How Cherie Federico was inspired to start York's Aesthetica Short Film Festival

Cherie Federico in York. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
Cherie Federico in York. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

FOR CHERIE Federico, it was a moment of clarity that was borne out of a Christmas present nearly a decade ago.

After deciding to give away a DVD featuring the work of independent film-makers with the December 2010 edition of Aesthetica, the York-based arts magazine which she founded 17 years ago, Ms Federico was inundated with entries.

The seed of the idea had been sown, and the following autumn she oversaw the inaugural Aesthetica Short Film Festival to give a showcase for many of the 987 film-makers who submitted entries for the DVD.

The concept was simple - a series of venues around the city were taken over, creating a trail of pop-up cinemas to screen short films from dramas and comedies to documentaries and music videos.

But the organisers could never have anticipated quite how successful the event was to become in the space of just eight years.

It is now a BAFTA-qualifying short film festival, and entries have picked up some of the biggest awards in the movie industry. A succession of films which were shown at the festival have been nominated for both Oscars and Baftas, including Black Sheep, a documentary exposing the face of modern-day racism in the UK, that was screened last year.

A drama, Stutterer, about a lonely typographer searching for love while battling a speech impediment and produced by Serena Armitage who is from Yorkshire, was screened at the 2015 event and picked up an Oscar the following year.

Ms Federico, a New Yorker who came to the UK to study for an English masters degree at York St John University, said: “In many ways, it is remarkable that there was never a film festival in York, as it really is the perfect venue.

“The city becomes a canvas to showcase all these amazing film-makers from across the world.

“We have obviously had to adapt, as some of the venues we used in the early years simply aren’t big enough now.

“But the ethos of the festival has never changed, and it is a real privilege to bring the films to so many people.”

While the festival remains firmly centred on introducing film to as diverse an audience as possible, it has become renowned as a centrepiece for the movie industry itself.

Film-makers from as far afield as New Zealand, the USA and Canada as well as across Europe are due to attend next month’s festival for industry events and networking with agents and production companies.

The festival’s popularity has soared - the first year saw 7,000 people attend, but that figure had more than trebled for the 2018 event when 25,582 cinema-goers booked passes.

Alongside its undoubted cultural influence, the festival has become an integral facet to York’s economy.

Research has revealed that the event brings an economic boost of up to £1.7m to the city during the five days it is now staged.

This year, the festival is held from November 6 to 10.