Event review: Croydon International Film Festival 2016


By - Thursday 17th November, 2016

IFF 2016′s director looks back on the highlights of this year’s festival


Poster of CroydonIFF 2016

Image by CroydonIFF, used with permission.

An intimate portrait of a single, black father, Christmas as a homeless person, a controversial animation about sexuality in childhood, and a submarine stuck on a mountain top: these were just a few of the unforgettable moments which engrossed the audience at the fourth Croydon International Film Festival.

The Croydon International Film Festival (CroydonIFF) has been based at Matthews Yard since 2013, where it began under the name ‘Hollow Earth London Documentary Film Festival’. It was founded by award-winning filmmaker Donna Lipowitz and artist Benjamin Bridges, and as a two-time host of the event, I was proud this year to take on its directorship.

41% of Croydon’s directors were women: compare that to Venice IFF’s 13%

Winning their place in the film showcase at Theatre Utopia were filmmakers from the UK, France, Canada, Thailand, Switzerland, Sao Tome and Principe and the USA, while three of the twenty-two successful entrants call Croydon their home. The youngest entrant was eleven-year-old Talia Cohen-Vigder of the US who made the charming film Holiday of Holidays about a school which celebrates Hannukah, Christmas and the prophet Muhammed’s birthday simultaneously, to promote peace between Arab, Jewish and Christian families. 41% of filmmakers accepted into the festival were women: compare this to the Venice International Film Festival‘s 13% or Toronto‘s 26%.

In total, twenty-three films were shown during the festival including archive footage of Croydon provided by Film London, whose project ‘London: a bigger picture’ gives Croydon’s residents a chance to donate their own archive footage of the borough to posterity.

Oliver: Mega-Wolf dealt with a Croydon werewolf and featured shots of local landmarks

Another Christmas-themed entry came from local filmmaker Capela who astonished the audience by revealing that he literally spent Christmas day on the street for his appropriately-entitled documentary, Christmas on the Street. The film followed homeless man Jacom, who was living rough in the City of London, and allowed the audience a chance to see his anger, loneliness and stoicism. It made for a rare insight into a growing problem.

Croydon filmmaker Molly Brown (centre) talks to CroydonIFF director Neil Ridulfa

Croydon filmmaker Molly Brown (centre) talks to me.
Photo author’s own.

Local interest continued with filmmaker Molly Brown’s surreal yet touching animation, Oliver: Mega-Wolf, about a werewolf living in the borough, replete with shots of local landmarks such as No. 1 Croydon. Filming on a ‘zero budget’, Brown used phones to capture audio and video for the film.

An East End filmmaker turned Selhurst resident, Frankie Fairbrass, took home the runner-up prize in the documentary category. His film, The Codfathers of Billingsgate, about the characters who work at one of London’s iconic markets, went down well with an audience seated yards away from Croydon’s own historic Surrey Street market.

The winner of Best Documentary went to R.M. Moses for Princess, a moving insight into the life of a single, black father. Flicking between affectionate sequences of father Kadeem and daughter Aaliyah joking around, and scenes of Kadeem telling of his struggle to find work and to grow into his role as a father, Princess struck a chord with the Croydon IFF crowd.

Moses told the audience, “we no longer need to fan the flame of this old stereotype of black men not being good, supportive fathers”.

Best Animation went to crowd-pleasing film Perched by Liam Harris. The tale of a submariner, whose vessel somehow gets stranded on a mountain top, delighted the Croydon IFF audience with its sense of fun, warm heart and a refreshing return to traditional animation.

The audience will never forget the underage masturbator ‘riding Teddy’

The runner up animation prize went to US filmmaking duo Kate Raney and Jeremy Bessoff for their film Lingua Absentia which documented a mother’s struggle to navigate a teen with schizophrenia through cancer treatment.

Another US animation which caused a sensation was Confessions of An Underage Masturbator, by Amanda Sukenick, which recounted the filmmaker’s own memories of ‘dry humping a teddy bear’ as a young child. The film drew embarrassed laughter, plus an ‘honourable mention’ from the Croydon IFF team for challenging taboos with a deft touch. The audience will never forget its introduction to Sukenick’s ‘Riding Teddy.’

Best Mockumentary went to Tristan Bell’s Better the Devil which explored the idea that Satan, now resident in London, is struggling with modern life. Funny, extremely well shot, and surprisingly moving, the film was a deserving winner in that category.

Croydon’s hunger for creativity is growing

As the director of this year’s festival, seeing a packed out Theatre Utopia for the screening of these films was so uplifting. A ‘real’ audience, made up of members of the public and not simply other filmmakers, is what these artists strive for. I’m very proud to have helped them find that. Some of them had never had their films screened publicly before and you could tell it meant a lot to them.

Audience numbers and great feedback prove that there is a hunger for creativity in Croydon that is only growing. Next year’s festival, for which preparation has already begun, will no doubt reflect it. If you want to find out more, or to explore the films showcased at the festival, head to the Facebook page.

Neil Ridulfa

Neil Ridulfa

A life-long resident of Coulsdon, but also a bike seller, event director, singer and part of the first wave of creative writing graduates from the University of Surrey-Roehampton. Find me on Twitter or working at Cycling Made Easy.

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