Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2023. Short Talk with Julie Rousson

Julie Rousson holds a Master’s Degree in Cultural Project Production, with a Master’s thesis on the impact of the Internet and the digital revolution on the short film industry. She permanently joined Sauve Qui Peut le Court Métrage, the association behind the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, in 2015 after having worked there on short missions for several years. She is a member of the International Competition selection committee. She also coordinates the Pop-Up & #SHORT program dedicated to new fiction models, the industry events at the Short Film Market, including the Co-production Forum – Euro Connection, and the relation with administrative institutions. She is a Board member of the Short Film Conference.

At this year’s Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, Tara Karajica talked to Julie Rousson about the 2023 edition and selection, the short form and what we can do to preserve and promote it.

How has Clermont-Ferrand evolved over time as a festival?

Julie Rousson: It’s my nineth edition this year, so I would say that it has evolved first in the matter of the numbers of countries that we have. Before COVID, it had been increasing all the time. Every year, more people would come to the screenings. Before COVID, we used to have a massive audience and I think this year we can feel that people are back in the theaters and it’s amazing. For sure, our programming team has changed. Clermont was well-known to be a bunch of guys programming films. I’m not saying that my colleagues didn’t do a great job. They did a very good job, but the team has changed a lot. Now, it’s 50/50 male and female in the team – in both logistics and programming – and we are very proud of that.

And, I guess it also means changes in the programming. I think the market has opened to the short format in general, not only the short films – even if we are a short film market –, but we also want to promote writers/directors as talents. For instance, we now organize the Talents Connection. The market works very well and I think we embraced this specificity of short film that is the start of a lot of careers for creators, but also for producers. For example, for distributors, how we can help those people that are still learning and that are quite new, and that are the future of cinema to just meet more people? I will say it has evolved in those two specific ways.

How would you define the artistic direction of the festival now?

J.R.: It’s very difficult to say. We don’t have an artistic direction. We are eight people programming for the International Competition. There are eleven people for the National Competition and there are six or eight people for the Lab Competition. So, it’s a group and group means an addition of individuality. So, it’s very different points of view on short films and on the world, and it creates a very diverse selection. And, I think that’s what we aim to do in Clermont – to be the medium of diversity of the short form at least. For sure, we have strong beliefs. We will never program a racist film or anything like that, but I’m sure that every festival can see that. We are not aiming specifically for social films, for example, for dramas or for comedies. We are very open. I will say that as a programmer I’m looking for what I call very honest films. As you can see, it’s not artificially put together. It’s more about the energy. And, it’s very difficult to explain what’s a good short film. Some people would say under fifteen minutes, but way more often than that, I would say it really depends. And, I would love not to have to find a definition of what is a “Clermont-Ferrand short film.”

What can you say about this your selection?

J.R.: I would say that it’s less because our audience tends to think that the International Competition is the most serious one on the subject. We have a lot of dramas, for example, because it’s the pulse of International politics or History. So, of course, there are a lot of horrible things happening. But I think, this year, we were a little bit bolder in terms of the choices we’ve made. I think the lines have become blurred. We have a bunch of experimental films in the International Competition and I like it because it allows us to build programs that are very balanced and very different because there is no film talking about COVID specifically, for example. I think a lot of programmers were expecting more films about COVID, but it’s just its background now. It’s not the subject. It was also nice not to see this wave of film about COVID at the same time. I think it triggered other subjects. For example, we have a lot of films that talk about coming back to your own town or to your common ground or your cultural background and I think it’s something that happened because of COVID because a lot of people just thought about their life and where they are right now and where they come from and I think it has triggered new stories.

When youre programming and selecting films, can you exclude your personal taste? If so, to what extent?

