How York film festival won BAFTA’s seal of approval

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Aesthetica Short Film Festival founder Cherie Federico talks to Sarah Freeman about putting York on the international stage.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is something of a mysterious beast.

Most film festivals in the country - and there are now hundreds - would love to be taken under its wing, but accreditation isn’t something that can be formally applied for. Instead you have to wait for a tap on the shoulder.

“They come to you, you don’t go to them,” says Cherie Federico, director of York’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival. “I had no idea we were even on BAFTAs radar, so when I opened up an email which said we would be part of their official programme I was in total shock.

“I was just about to go on holiday and walked into the office to say, ‘ might want to hear about this’.”

ASFF is the first festival to be accredited in 10 years and joins the likes of the Leeds International Film Festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest and BFI London in the BAFTA fold.

“It means that any film we screen can be considered by the BAFTA-board for an award,” says Federico, who has just unveiled the full programme for next month’s festival. “It’s good for us as it raises our profile among really serious filmmakers, but it’s also a bonus for anyone who is selected for our festival.”

It is also another notch on the CV for a woman who has made York the centre of her artistic empire. It was back in 2002 that Federico, who had moved to the city from New York to study at York St John University decided to launch a magazine. Those first editions of the glossy arts publication Aesthetica were paid for on her credit card, but it quickly established a global readership.

Some would have been content with building a monthly readership in excess of 100,000, but when the magazine ran a competition to unearth new filmmaking talent, it led to her founding her own festival celebrating short films.

Turning many of the city’s historic buildings into pop-up cinemas, the very first ASFF took place in 2011 and this year’s event will feature more than 300 films from 39 countries.

“We will have the usual mix of comedy, documentary, animation and drama, but this year we’ve decided to add two new strands dedicated to fashion and advertising,” says Federico. “Through working on the magazine I noticed that filmmaking linked to the fashion world was thriving and we felt that it deserved a category all of its own. In terms of the advertising strand, people often ask me, ‘why do people make short films?’

“There are a hundred different reasons, but often it’s because they act as a calling card and many do end up working in advertising.

“There’s a tendency to think that because something is commercial and because someone is working to a brief it’s some how less creative, but I don’t believe that. The best adverts are works of art in their own right and that’s what we are really keen to showcase.”

Federico recently added the Aesthetica Art Prize to her portfolio - an annual £5,000 award celebrating the best in contemporary art, but for now all focus is on the film festival.

Spanning four days, this year’s programme features performances from the likes of Maxine Peake, The Bourne Ultimatum actor Mark Bazeley and The Last Tango in Halifax’s Anne Reid.

Elsewhere Richard Wilson narrates comedy Making Ends Meat, while Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) lends his voice to the drama Manny Gets Censored.

“ASFF is the place to really fall in love with independent cinema,” says Federico. “We have always been keen to make the festival as accessible as possible so while we have a series of events targeted at those in the industry there is also a family-friendly programme of screenings.”

Aesthetica Short Film Festival ruins from November 6 to 9.