Watersprite chat to us about BAFTA, Bill Nighy and after-parties


By theunipod,

Having only started in 2009, Watersprite is the Cambridge International Student Film Festival and is already the world’s leading international student film festival. This is glamour for students, but also a huge stepping stone for a career; weekends of talks, demonstrations and workshops, delivered by leading industry figures. Events are open to all and absolutely free.

Watersprite has hosted an impressive array of speakers including Bill Nighy, Kevin MacDonald, Duncan Kenworth OBE and David Yates, to name just a few. And Watersprite Award-Winners have gone on to develop their shorts into feature length film with organisations such as the BFI.

And why ‘Watersprite’ you might have already asked yourself. ’Who’s Afraid of the Watersprite?’ was their first ever Film of the Year, and as such the inspiration behind the title. Oh, and the film has won 9 international awards, including the Royal Television Society Award for Best Drama. Not bad.

theunipod managed to get some time with Helen Simmons, Director of Watersprite.

So, Watersprite: sum it up for us in a sentence.
A fun, friendly and focused film festival.

When and how did it come to be?
A Cambridge student, who recognised the lack of film-related activity within the University, started Watersprite four years ago. She and her team managed to catch the attention of Hilary Bevan Jones – an award-winning producer and ex-Chairwoman of BAFTA – and she became the festival’s patron. With her help and influence, and much hard work on the part of successive festival committees, Watersprite has grown to become the festival it is today.

Who can take part? Do you have to be a current student?
You have to be a student to be on the committee (which is already over 40 people strong!) but during the festival weekend, anyone can attend our daytime events. Students come from all over the world, as do film industry professionals. And we’re always on the lookout for festival volunteers – a role with no student requirement, whatsoever!

What are the criteria for entries and entrants?
Films must be under 20 minutes long and the filmmaker must have been a student at the time of the film’s production. 

You mention that last year you had entries from 41 countries. What amazing exposure! What unexpected locations have movies been sent from and how does the quality vary from around the world?
We have entries from so many fantastic locations I wouldn’t know where to begin! But we’re always amazed by the quality of films from every continent – and you are always just as likely to have a bad quality film sent in from the UK as you are from a far-flung country you may not have heard of before.

Are there any particular countries/regions you target? Or are you helping the hunt for home-grown talent?
We aim to be as international as possible, and every year we achieve that on a greater scale, but we are of course incredibly keen to help students in the UK make it in the film industry. We see ourselves as a festival that opens doors, and for UK students in particular, attending the festival can lead to great things. But our nominees are also flown in from all over the world with our generous travel bursaries, so we’re helping open doors for them too! The fact that the festival is free to enter also helps ensure there are no barriers to talent from anywhere in the world getting the exposure it deserves.

And so how do market the festival to get this exposure internationally?
We have an incredibly hardworking marketing team who use all forms of social media to make sure Watersprite is known about throughout the world. Our Awards team also contact film schools here, there and everywhere personally to make sure students know when and how to submit their films. Other than that, our partnership with various international film festivals and organisations helps raise our profile.

Tell us about the judging process…
We don’t have a judging ‘panel’ per se, but in fact two rounds of judging, which are very different in form. The first round is done online by a group of international judges drawn from film schools around the world. This helps us whittle the films down to the best eight in each category, and these films are then viewed and discussed by a series of judging juries in the New Year. These juries are held in London over the course of two days and are made up of film professionals – ranging from the Director of Photography for Doctor Who, to cinematographers from France and Belgium – past winners and committee members, and Cambridge students with relevant experience.

BAFTA has held short film screenings with Watersprite. Have you approached, or had any interest from top film makers, directors, actors?
BAFTA have given us immense support as a partner, and our close relationship with organisations like this do help us attract many big-name industry figures. In recent years we’ve hosted actors like Bill Nighy and Tom Hollander, producers such as Duncan Kenworthy, and directors like David Yates. The line-up for the upcoming year promises to be incredible too! We’re gradually establishing strong links with agencies, agents and film industry professionals, and this helps us gain the trust and support of various well-known names.

Have any of your winners of contestants gone on to 'big things'?
Lots of them, in fact! The first ever winner – director of the short film that gave the festival its name – William McGregor, is now directing big budget commercials in LA and New York, as well as developing a feature film with Hilary Bevan Jones. Bradley Porter is another attendee who admits (in an online interview with us – check it out!) that he owes his career to Watersprite, and he is currently working on a film with Stephen Frears and Judi Dench. Rob Savage, another nominee, has gone on to win multiple awards, and apparently now goes only by the name of ‘BIFA Award Winning Director’…. The list keeps on growing and growing, and we expect many more ‘big things’ from our future winners!

We have to ask: you mention the 'after party' – I’m hoping this is as debaucherous as it sounds? Preparation for the Oscars?! 
OF COURSE it will be as debaucherous as it sounds. If it isn’t, we’ve failed in our duties. Watersprite is just as much about having fun and making friends as it is learning ridiculous amounts and watching great films, so we try to make the festival as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. And a bit of alcohol and funky music always helps… (yes, we did say funky).