Monday, March 20, 2006

Lens Flare - Leah Byrne

Highlighting film talent and activity in Manchester and beyond

From renegade screenings in bars and basements to new cinema nights and film festivals, there is barely a week in this city that you won’t have an opportunity to see a programme of short films. In fact it’s easy to trip over them without even trying.

This ‘stumble upon’ effect happens quite frequently with audiences finding Future Shorts in Manchester. From its early days upstairs at Trof in Fallowfield, to the current residencies at Odd Bar in the Northern Quarter and Cellar Bar on Oxford Road, Future Shorts has sought to engage audiences beyond the hardcore of usual suspects

“I think a lot of the people we get are first-timers,” says Leah Byrne, coordinator of Future Shorts Manchester, “particularly at the Cellar Bar. They’re people who’ve seen a poster, haven’t got much to do that night and decide to pop in. Then they come up at the end and say, “I kind of expected this to be a bit crap, but I loved it!””

The Future Shorts blend aims to be audience-friendly, sitting uniquely at the glossier end of the screening scale, and often peppered with award winners and international festival favourites. And brevity, it seems is always best. “The longest films we show are just over 20 minutes,” states Byrne, “but we tend to keep them a fair bit shorter. Content can be anything from documentaries to music videos to animation from all around the world, and we balance serious themes with more light-hearted stories.”

Future Shorts was started in London and currently boasts sites all over the world (including Paris, Cape Town and Moscow) in a circuit that simplifies the exhibition process via readymade DVD compilations. Byrne got involved through volunteering at the Commonwealth Film Festival, working with shorts programmer Eva Nelander, who initiated the Manchester branch, and is now charged with continuing the momentum, “It’s building quite steadily at the moment, there’s two nights now and I’m looking for a few more.”

So how are this city’s screenings distinctive? “A lot of the Future Shorts groups are centrally programmed from London,” Byrne explains. “They send out the films they’ve selected for the month and they get screened across the network. But we’ve been doing things a bit differently up here. I view the films they send and if there’s any that I like they’ll go in. But otherwise I look through selections from various festivals, source films through the internet, and go on personal recommendations. Quite often, now that word’s got around, filmmakers we’ve shown previously will get their friends and colleagues to send material to me directly.”

Byrne considers how Future Shorts fits into the wider Manchester shorts scene, which is often more focused on locally produced content and filmmaking audiences, “I think it’s interesting to see how it’s developing. It’s fantastic when we can get filmmakers down to introduce their work, and people can ask questions. And there’s definitely a group of people that you see at all these short film events who are really keen, which is great. But it’s also nice to develop new audiences for it. Good quality shorts are something everyone can enjoy.”

Future Shorts takes place at Cellar Bar at Manchester University Students Union (open to all + cheap beer) on the first Tuesday of the month and Odd Bar is on the last Tuesday of the month. Find out more at

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