Twelve months ago, two film-loving mates were working together at Secret Garden Festival in Sydney when they decided to throw a free film screening of at their friend’s house. “It’s this incredible backyard that overlooks the ocean and Freshwater Beach,” says 28-year-old Jess Hamilton, whose friend Claudia Pickering had recently written, produced, directed and starred in the feature film, Frisky, which she’d made on a $5,000 budget.
The simple backyard screening spawned into a mini film festival when the pair decided to open up the event to Film Freeway, a global film submissions website. They received 200 short film submissions. “We hand painted a media wall, made popcorn for everyone, got a band to play and asked a local brewery to give us beers,” says Hamilton. “We had so much fun that we decided to do it again in a warehouse in Redfern.” Suddenly, Freshflix was born.
The pair have since run seven events; one at 4 Pines Brewery in Brookvale, one at creative space Sifters in Wollongong, and one in the style of a 60-person banquet at Laneway Café in Cammeray. They’re now preparing for a two-day Emerging Filmmakers’ Conference on June 3-4 as part of Vivid Ideas, which will include a Freshflix Short Film Festival on the Sunday night, as well as workshops, talks and industry speed dating for young-gun filmmakers at Giant Dwarf.
“For independent filmmakers, there’s not a lot of opportunity to have your work shown or screened in Australia. It’s important to be connecting those short films to a new audience and to people who wouldn’t normally spend money on film festivals. We’ve had people at our events saying, ‘So what is a short film?’”
Freshflix usually screens between 10-15 films on the night, each less than 15 minutes long. “Last season we had a lot of horror-dramas. We also get comedy and drama, and some experimental films, but it’s a real mix.” Though they accept submissions from any country, as staunch supporters of their local industry Hamilton and Pickering ensure at least 50 per cent of the films screened are by Australian filmmakers.
“One of our favourites was from a filmmaker in Perth; he’d created an animated short called Journey. At the end of the credits we realised he was a 16-year-old student who’d written, composed, directed and produced this film for free using stock images from NASA. It was beautiful – but knowing [his backstory] makes it incredible. He’s now been shortlisted for other festivals.”
As part of the DIY culture of Freshflix, they give out hand-painted zines at each event, detailing the story of the director or funny stories behind the filming process. “Like the small film crew in Newcastle who spent all night in the rain with no budget except to pay for beers in the pub scene. It’s those things that help people realise the passion and hard work that goes into making a film.”
They also present handmade awards for best director, best cinematography and best performance. The audience is encouraged to text-vote for their favourite flick on the night, too. “Last season [the awards] were hand painted silver plates with canaries on them.” Though they’re on far from Tropfest budgets, Freshflix award winners also receive prizes sponsored by Australian film boards like Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Women in Film and Television; WIFT sponsor the award called ‘Frothing Female’. Jess explains, “It’s a term that means ‘amped, excited, loving life’. It’s a little out there,” she says, laughing. “But it’s about frothing on films. As two females running a film festival, we’re very conscious of the quotas of women in the industry.”
Over the two-day conference, co-founder Claudia Pickering will be speaking alongside other Aussie directors who’ve made a dent in the industry – including Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes (For Now), Danielle Redford and Cameron March (The Neon King). There’ll be “campfire conversations” with grants and distribution experts. And there’s a ‘Fake It Til You Make It’ workshop that equips participants with head shots, bios and an industry-ready resume for $40.
“We wanted to keep it really affordable because we’re talking to emerging filmmakers. The thing that’s so fun about Freshflix is the intimacy and collaborative buzz of the event at this stage in its life,” says Hamilton. Prices start from $15 for a single session, from $55 for full-day tickets, or $110 for the whole weekend. If you’re only in it for something fun to do after 6pm – we’d suggest Ecstatic Cinema on Saturday that’ll see musicians create live music in a night of multi-sensory entertainment, curated by inner west electronic producer Ross Henry.