A Staple in the Nottingham Film Scene, Short Stack is Back This January

Interview: Oliver Parker
Sunday 08 January 2023
reading time: min, words

For ten years, Short Stack has been a staple in Nottingham’s filmmaking community - a night dedicated to showing a variety of shorts from creators in the area. We spoke to David Lilley and Ella Townsend about their upcoming event in January, and why short films are so important…



So for those who aren’t aware of Short Stack, how did it get started?
Our first year was 2013 and it started out as a DIY film event in the basement of a furniture shop. I came together with a group of friends who were also fellow filmmakers; we wanted to create a place where people could share their films with other people. The initial one was called ‘Don’t Go in the Basement’ and was composed solely of horror shorts. After that, we moved to Rough Trade for a while, this is where it started to become more formal. We did a variety of things such as student nights and female filmmaker nights. Eventually we moved to Broadway, where after a few years I met Ella and we started collaborating.
Ella: I think it has been a year now. I’ve been in Broadway for 11 years and mostly work with the BFI Film Academy team, although I have started working more in curation alongside David. Working with the BFI was great because I could create a link between the two and help showcase some of the work they have been funding too. It’s been quite special because it means younger people can get their work shown on a big screen, which is always fantastic. 

Short films seem to be a bit of a niche. What do you both think is special about them? 
A large part of it is it’s your journey into the filmmaking world. Ella is working at a really grassroots level in that regard, helping young people understand what it means to put together a short film. In general, though, I do love a cracking short film or music video. They’re just fun, you don’t have to invest a lot of time into them and you can watch a lot of them in a shorter time frame.
Ella: I think you can have a short film that is just as attractive and interesting as a feature film. The young people I work with through the Film Academy are sort of dismayed when we tell them the time limit is four minutes; but those guidelines are really crucial to providing some sort of structure. It’s a great way to practise.

I love a cracking short film. They’re fun and you can watch a lot of them in a shorter time frame

What qualities are you looking for specifically when judging the entries to Short Stack?
Authenticity, primarily. Genuine characters and not churning out something that’s already been done before by somebody else.
David: It’s a number of things for me. We have a large selection panel who all score the films, but Ella and I will meet and decide the final list. There are always great conversations about them. But for me it ultimately boils down to a simple case of, “Did I enjoy it?” We’re not looking for anything in particular, we just want good films that entertain people. But also I think it’s really important they inspire people - we want people leaving Broadway feeling like they can also make a film even if they had never considered it.
Ella: David wrote a really helpful list of “do’s and don'ts”, which is actually on the website. It's good guidance for people who want to submit films, and mostly focuses on things like sound quality, scripts and so on. 
David: Another thing is length; the longer the film, the higher the expectation is going to be. If we have a one-minute film that isn’t perfect, we are much more likely to show it than a longer one with the same issues – because it takes up much less time. 

What are some of the films being shown on the night?
So we select two shorts that work as the featured ones. In August, myself and David lost a dear friend, Roger Knott-Fayle. He was a Nottingham filmmaker and at his service his family showed the last film he was working on. It’s called Walk In My Path and we’re going to be screening it at Short Stack as a tribute to him. He was such an inspiration to the filmmaking community and it’s a pleasure to show such a funny and lovely film. We were also approached by Anna Griffin, a Nottingham producer who helped make a BFI-funded short by Leanne Davis, which will be our second featured short. It focuses on the relationship between a mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, and her daughter on a beach trip.
David: The rest of the films are a mixture, really: there is a really nice animation by Sophie Johnson-Hill, another Christmas-themed animation by regular contributor James Pyle, some music videos and then a bunch of shorts from BFI Film Academy alumni. 

Short Stack will take place at Broadway Cinema on Sunday 15 January. Tickets available at the Broadway website and box office

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