Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival

Director George Clarke on setting up Belfast's latest film festival.

In the beginning...

I initially thought of throwing my own film festival way back when we began filming the award winning Battle Of The Bone. At that time we thought we could take on the world (and, well, I guess we still do). So when myself and project manager Graeme Livingstone took Battle Of The Bone to the Freak Show Film Festival in Orlando in October 2008, it inspired us to create our very own Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival (YFIFF) here in Belfast.

I'd have to say it was possibly one of the most incredible times of my life. To have your very first film screened at such an event is enough to make you smile, but to have it become the talk of the festival, and then walk away with the Audience Choice Award, you can only think of greater things for the future.

One of those things was the YFIFF - a gateway to allow other first time/independent filmmakers like ourselves get the exposure and recognition they deserve.

Robert MassettiRobert Massetti, the Freak Show creator, put together one hell of a show and we became good friends during the festival. We realised that we were all in the same boat with regards to helping other indie filmmakers get their work noticed, and his inspiration and dedication was what sealed our plans for going ahead with our own festival. 

Taking the Freak Show Film Festival as a blue print and condensing it to work for us on a smaller level, we began putting pen to paper and planning things for what we hoped would be the first annual YFIFF in August 2009.

Initially we faced a Catch 22 situation. We needed to advertise the festival but didn't have a location because we didn't have the finance and so on. Thankfully, CultureNorthernIreland were first to put their name forward to help us. This came in handy when we began searching for our location.

Thinking back to what Robert had done, we aspired to the same set-up. He very cleverly organised his festival at one of Orlando's largest and grandest resorts, meaning that all his filmmakers and star guests were on site for the whole event - it worked a treat. From the Friday morning until the Sunday night, the whole place was buzzing. It was amazing.

As an old employee of the Stormont Hotel in east Belfast, I had a connection with the place and its staff. The hotel itself has just undergone a make-over, and with the glorious Stormont Park just steps away I figured it would be the perfect place to have international guests stay. And then it hit me - the Stormont Hotel boasts one of the greatest conference centres in Belfast, which could also double as the perfect setting for the festival itself...

The Stormont Hotel accepted the challenge of hosting the festival, and not only that, they donated most of the conference centre and reduced room rates for festival guests. Within hours I had flyers and posters about the festival going into print, and very soon we had another donation from Video Monkeys, a company who is helping us with our main prize for the winner of Best Film. This involves a distribution deal on the Yellow Fever label, amongst other things.

So what next? We had the location, now we needed films and guests. Laptops at the ready, a host of theYellow Fever Productions Yellow Fever staff started dropping lines to every filmmaker they knew, every film site, magazine and festival directory to get the word out. Trying to organise an international film festival with no money is pretty tough going, and the lack of funding for independent projects like this in Northern Ireland doesn't help, so there is only so much we can do to advertise. But we kept going.

Suprisingly, our hard work paid off, and very soon we were getting talked about in America, Canada, and Hong Kong on websites like Critical Film (who have since sponsored us in advertising space), Impact, GoreZone and more. Last month we took out a full page ad for the Battle Of The Bone DVD and YFIFF in GoreZone which looked amazing, and the always helpful Impact Movie Magazine covered us in their last issue. Representatives from both global publications will be attending the festival, which is fantastic.

With one week to go...

Slowly but surely, submissions started to come in. We soon had enough to choose from, with a small number not being chosen to open the first annual YFIFF. Yellow Fever Productions has always been about keeping it local, and for the first few months didn't see anything (half decent) submitted from a Northern Irish film maker. Most of the selected films were coming in from Hong Kong, America and Ireland, with a few from the mainland UK. Thankfully we started to get a trickle of local indies coming through - and some great ones that have made the selection.

The line-up includes a mix of drama, action, horror, comedy, martial arts, and even a musical. Selected films include the award-winning Shadowland (which played alongside Battle Of The Bone in Orlando in 2008), the fantastic Isle Of The Damned (strictly adults only), Hong Kong/UK action flicks Underground and Bodyguard: A New Beginning, the Irish comedy Situations Vacant, the Irish drama 8.5 Hours which screened at the Cannes Festival this year; the Hong Kong/Ireland romantic action comedy Somebody To Love, musical films One Last Love Song and local black comedy Death In D-Minor, Scottish horror The Dead Outside and documentary The Northern Lights.

On top of the selected entries I decided to run one of my own documentaries, Unlimited Parkour Belfast, to give the guest something to watch over dinner and to take up that slot so an entry wouldn't be missed while people eat.

I also decided to open and close each YFIFF with memorable screenings, to start some sort of tradition. To open each YFIFF, I came up with the 'Screening Of Recognition'. This is the screening of a short film from a local film maker who we believe deserves to be recognised as a future talent of NI. So to open the very first YFIFF, Aidan Gault (15) will have his short film Injected screened to the audience.

After all the selected entries have been screened, we will have an awards ceremony to acknowledge the talent in certain categories of film making. Awards for an Achievement In Independence shall be given for the likes of Best Film, Best Director and Best International Film, along with an Audience Choice Award to get the audience involved. After this, my idea to close our festival was to screen the première of our very own new feature film.

I gave myself and my team the glorious task of making a full feature film in just 5 weeks, from my head to completion, with a budget of only £100. My plan was to write a story that involved a small cast but plenty of exciting moments to entertain. I came up with the film Splash Area. But we soon realised the film was bigger than I first expected, and was quickly put aside (until September), leaving me back at the drawing board.

In just one day I came up with a new feature that we began filming almost instantly in a bid to get things finished in time for the festival, not to mention the deadline for the Freak Show Film Festival in Orlando. So, produced in 5 weeks with only £100 to spend, our new feature film The Knackery shall be premièring and closing the festival.

As well as keeping things local the festival keeps things independent, so we started leaning towards the NI arts world as well as the film side of it all. Soon I arranged for an additional arts market to run alongside the films and we quickly got a great range of local talent in to sell and exhibit their paintings, sculptures, crafts and work to help promote even more of NI's creative talent.

If I was to go that far, why not extend the arts value of it all and bring in the extreme side of the art world with some tattooists! Luckily, the White Dragon Tattoo team were up for such an event, so if you feel like something a little more permanent at this years YFIFF get in touch with Chris from White Dragon via our website to book a sitting.

A lot of people keep asking me what famous actors I'm getting in for the festival. Which big name am I using to attract an audience? Well, none. As an independent film maker I believe that the people behind the scenes make the magic happen in films. I have found a special guest that I am proud to have help open the first annual Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival; Mike Leeder.

I first met Mike through Impact magazine when he covered Battle Of The Bone and got my name as a film maker out to a worldwide audience. He has since been a great help and supporter of myself and our productions, and now a great friend as he has given up his time to come from Hong Kong to carry workshops and Q&As for local film makers and fans. Mike also produced two of the movies screening at the YFIFF, and has worked for years as a producer and casting director alongside such names as my hero Jackie Chan and Jet Li on films like Rush Hour 3, The Mummy 3, Fearless, Blood The Last Vampire and many more epic films.

I'll not say putting together an international film festival is easy - I like a challenge - and regardless of what happens this year, Yellow Fever Productions will do it all again in 2010. I've always said 'Live The Dream'. We're doing it, and we want more people to experience that.

George Clarke