How To Build A Surf Film Festival, From the Founders of The London Surf Film Festival

The London Surf Film Festival is a week-long celebration of contemporary surf culture that brings the very best surf films from around the globe to London’s Regent Street. Chris and Demi Taylor started the festival in 2010 with a single film in a small cinema and have built the annual event into one of the world’s most prestigious surf film festivals. Just ahead of the program’s launch this week, we talked to Demi to get the inside tips on how to build a surf film festival.

The Big Question

“Ask yourself why do you want to run a festival, and what it is about seeing surf movies that you love? To be successful you’ll need to create a festival that is both true to you and true to the community you represent.”

Care About Your Community

Trouble, the Lisa Andersen documentary will make its UK premiere at the festival.

“As I just mentioned you need to curate films that best serve your community, not just the bigger films or mainstream ones that are available everywhere and have loads of exposure and budget behind them. The program needs to feel relevant and feel right, rather than always being based on commercial decisions.”

Stay Off Trend

“You have to do a lot of research and search deep to find the films that are out there that you really want to champion or celebrate. Try to ignore the trends or the cyclical nature in surfing and find the films that move you personally. That will keep the fans coming back.”

Create A Surf Film Atmosphere

The audience at last year’s screening in London.

“Try to create an atmosphere that is unique to a surf film. Even in England where people can be quite reserved, we have created a space that encouraged noise and crowd participation. I think surf films have a tradition of hooting and hollering that makes it really special. The audience share an experience, which is so different to watching surfing on your own on a laptop which is how we mostly do it these days. The cinema becomes a zone full of your people and so becomes a celebration of surf culture.”

Moving Deadlines

“You’ll be dealing with creatives and surfers so be ready for a series of moving deadlines. Surfing is fluid and you have to roll with that. Surfers will always put surfing first. That’s what we all do to try to get as much surfing time as possible. You can’t change that, it’s part of the attraction, so build it in to the way you work.”

Create Pathways For Growth

Short films can be a great entry into surf film festivals.

“Pick your areas of potential growth and reward. We have focused on our shorties, the five-minute films, because we see that is the best way to encourage local filmmakers and give them a platform on the world stage. They have stories to tell about their local surf culture which are unique and we have seen directors progress from short films to full-length features over the years.”

Find The Right Venue

“One other key aspect is to work with a good venue that cares about the films as much as you do. You need to make sure that the films are presented in the best way possible in terms of sound and cinematography. There is a definitely a responsibility there and a duty of care and the venue is crucial in delivering that.”  

It’s Hard Work

Demi and Chris Taylor, all smiles after a hard year’s work.

“The most important thing to understand is the amount of work involved. However much time you think you may need to run a festival, double it and then triple it. That again comes back to questioning the reason why you are doing it in the first place. All that work is only sustainable if you believe in the process and truly want to showcase and promote these films. The filmmakers have often spent two years of their life creating a work of art, so your role is to present and promote that work in the very best possible light. When you do that all the hard work is always worth it.”

All images courtesy of The London Surf Film Festival.

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