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Manchester International Film Festival

A truly independent film festival which champions cinema from around the globe, we spoke to Director of Operations, Neil Jeram-Croft, about MANIFF, which took place earlier this month.

Misha film still

A still from Misha (Dir. Brian Song), the opening documentary at Manchester International Film Festival 2021.

The Manchester International Film Festival (MANIFF) began in 2015, and since then has seen an increase in films, screening locations and audiences under the stewardship of Director of Operations, Neil Jeram-Croft.

Events of the last 12 months necessitated a move to an online format in order to keep the momentum growing. After trying out several of the film platform services available, Filmocracy was chosen.

We chatted with Neil ahead of the festival, which took place 11-14 March, as he and his small team attempted to work with new technology and new ways of interfacing.

Last year Simon Pegg made a personal appearance at the festival, and this year you have another acclaimed star in Sir Ian McKellen. Having people of that stature support the even must give you a warm glow...

It’s always lovely to have the bigger names at the festival and we’ve been blessed over the years to have some amazing guests. We are really lucky to have always had great support from our filmmakers and we work really hard to make the event amazing for all our attending guests, whether they are the director of a four-minute music video or a big star.

Is that testimony to how highly thought-of the event is?

Definitely, and it also helps to raise the profile of the event and shows that we have built something that is being taken seriously in the industry, which makes it more attractive to filmmakers to launch their films with us.

This is the seventh festival but the first during a Covid lockdown. No doubt there have been quite a few, but could you outline some of the hurdles that have been overcome?

We were so lucky that we managed to finish the festival last year only a week before lockdown. Looking back now, if you’d told me then that we’d have still been here for the ‘21 event I just wouldn’t have believed it.

It’s been a really tough year for everyone. In terms of hurdles for us the main ones have been working out how to facilitate the Q&As after screenings, as that is such a big part of the festival, and also the networking for filmmakers and still give them a great experience online. I think with the platform we are using we have managed to solve both of these and I’m really looking forward to the event.

How many people are working behind the scenes getting everything together?

We’re a really small team and have not had to furlough any staff luckily. We always rely on a great team of volunteers and many of them are coming back to support with the online edition.

How has it been getting financial support in this climate compared to other years?

Normally we have multiple sponsors of the event and that really helps us. This year with everyone needing to tighten their belts, we don’t have any monetary sponsors so that’s been tricky.

Last year the event was over ten days. This year it will be fewer, going back almost to the early days. How easy is it to attract new films and keep quality control?

We are actually four days this year, with the opening night on Thursday 11 March and closing on Sunday 14. With the move to ten days in the last two years we’ve been able to show lots more archive screenings, out-of-competition distributor screenings and special strands, such as our German film selection last year.

We made the decision this year, for the online edition, just to focus on our in-competition films, so we’ve managed to keep the quality really high. We will be going back to a ten-day event in 2022, when we are pretty confident we’ll be back in our physical venues.

MANIFF2021 will be a fully virtual event, with screenings and Q&As taking place online through Filmocracy. Do you think there will be more collaborations with Filmocracy?

Filmocracy have done an amazing job creating the best platform in the world to host a virtual film festival. The support they have offered has been fantastic and we are definitely hoping to continue the relationship in the future.

Assuming the event can get back to live showings at the Odeon, if someone was to stumble into the cinema out of the Manchester rain, how would you get them to stay?

Manchester rain? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I think I’d just hand them a programme and let the quality of the films do the work for me!

Igilbert film still

iGilbert (Dir. Adrian Martinez)

What has been the feedback on this year’s event?

So far all the filmmakers are really supportive and our regular audience are as well. We really wanted to make a great experience and part of that also came down to prices - we’ve made them as low as possible, with individual tickets only £3.50 and passes only £19.95.

What have been your highlights over the years?

It’s been a crazy ride. The first year was a huge highlight – just seeing this event I had imagined in my head made real, with filmmakers from all over the world and thousands of people attending. Year three was also a big one. Timothy Spall, Karen Allen and Olivia Cooke all attending really made us feel like we’d made it. Since then it’s just grown and grown.

Do you follow the careers of the producers, writers etc, after they have appeared at MANIFF?

We certainly do and many of them are back again this year. We’re delighted to support our filmmakers and the world premiere of Infinitum: Subject Unknown is by some really great friends of the festival in Matthew and Tori Butler Hart.

They came to the first edition with their film Two Down, and then were on the jury in year two and three, and then were back with their film The Isle in year four, and then back on the jury again in year five. I think last year was the only year they have missed.

We also have films from Paul Holbrook in the shorts category, who has had two other films at the festival, and a documentary from Guilleme Levil, which will now be his fourth time at the festival. We really try and support our filmmakers as much as we can.

Do you have any particular recommendations from this year’s selection?

All of it!

It really depends on your personal taste. The Catch, iGilbert and Vultures are great films. I always love the shorts blocks as you get a huge variety of films in the 90 minutes. And the opening documentary Misha and final documentary Where’s Nancy? are really great as well.

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