Wimbledon International Short Film Festival

Wimbledon International Short Film Festival

Johnjoe McFadden on how the local festival is making waves around the world

The first Wimbledon International Short Film Festival was held on the evening of Saturday 7 June, 2008 at Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre. It had been about a year in the making, put together by local film enthusiasts, including me, and filmmakers. It was supported by the Wimbledon Film Club (WFC) with a mission to encourage and promote the making of innovative film locally, nationally and internationally.

We received 123 entries from as far away Japan, Australia, the USA and as close as Merton. The films ranged from tense thrillers to quirky animation, arty film montages, moving documentaries, and horror stories. Many were from established filmmakers but there were also many first films from budding filmmakers put together on a shoestring budget with the help of a few friends. A shortlisting committee whittled the entries down to 20 films that we screened, before an enthusiastic Polka audience, at the Festival Awards Night. A team of professional judges, including feature film (‘Frozen’) director Juliet McKeown, together with Evening Standard film critic Derek Malcolm, selected the winners and presented the prizes.

WISFF, or Wimbledon SHORTS to its friends, has run every subsequent year, even during the pandemic when we ran the festival online. We’ve screened at the Polka Theatre, the Curzon Cinema, in a tent on the Common in collaboration with Wimbledon BookFest, and in the open air at the summer Jazz fair in collaboration with Colourhouse Theatre.

We’ve never failed to ‘put on a show’ but, on occasion, it was a close call. The hairiest moment came five years ago when, on the morning of the Awards Night, a screentest uncovered a problem with the screener print. I spent hours calling the phone of our terrific admin and technical assistant, Louise. Unfortunately, she had her phone turned off whilst enjoying a couple of morning screenings at the London Film Festival. It was the early afternoon before she eventually picked up and immediately jumped into a taxi to a film studio in northwest London where, over several frantic hours, she downloaded a new print. Around 5pm, with pixels still drying, she leapt into another taxi to race south only to slam into a humungous north-south traffic jam caused by a Twickenham match that afternoon. Her driver advised that she should abandon all hope of getting across the river that evening by car so, after dropping her off at the nearest station, Louise descended into the underground and out of phone contact. Meanwhile, back at the BookFest tent, seats were filling and anxiety levels were rising amongst the SHORTS team. Around ten minutes to screentime, Louise raced out of Wimbledon station to jump into her third taxi that delivered her to the edge of the Common. Our first sighting was of Louise sprinting across the grass to deliver the film into the waiting hands of the BookFest projectionist in the Big Tent. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when the film rolled, the lights went down, and the audience cheered the start of another great Awards Night. Bang on time. We poured a large G&T for Louise.

SHORTS prize-winners have gone on to make critically-acclaimed, and award-winning, films and TV. Our alumni include Deborah Haywood, who won SHORTS Best Film in for ‘Sis’ in 2011 and went on to make the feature ‘Pin Cushion’ in 2017 that was nominated for three BIFA’S and the Evening Standard Awards. Our 2019 SHORTS Best Film winner, Kate Cheeseman for ‘Whatever Happened to Evie’ in 2019, went on the win a BAFTA in 2020 for her TV series ‘Pig Heart Boy. Many more of our winning filmmakers have gone on win numerous national and international awards, including Daisy Jacobs’ Oscar nomination for ‘The Bigger Picture’ in 2015.

Pictured: Candle Cops, Like I Said, Sands Between

In 2021, we were back at the newly-renovated Polka Theatre with a terrific line-up of films that included a Covid-inspired comedy from Russia, a tender ghost story from the Netherlands and an ethereal animation from a Chinese-born Australian-based animator. The main prize was won by our own Wimbledon-based filmmaker, Tony Collingwood, with his hilarious animated homage to Hollywood gangster movies, Candle Cops.

WISFF remains committed to our original vision of providing opportunities for talented young local filmmakers to not only present their movies but also hone their skills. We have run Super8 filmmaking workshops, a filmmaking workshop targeting excluded schoolchildren, and have screened films in association with the Wimbledon School of Art and the Colourhouse Theatre.

This year, WISFF has been designated a qualifying festival for the highly prestigious Best British Short Film Award (BIFA). We have also introduced a Best Environmental Film prize category, sponsored by our local Marcus Beale Architects. All 2022 Festival prize-winners will obtain a free copy of CutToPlan film project management software.

2022 is our fifteenth year. A date for your diary is the evening of Saturday 8 October when we will be screening again at the Polka Theatre.

If you’re filmmaker go here to submit. Or, be part of the festival audience in October, a fun night with huge heart and atmosphere.

Wimbledon SHORTS remains committed to engaging with local partners to provide opportunities for filmmakers keen to make films that reflect the lives, loves, fears and concerns of the multifaceted communities that live and work in South West London. It is run entirely by volunteers. We would like to do more but we need your help. If you would like to join us or sponsor any of our projects or ambitions, then please get in touch at Why not sponsor a prize, a workshop, even the making of a film? If you think that you can help, we’d love to hear from you!

“The Wimbledon Festival is something special. A fantastic evening was had in the newly refurbished Polka Theatre for the 2021 awards night. My film CANDLE COPS could not have premiered at a better run event. A big THANK-YOU to the dedicated team who make this festival happen year after year!”

Tony Collingwood, Director of ‘Candle Cops’, Best Film 2021