Preview: Watersprite

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Film Editor JAMIE MATHIESON previews the Student Film Festival, and learns the origins of its silly name.

David Yates isn’t going to the Oscars, even though his latest film has three nominations. (The movie was something about a boy wizard battling evil. No, I haven’t heard of it either.)

Instead, he’s spending this Sunday at Watersprite, the Cambridge International Student Film Festival. You might have cycled under its banner currently fluttering over Sidney Street in the spot usually occupied by either the ADC or the Christian Union, but its existence has probably passed many Cambridge students by. This ought to be rectified, for the festival really is something all Cambridge students can be proud of, confounding those who think we’re just here for the libraries and Cindies.

It does, though, have a weird name, which comes from its first Film of the Year, Will McGregor’s Who’s Afraid of the Water Sprite?, soon to be made into a full-length film. This indicates quite how far events like Watersprite can launch the career of an aspiring filmmaker.


A taster of the eponymous inaugural award-winner.

It’s run by a committee of fifteen students, under the guidance of Hilary Bevan Jones, the woman behind Endor Productions which produces Richard Curtis films and is, I would like to assume, named after the planet the ewoks live on in Return of the Jedi. The Tab spoke to one of those students, Ross Harrison, who told me how the festival was set up under the name ‘Cam*Era’ (geddit?) in 2010 to showcase short films made by students, like McGregor’s “terrifying” opus. It now aims to be the student version of the Sundance festival, and accordingly has an equivalently enigmatic name.

It’s a hugely ambitious project, and so far everything seems to be going pretty swimmingly: this year the festival received 250 submissions (double last year’s number) from 41 countries on five continents, which pass through a rigorous process – around eighty judges have been involved by the time the shortlist is drawn up – to win prizes like work experience at Aardman Studios at an award ceremony hosted by Tom Hollander.

Do students still need things like Watersprite, in the age of Youtube? It is, Ross tells me, easier than ever to make a film and get it up online, but the internet is now so saturated with amateur films it’s not easy to stand out from all the goats that yell like men. Watersprite aims to showcase real talent, to allow students to display their skills and to meet professionals.

Student filmmaking is a niche area in Cambridge, dwarfed by the behemoth that is student theatre. As Ross argues, this can be partly explained by the intense time pressures and short terms of a Cambridge degree, yet this doesn’t seem to put people off treading the boards: indeed, the career prospects on offer in film and TV are so evidently superior to theatre it remains odd that filmmaking isn’t a bigger deal.

It may just be money: there’s so much cash floating round Cambridge to finance student theatre, but not film. Ross suggests college film societies like Christ’s and John’s could do much more to showcase student film, and I would agree. Who knows, Christ’s might discover the next Tommy Wiseau.

Ultimately, Watersprite has one purpose above all: “to encourage people to get off their bums and make a film.” That’s a quote from Ross, by the way, not the official marketing. But I think we would all approve if they put the word ‘bums’ on that banner over Sidney Street. The ADC and the Christian Union would never think of that.

Watersprite runs from 24-26 February. All of its events are free:

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