, I get asked this a lot, and I often say the same three things: be original, be professional, and be concise.

If you want to make a great film, you have to start with a great story. Do your research and watch as many films as you can to figure out what you like or don’t like, and what sort of films you want to make. But most importantly, try to write a story we haven’t seen before. You would be surprised at how many films get submitted to us where the twist is that the main character is secretly dead. Often, it’s predictable, and because we know what’s going to happen, it’s just not worth watching.

Secondly, be professional. If you want to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, take yourself seriously. Create a budget, a plan, a timetable. Do all the boring things which matter in the industry to prove you understand how it works and gain the experience in doing it. I would also advise against hiring your friends to act in your films (unless they’re great actors). Although it’s easy and cheap to get your friends involved, bad acting can let your film down and put people off watching.

Lastly, be concise in the edit. We get a lot of films submitted to our festival, and a lot of them are too long. Our cut off point for submissions is 25 minutes, but we would only ever accept a 25-minute film if it was brilliant. Quite often, they’re long, meandering, and boring. New filmmakers often make the mistake of not cutting enough out of their film, and that can be the difference between getting accepted or not. I think our average film length last year was about 14 minutes, but I prefer films that are about 8-10 minutes long. I think that’s enough time to introduce a character and a situation, without dragging things out too long. Also, from a purely practical point of view, think about the festival programmers. Most of our film sessions are 100 minutes long, so if we had to choose between including 5 good films which are 20 minutes long, or ten good films which are each 10 minutes long, we’d probably lean towards the shorter films because it means we can include more in our programme and offer a wider variety to our audiences.

Q. What are your hopes for the future of Norwich Film Festival as it continues to grow in both size and reputation?

A. Well, I hope it doesn’t grow too much in size any time soon because it’s so much work to organise! We have a great team of volunteers here that make sure the festival goes ahead each year, but we could always use more!

What I enjoy though, and what I hope to see more of in the future, is filmmakers who return to our festival year after year because they recognise that it’s a great place to meet people, learn things, and see quality films on screen. We have had some filmmakers submit their work for two or three years, and we’ve got to see them grow as storytellers, which is just brilliant. We love to see the careers of our alumni grow and think it’s fantastic to be a part of that. Just last year, we put forward one of our films, Pommel by Paris Zarcilla, to be considered for the British Independent Film Awards. Somehow, we were the only festival to do this, despite the film being incredible. It ended up being nominated as one of the best five short films of the year, and although it didn’t win, it got Paris a huge amount of recognition that was well deserved. Among other things, he’s now turning Pommel into a feature film and we are incredibly proud to have played even the tiniest part in that. Those are the best things for me – not so much what the festival achieves, but what the festival helps others to achieve. That is why I started it after all.

Norwich Film Festival is running from 6th – 17th November in the beautiful city of stories. Make sure to check out their events here. You can find everything and anything from Experimental Shorts (18), Global Issues: Nature & Environment (18), and LGBTQ + Shorts (18) to BAFTA Shorts 2019 (15) Plus Q&A, and Screen Skills: Open Doors Event – Panel and Networking.

About the Author

Patrycja Reimus is a Norwich based horror artist and an award-winning filmmaker. She is also our Technical Copywriter who frequently enjoys writing for our blog. For more information about her work please visit You can also follow her wonderfully weird and obscene imagery on Instagram @reimuspati_art or stalk her personal life @patrycja_reimus.