I spent last weekend in Bristol, visiting the Encounters short film and animations Film Festival. Apart from being an exciting and stimulating experience in its own right, it was for me the model of what a festival ought to be. Relatively celebrity free – there were no Scorseses, no A-listers, no block-busters, no Classics, no TV ‘favourites’! – there were people from within and without the industry, gathered together to encourage each other, and to nurture developing practitioners of the film-maker’s art (and science). It has been running that way for twenty-one years.

This was so far from the ‘Book Festival’ model that it made me want to weep. Films had been submitted by the thousand, and from scores of countries: film-makers and their friends had come from nearly as many. The film, not its pre-packaged commercial offspring the dvd, was what was being celebrated. Nobody, as far as I could see, was trying to flog us their book, boxed set, or collector’s edition! A lot of people were meeting, networking, and making contacts. Just about everyone, even those who missed out on the prizes, seemed to be having a good time! The prize-givers, and sponsors, those who were from within the industry, were recruiting, and offering routes forward into jobs, training, and other opportunities.

It reminded me what I had been trying to do with The Writers Quarter, and that the concept sits uneasily alongside the commercial model of a festival. I could imagine that if they had been showing the latest Bond Movie, and having a talk from its star, director, or producer, they could have filled a bigger theatre than the three we were in put together, but would that have made it any more of a festival?

Among those who contributed the films, were amateurs, students, and workers from within the wider TV and film industry. There were film festival virgins, and old hands. They met on a level playing field (though not necessarily beginning with the score nil-nil), and sometimes the well-backed and experienced were blown off their perches by the shoestring and learn-as-we-go sticky-back-plastic cohort! The naff and the sophisticated rubbed shoulders. The prize-givers, as they so often do, got it wrong more than once! Nobody, in my hearing, bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t for ‘the viewer,’ though the audiences for the hundreds of screenings, seemed predominantly to be other film-makers. It was a festival, arguably, for insiders, but there was no doubt that outsiders – like me – were welcome!

A local writer responding to the discussion that took place online and off about The Writers Quarter made the observation that there are ‘too many Book Festivals and not enough Literary Festivals.’ And, she added, we need to ‘nurture our writers.’

I wonder how many years it took for this film festival to grow into what it has become. It would not have been overnight. What it did not do, if I understood the organisers aright, was to tie itself to a commercial film-selling model from the start. To have done so, I suspect, would have led it down a road into the deeper waters of commercialism, and eventually would have swamped the creative side. The ‘profit making’ side might pay lip service to the creative, but no more than that. Another local writer said to me recently that Borderlines, by following the ‘Words By The Water’ model, had become, like it, another means of promoting the ‘consumption of culture’ rather than of the participation in it. Celebrities headline events that would not have been staged had they written their books under a pseudonym – books that might not even have been published were it not for a fame entirely disconnected from the writing, however good that was!