Sydney Web Fest – 2020 foresight

Promotional image for the 2020 Sydney Web Fest. Photo: Sydney Web Fest/Facebook.

Alec Smart previews the second annual Sydney Web Fest, one of only two such events in Australia.

Despite a highly successful inaugural event in 2019, this year’s Sydney Web Fest (SWF) of internet-based short films and mini-series has, like many festivals and film-centred events this year, been impacted heavily by Covid-19 social distancing regulations.

However, undeterred, the event is still proceeding on Saturday 5 December, not in a venue but on the worldwide web – where else for a web fest? SWF showcases the talents of a diverse range of artists and their creative filmed endeavours including comedy, drama, documentary, animation, music and entertainment for kids.

There are over 60 films and micro mini-series, all under 15 minutes, to view online at the SWF webpage, plus a three hour live-streamed awards ceremony which begins at 4pm on Saturday afternoon. The assorted productions will remain online for seven days after the awards are presented.

The Sydney Sentinel spoke to Australian director-coordinator Courtney Powell – herself a highly accomplished actress, singer, dancer, comedienne and performer – about this year’s Sydney Web Fest.

How did she come to direct the SWF? Did she set it up herself?

“I’m an actor first,” Powell replied, “and have been fortunate enough to be involved with two successful web series over the last few years. We won four awards at the Los Angeles Web Fest – the first web series festival in the world! – and it was there I discovered web series festivals and the impact they have.

“After being mentored by the late, great, founder of LA Web Fest, Michael Ajakwe, Sydney Web Fest was born. I started it on my own, and I honestly can’t quite believe we’re here for round two. The support from the community has been incredible.”

Films and web series episodes showcased at SWF are capped at a maximum of 15 minutes; why was this relatively short length of time was chosen?

“The challenge of producing an engaging story in 15 minutes or less is one I love to see creators achieve,” Powell said. “Episodes that can do this in four to seven minutes are ones I personally gravitate towards, however I decided on 15 minutes to allow for series that may have fewer episodes, and wish to squeeze a little more in.”

Accolades

There are a variety of awards to be won on the day of festival – 23 are listed on the Film Freeway website. Is the event more of an awards ceremony, or a showcase of Australian creators?

“It’s both,” Powell explained. “Being recognised for your work is important, and the arts shouldn’t be any different. It’s wonderful to create a community and a following around web series, and showcase work broadly – but it’s equally important to have that work peer reviewed, and give accolades where they’re deserved.

“The amount of work that goes into creating a web series is astronomical, don’t let the shorter run-time [of under 15 minutes] fool you. And I believe it’s important to have that work recognised and awarded … The Sydney Web Fest both showcases, and congratulates, and I believe both to be equally important.”

The SWF contribution process encourages women, minorities and people from LGBTQI communities. Does she feel that by setting this criteria for the SWF, it encourages people from less represented backgrounds in the filmmaking world to contribute?

“The feedback I’ve received has been so positive,” Powell said, “and I’ve seen a huge uptick in the amount of series we’ve received from women/LGBTQIA+/minority filmmakers – double, if not triple, the amount we had last year. I truly hope that Sydney Web Fest will become known as a festival that’s committed to showcasing diverse work, and that creators feel safe and valued when they submit to us, and when they are showcased.”

Sydney Web Fest, alongside working partners Melbourne Web Fest, is one of only two Australian international web series festivals. Are there moves to establish web fests in other Australian states? What are future plans for the SWF?

“I would love for Sydney Web Fest to grow bigger and better,” Powell revealed. “I would love to work with companies and organisations who share our values, to help grow SWF into a festival that not only showcases great works, but can support and help produce them.

“Support for the arts is always front and centre of the creative community’s mind, and I would love to head a festival that has the means to keep creators creating. If you’re a company who digs what we do, get in touch!”

The official selections and award winners will remain on the SWF website after the 2020 event is over; links to their social media/work portfolios will be available at www.sydneywebfest.com.

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A scene from Hennessy and Black’s mockumentary, Achtung, Mein Kunst. Image: supplied.

Paying attention

The Sentinel is proud to reveal that two of its writers – deputy editor Richie Black and regular contributor Clare Hennessy – have made the official selection in this year’s SWF, with their multi-award-winning new Australian mockumentary, Achtung, Mein Kunst (translation: Please Pay Attention to My Art).

The series, which they both created and act in, follows the misadventures of a fictitious theatre company called Toxic Kiss.

Black explained, “Mein Kunst is a mockumentary comedy about two rather hapless, if adorable, fringe theatre practitioners, who are attempting to reach brave new heights of kunst (art). Of course they are foiled repeatedly in their quest, sometimes by the malign characters they meet, other times by their own egos.”

Their characters – the ever-confident, overly-serious Margot Koch (Hennesy) and her micro-managed, buzzword-spouting understudy, Benedict J. Jay-Jaye (Black) – are on a quest for “artistic nirvana”. Described as “a living ode to the fringe art scene”, Achtung, Mein Kunst is a clever and witty spoof on ambitious drama luvvies, with some very Sydney-specific references.

Black revealed some further good news to the Sentinel: “We’ve just found out we’ve been nominated for Best Comedy Web Series at the festival! We’re told the winner will be announced on Saturday at 6pm.”

Although they come at their work from slightly different places – Hennessy prefers science fiction, Black ‘leans toward’ comedy – the duo have a simpatico working relationship, and many of their performances in the series were actually off-script.

“Our process involved a lot of improvisation,” Black confided, “and we actually ended up with several hours of material to cut back into shape.

“The editing process – which was led by director Josh Mawer – was way more arduous than the shoot. It literally took months. Josh, in fact, expired from exhaustion during the editing process! Although he seems to have recovered.”

Was creating a short piece under 15 minutes (to fulfil the SWF brief) a challenge?

“OMG, this was incredibly challenging!” Hennessy revealed. 

“We spent a long time in the edit suite, first deciding if it was a short film, then deciding it was probably a mini-series and shaping it in a kind of back-to-front way.”

“It’s a good challenge to create something succinct,” Black added, “to be economical in storytelling and pick only the choicest jokes. It also, I guess, rightly reflects the importance of brevity in making a web series, ‘cos people’s attention span on the internet is so short. Miniscule, even.”

Episode one of Achtung, Mein Kunst can be viewed on the SWF website at www.sydneywebfest-online.com/achtungmeinkunst.

For subsequent episodes and more information on the fictitious Toxic Kiss theatre company, visit www.officialtoxickisstheatreco.com.

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