J.R.: I should, but I don’t! As I’m not the only one who makes the decision, it doesn’t really matter because, in the end, we are all individuals and we all have different tastes. Sometimes, I see a film that I don’t like personally, but I know that it will please the audience or the industry people for different reasons or it will be interesting for our program. So, I will never say no to a film because I don’t like it on an artistic level. If the film says something that I don’t agree with, I think I will be more feisty about it because I don’t want our program to say something that I don’t agree with. So, if for me, there is a misogynic film, I will say no, but again I’m not the only one making the decision. And, what I may consider misogynic, some of my colleagues will not see it that way. But you cannot put your personal taste on the side completely – you need to have your audience in mind. Sometimes, they can have strong reactions to a film. It’s so nice to program for that kind of audience because we can do whatever we want. We don’t have to be people-pleasing, for example. So, it’s really precious to us. It’s a very curious audience and I know that they are not afraid to go and meet the directors and ask questions. And, I think it’s again something that is not specific to Clermont, but it’s really strong – this connection between the professional and the wide audience; I think it’s really important. And, we try to welcome them as best as possible every year with the two new venues. It’s great! We have more room, less queues. Again, we are very, very lucky to have those people in the audience!

What advice would you give to young filmmakers who are submitting their films to Clermont-Ferrand?

J.R.: First, I will say be patient because we receive a lot of films and we cannot select all the good films that we see. So, don’t take it personally if your film is not selected. It doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film. Not all the films that we receive are exceptional, but we cannot select all the good films we need to create the program and we need to make choices. And, I would say even if your film is not selected, if you are able, come to the market. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to understand the industry better, to meet people from other festivals. It’s a very fair process. So, there is no advice to give except for to repeat to be patient and bear with us.

Can you talk about the industry part of the festivalthe Short Film Market, the Euro Connection and all the other events?

J.R.: It’s something that we’ve been developing for the last few years. The market has been here for such a long time. It has become something so big and with multiple industry events, and we try at the same time to be useful to very young filmmakers, very young producers who are still learning. So, with open talks about basic information like the various presentations for them to learn about the business, and we also tend to have panels on more specific subjects. We try to support talents and in the Euro Connection, the European Co-production Forum, we work with a network of thirty correspondents to select those projects and to bring them to the industry audience in Clermont and we are very happy when they have amazing festival selections and we see those projects come to life. And, the Talents Connection is also something that we really needed to put the talents at the heart of the market, so we opened up the international section this year and I think it worked very well. Also, for the market screenings, it’s important for organizations to be able to promote their own catalogues and it’s just nice to see that. Those sort films have come from all over the world and can be seen in our homes and will reach a very big network of broadcasters and festival programmers.

Can you talk about what we can do to make short films more visible? Like what youre doing with La Jetée and Sauve qui peut le court-métrage.

J.R.: What we’re doing is very peculiar. We have a documentation center in our building that is called La Jetée and all the films that have been submitted to the festival since the beginning are accessible to the audience to watch. If I’m not mistaken, we have 160,000 short films available to watch, so it is important because we also have people who are doing research on specific themes, and we can advise them about some short films that they can use as inspiration or as historical background. But it’s just something that builds itself and that we are trying to promote but only for the local audience; for rights reasons, we cannot put all those films online. So, it’s fair to the rights owners. But we really want to work on Clermont becoming the heart of short film all year long. For now, it’s mainly during the festival and the market, but we are working on a new office in a new building and we have a year-long program. We also welcome directors in residency. We have some right now, but we would like to expand it.

Can you talk about being part of the Short Film Conference? How do you work together?

J.R.: I’m a member of the Board, so I’m at the heart of what the Short Film Conference is doing. I think COVID really showed us how important it is to be a collective, to just share good practices, worries, tips about putting one’s festival online, or dealing with rights because a lot of things have changed during the last few years. We have very important discussions about subjects that we have in common, but also those we don’t. And, of course, it can be difficult because we come from very different realities as festivals. The Short Film Conference is useful and really important. I think that it’s really nice to have those talks happen. It’s the members of the Short Film Conference who choose the subjects. You can feel that in Clermont, the Short Film Conference is really coming together. It’s the beginning of the year for the Conference, setting the tone a little. And it’s very precious for us to have those discussions.

What are the long-term plans for the future of the festival?

J.R.: I don’t know. There are new things every year. I think we are growing as fast as the industry is growing. We try to stay on top, we try to have in mind our audience first. We really want to work on our year-long activities. We really want to be a beacon for short films and I think the city of Clermont is really into that. So, this is the future, but I don’t know what this will bring us in a few months or years time or years.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Julie Rousson.

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