Watersprite: Mega Review

JAMES MITCHELL found this year’s film festival more inspiring than ever.

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This review was due when Cambridge’s annual film festival drew to a close four days ago. Unfortunately, I left all my notes in Life after the Closing Gala and someone made off with them. It would be nice to think that my musings were stolen by some admirer anxious to secure some memento, but I suspect they were probably disposed of by the cleaners. Whatever the explanation, the loss has made this article more difficult to write.

Watersprite has become renowned for the range and calibre of speakers it manages to attract and this year was no exception. The festival kicked off with British Rom-Com director Richard Curtis. Curtis is an effective speaker who succeeded in charming and amusing his audience in equal measure. He stressed the importance of working with people you know and like and, above all, maintaining control over ones work. He was in a jovial mood all evening – at least until I asked him during the Q&A session if he’d ever come face-to-face with the real life Bernard since he started introducing the character in his films and sitcoms. In case you’re not familiar with Bernard, he crops up in most Richard Curtis productions as a hapless, half-witted character, apparently based on the man (now MP for Harwich and North Essex) who stole Curtis’ former girlfriend when the two were at University. No doubt Curtis has been asked this many time before and didn’t seem to appreciate the question. Apparently the real Bernard does not much like the attention either.

Richard Curtis: a charming speaker

Another star Watersprite guest was Rob Brydon, who gave a talk that was refreshingly honest and highly entertaining from start to finish. He recalled his time on local radio (at 257 Swansea Sound) as well as a brief stint as a presenter on a shopping channel before getting his big break with the TV mockumentary Marion and Geoff (which he starred in and co-wrote).  He memorably described his appearances on Mock The Week as an opportunity “to wave ones dick around”. Later, he recalled meeting a drug-fuelled Russell Brand for the first time on a cruise ship and mused that “he could have been a serial killer”. For the fans of Gavin and Stacey, he indulged the audience by speculating on what might have happened during that fishing trip (a reoccurring joke in that show for the uninitiated).

Jim Broadbent also made a welcome appearance for the closing gala and gave us an enjoyable, behind the scenes, account of his work in films such as Moulin Rouge, Iris, Topsey-Turvey and Bullets Over Broadway.

For those who are looking for a career in the world of film, there were plenty of events over the Weekend to inspire. We had for example a lecture on film design, where the accumulative experience of the panel spanned all seven Harry Potter films; three Batman films; and the blockbuster Gravity. There was a panel on documentary film making, which included such industry luminaries at Brian Woods, Roger Graef and Penny Woodcock. A lecture on film financing offered aspiring student filmmakers the chance to learn more about what it takes to get a film backed. There was even a chance to pitch film scripts to industry experts – which led one budding hopeful seemingly securing full financing for his project on the spot!

As regulars will know, the festival traditionally features a short film competition. To give you an idea of how popular Watersprite has become since its inception in 2010, this year’s competition attracted over 300 individual entries from 43 nations, including Russia, Norway, Israel and Iran. One of the winners from a previous year went on to direct a Super Bowl commercial – another has subsequently worked on the film Philomena. For some aspiring filmmakers, this competition can be a life changing experience.

The Awards Ceremony, hosted by Victoria Wood, took place in the delightful setting of the FitzWilliam museum. Amongst the highlights were an animation set in a world tormented by incessant wind; a film with a brilliant twist ending which viewed everything through a circular lens; and a short based on a man’s unexpected arrival from the sea. Tom Hollander was one of the guests, and after the event I vaguely remember trying to persuade him to leave the bar and join me for a late supper in Weatherspoons (not surprisingly he declined).

Huge congratulations must go to the committee who organised the festival, as well as the army of volunteers who were helpful and friendly throughout. There was so much going on that it is impossible for me to cover everything on offer – especially with all my original notes lost or stolen. I have almost certainly not mentioned many of the superb events which passed me by.

For me, the most amazing thing about Watersprite is the optimism it manages to inspire in its student attendees. For the duration of the weekend, even I was transported from the humdrum world of deadlines and Cindies into one where a future career in film was a tangible possibility, seduced by the genuine encouragement and the earnestness of the advice given by the various speakers.

Indeed, it is entirely possible that some of those taking notes in the various seminars and lectures will return as guests of honour at a future iteration of this festival. If only I’d managed to keep hold of mine.