Behind the scenes of the London Independent Film Festival  

This April, the 21st edition of The London Independent Film Festival brings a treasure trove of emerging cinematic talent to the screens of Genesis Cinema in Tower Hamlets 

A talk with filmmakers at The festival in 2023. Pic : The London Independent Film Festival

Ever since The London Independent Film Festival’s debut in 2004, eager cinema fanatics and filmmakers flock to Genesis Cinema in Tower Hamlets every Spring to soak up the selection of on-screen talent from around the globe. 

The 21st edition of one of the UK’s top indie film festivals returns this April, aiming to spotlight and support emerging filmmakers, screening close to 100 short and feature films over ten days. 

While the finished festival may be the final act, showcasing a shortlist of cinematic gems, Eastlondonlines have investigated what happens behind the screen to ensure the event runs as planned. 

The festival was founded and originally directed by Erich Schultz. However, for the past six years the festival has been directed by filmmaker and producer Natasha Marburger. Schultz still remains a huge part of the festival, focusing on shortlisting and programming the films and managing finances. 

Natasha says her background lends itself to knowing the opportunities filmmakers need when they’re fresh in the industry. Since she took on the role as director, the festival’s focus has broadened to become “jam-packed” with screenwriting workshops, networking events, and chances to pitch. 

Festival Director Natasha Marburger at the 2023 Edition. Pic : The London Independent Film Festival

She says it’s important to offer a program rich in variety, “because filmmakers learn from each other, they collaborate, there are so many aspects to it that we need to support.”

Led by a team of three, (Natasha, her assistant, and Erich) along with one photographer, the festival relies on a team of volunteers to help set it up and keep it afloat over the ten days it runs. The volunteers work through February and March on everything, from setting up stages to sound-testing. 

Despite the short time spent preparing for the week-and-a-bit celebration of independent film, Natasha and the festival team are “organising all year round,” she says. “As soon as the submissions have closed, we begin to set up for the festival again for next year, and submissions re-open straight away.” 

She says the planning doesn’t have an off switch, and amid the festival, they’re “already processing what didn’t work and what did work, and thinking about how to do it better for the following year.” 

Alongside this, Natasha keeps in touch all year round with the festival’s judges, organisations who run the workshops, and others involved. She says as a small independent festival “it’s important to cultivate relationships that will bring some benefit. We don’t have the luxury of throwing money at people to come and be on our panel of judges, for example.”

Through this networking process, the festival has become a hub for filmmakers, with a focus on promoting the work of everyone involved and attending. “We’ve created a real community,” she says, one where “everyone’s in it for the love.” 

Although the festival does partly benefit from sponsors and partnerships with organisations, it doesn’t receive any official funding and relies mostly on submissions and ticket sales – both of which are very reasonably priced. 

Natasha says, “The point isn’t to make money. We don’t make any money. The point is to promote filmmakers. Because in most cases, a lot of the workshops and other things we organise are run by people in the same boat financially, and we want to help filmmakers with whatever their ‘thing’ is. So everyone supports everyone.” 

A filmmaker Q&A in the bar at Genesis Cinema, 2023. Pic : The London Independent Film Festival

As well as building a support network for those in the film industry, the festival thrives in being a part of the Tower Hamlets community. Natasha promotes the festival not only on social media but also attends venues and schools. Along with that, Natasha and the team send flyers to “all the local places in Tower Hamlets and the surrounding area, to let people know that it’s there.” 

She says “It’s important for us, but it’s also really important for Genesis Cinema, and for each individual to know about the festival, and that they have the option to attend if they want, because it’s not an exclusive event.

“We have to support each other, and that’s the reasoning behind the festival. None of us are rich, well, it depends how you measure your richness…we’re rich in people, in films, and filmmaking.” 

The London Independent film festival runs from 19th-28th April at Genesis Cinema 

Read the rest of our series, Lights, Camera, Action! Here

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