Alexzandra Jackson is a woman of many talents. You may know her primarily from her role as the Education Manager at Phoenix Cinema; responsible for projects such as the hugely popular Talking Pictures film education course, or the Access Cinema programem. However, she’s also the director of Poppy Jack Productions, the production company behind 2015’s A Dozen Summers (featuring Doctor Who’s Colin Baker & The Office’s Ewen Macintosh, as well as a bunch of local Leicester talent), one of the board members of Leicester filmmakers forum, Seven/Five; and she’s the director of The Short Cinema, Leicester’s international short film festival. With this years’ edition at the end of August, we had a chat with Alexzandra about the upcoming festival, and about Leicester and Midlands indie cinema.
Between your work at Phoenix Cinema and your film projects, you wear a lot of hats in the Leicester cinematic community. What started your involvement with the local film scene?
My degree is in film theory, history and criticism and in my second year I started to feel like I couldn’t fully appreciate the art form without learning more about its production. So I found a night school course here in Leicester and I used to drive down from Sheffield every Thursday night to attend. There I met a range of really talented people and found a serious filmmaking community was starting to form, led by Keith Allott (Filmmaker). After I graduated Keith gave me my first “proper” job, administrator for the then Leicester Community Studios and everything really stemmed from that point. I owe him a lot/it’s all his fault.
Before we get to The Short Cinema, could you tell us a little more about the work you do with Phoenix Cinema?
I’m the Education Manager at Phoenix and my role includes programming learning, access and talent development activities for people of all ages which relate to film and digital art. I’m very lucky to work closely with two other programming heads, Jake Harvey (Film Programme Manager) and Chris Tyrer (Digital Art Manager) who give me a wealth of content to work with. My role is really varied, no two days are same; school projects, filmmaking workshops, adult education courses and accessible cinema screenings are what you can usually find me working on, but I occasionally get to work on big projects such as Reel India which allowed me the opportunity to travel to India to work with their government’s children’s film society to curate a season of family films never before seen in the UK. Writing this reminds me how fortunate I really am to get to do what I do.
You also have your own production company, Poppy Jack Productions, which produced Kenton Hall’s A Dozen Summers in 2015, amongst other local projects. How did Poppy Jack Productions come about?
In actual fact it took me a long time to find my niche in a crew. I’m naturally pretty quiet which I found wasn’t the easiest character trait on a set. But what I am is a worrier, I can tell you anything which could go wrong on a shoot and a good producer/line producer is the person who can spot those eventualities and make sure they are navigated whilst your director is still able to get their shot. With A Dozen Summers it was also using my experience of exhibition to make sure we had the most commercially viable film at the end of the process, further proving Leicester could produce feature films which could reach national and international audience. I left most of the artistic elements to Kenton who, with his very original concept and script, made something our cast and crew can be really proud of.
So what exactly is The Short Cinema?
Leicester International Short Film Festival. This will be our 11th year and runs 23-26 Aug at Phoenix.
What was it that led you to putting together The Short Cinema? Why did you want to bring a short film festival specifically to the Midlands?
I am not the originator of The Short Cinema, it was founded by Karen Foster and Stephen Naish back in 2006 who felt there wasn’t enough opportunity for makers in Leicester to have their work screened. So they rigged a projector and screen in the back room of The Criterion on Millstone Lane and ran a really successful turn-up-and-play event. I only became part of the event in 2010 when Karen brought me in and from there I brought TSC to Phoenix. We’re grass roots but our festival offers an international platform to present short film as an art form and celebrate talent from around the world, with a strong focus on makers from our region.
The Short Cinema has made Phoenix its home since the new building opened. How important is it to have a cinema like Phoenix supporting independent film projects like The Short Cinema?
There are now some excellent events across the Midlands but, to our knowledge, The Short Cinema is the biggest annual festival in the region dedicated to short film where films are screened in a cinema which is an incredibly important aspect to our festival.
Phoenix is the city’s centre for cultural exhibition and filmmaking hub and there are some really important and impressive projects, organisations and events which have been made possible by or grown out of Phoenix. A good example is The Social Cinema, run by Alan Morton and Anna Henderson, their organisation curate and runs immersive cinema events and their great love of film is always apparent. I once saw them turn a conference suite into Michael Bond’s London for a screening of Paddington with just cardboard, paint and a black marker pen.
The festival claims to be international with a strong focus on Midland’s makers, how do you strike a balance between the two programmes?
There are so many amazing short films from across the world in our international programmes. Short film is often about saying or communicating something and it’s a privilege to be able to curate a programme which can give a voice to makers and celebrate diverse talent.
The focus of regional filmmakers is very important to us because that’s where we came from, that was Karen and Stephen’s idea in the first place, to give makers from the city and region a place to have their work seen. There is a huge number of hard working, talented makers in our region and they deserve to have their work screened in a cinema at a festival which acknowledges everything it takes to make a film.
Does this year’s festival have any more new features that we should know about?
We are incredibly proud to have our 2017 edition sponsored by world renowned and Oscar winning lens manufacturer, Cooke Optics, which has really given us the opportunity to illustrate our love of the craft of film by having a name of such quality attached to the festival.
This year we are working with the UK Queer Film Network to bring an LGBTQIA screening of the Iris Prize winners, we are also for the first time, running an education day for filmmakers on operating in the festival circuit as an independent maker.
Your projects have a history of accessibility and The Short Cinema is no different. What kind of experience can newcomers to cinematic shorts expect if they come and check out the festival?
TSC is about inclusivity and celebration. Our family programme will be screened in an autism friendly environment, our programme notes will be available in braille and Phoenix is a very physically accessible venue with amazing staff who have all been trained in disability awareness.
Our festival is not just for filmmakers though, it’s for everyone. You pay £6 for a ticket for our opening or closing galas and you can walk the red carpet and see anywhere up to 20 different stories on screen in one night, maybe even talk to some of the cast a crew from the films. Our festival is open to all.
How can people get involved and stay up-to-date with The Short Cinema?
The Phoenix website is a good place to start and if you would like to get involved in our 2017 addition you can register your interest by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Wed 23 Aug, 8.45pm – Tickets £6
Opening Gala: The International Programme has expanded! For the first time this will be showcased in one of our main screens following the launch party.
Thu 24 Aug, 6.45pm – Tickets £4
This delightful programme showcases the playful, physical sense of humour and irreverent sensibility of great British artist and eccentric, Bruce Lacey.
Thu 24 Aug, 7pm – Tickets £4
A chance for audiences to watch the Best of Iris LGBTQ+ Film Festival Shorts. A post screening Q&A will be hosted by Connor Winterton.
Fri 25 Aug, 8pm – Tickets £6
Screening for its third year, the festival has expanded with The Shortish Cinema, a screening of Midlands-made films which need slightly longer than our usual 15 minute limit to tell their story.
Sat 26 Aug, 10.30am – Tickets FREE
Presented in partnership with Flatpack Assemble: Join us for a morning of family friendly short stories told on the big screen.
Sat 26 Aug, 10.30am – 4pm – Tickets £16
An essential overview of film festivals for filmmakers, with industry tips for getting your film selected.
Sat 26 Aug, Doors 7.30pm – Screening 8pm – Tickets £6