Back in 2006, Karen Foster and Stephen Naish were looking for somewhere to screen their films and bring Leicester’s emerging filmmakers together. Luckily, for them, Karen was the landlady of The Criterion on Millstone Lane and before the term pop up cinema was coined she popped up a cinema in the back room of her much-loved pub. It was a risk, technology wasn’t as agile as it is now; there were no HDMI ports, even burning a DVD was a costly challenging thing for a lot of new filmmakers on the scene and the screen, well, the screen was a sheet. The risk paid off and the pair established the most successful grassroots film night the city had ever seen. The Short Cinema was born.

Twelve years later and this near teenager is now a 6-day international film festival with ties to some of the UK leading film and arts organisations such as The British Film Institute, Flatpack Film Festival and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The festival is held at the nationally respected Phoenix Cinema and Art Centre, a place which devotes its gold-dust like screen space to support them and the new talent they showcase.

What hasn’t changed is the commitment to local filmmakers. The festival proudly states on t-shirts, screens and even fridge magnets that they “love local film” and that can’t be disputed when you look at their 2018 or any of the programmes from the last twelve years. At the heart of the festival lies the Midlands Competition, the jewel in the crown which is surrounded by lots of other sparkling gems, all designed to highlight and respect the filmmaking talent found right here in our region.

One such gem is the festival launch on Wednesday 15 August where Swadlincote resident, Venice critics week opening Writer and Director and all round wonderful person Deborah Heywood will be visiting the Phoenix for a Q&A about her career so far leading to the release of her acclaimed debut feature, Pin Cushion. The Q&A will be followed by a screening of the film which uses magical realism and fairy tale tropes to tell a story so hauntingly beautiful it will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

The rest of the programme runs 20-25 August and includes shorts of different disciplines from all over the world, including specialist programmes of shorts made by deaf filmmakers or with a focus on the deaf experience, opening discussions about intersectional feminism and films looking at LGBTQ+ narratives. At every step, this festival tries to be inclusive and welcoming and reduce barriers wherever possible.

Festival Director Alexzandra Jackson said “We are trying to continue the ethos of risk taking Karen and Stephen gave The Short Cinema twelve years ago. Sometimes we try things and they work, sometimes we try things and they don’t but it’s all a learning process and everyone involved wants the same thing, a festival for filmmakers and audiences from Leicester, the Midlands and beyond which screens work in a cinema and builds the reputation for our talent and our city on a credible international platform.”

The Short Cinema: Leicester International Short Film Festival takes place at Phoenix Cinema and Art Centre from 15th August. Tickets start at just £4 and can be booked via phoenix.org.uk.

Pin Cushion also screens at Phoenix 13th-19th August.

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Chris is a Sparrow.

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