The annual Watersprite Festival brings together young filmmakers with talent to burn – Miriam Balanescu meets this year’s film festival director, Charlotte Matheson
Cambridge is home to a real treasure trove of film festivals – this month alone, Banff Mountain Film Festival has an action-packed line-up, giving audiences the opportunity to witness the work of the world’s most renowned adventure filmmakers, while Watersprite, the UK’s largest international student film festival, entices up-and-coming talent from all corners of the globe. The latter takes place from 3 to 5 March this year, and screens a scintillating array of shorts up for awards, also hosting a jampacked programme of panels, masterclasses and Q&As aimed at fostering the next generation of filmmakers.
“In my first and second years of university, I had heard of Watersprite and participated as a volunteer judge,” recalls this year’s festival director, Charlotte Matheson. “I thought it was pretty astounding that the UK’s largest student film festival was based in Cambridge, a city whose links with film I had not really appreciated before.”
While the events unfold over a few days, work on the festival is year-round. “A huge amount of preparation goes into the festival each year, and it would not be possible without meticulous planning,” explains Charlotte. “The call for entries opens in June or July before the festival in March, and this year we received 1,540 submissions from 106 countries. The films go through a rigorous three-stage judging process, which means by the end every entry has been watched by at least five people.”
The result is a shimmering line-up of shorts created by filmmakers from almost every continent. “Since its creation, nominees from far and wide have come to Cambridge to take part in the festival, some of whom had never left their home towns before!” enthuses Charlotte. “We strive to ensure that each nominee feels as though they are at the core of the festival, as it could not happen without their work. During the pandemic, we created a hybrid experience for festival attendees, which meant we could welcome nominees from all over the world. This is something we will continue this year, as well as a strong focus on bringing nominees over to Cambridge.
“This year’s festival will be the first time since 2020 that we invite nominees back to Cambridge in-person and provide an online option for attendees, promising to give us the largest audience we’ve ever had!” she continues. BBC Three Creative Futures Day, which invites local sixth formers to learn about working in film, will also be livestreamed for access nationwide.
When asked about the importance of student-only film festivals, Charlotte asserts: “Student film is often the most unrestricted form of creativity.” Flair for creative expression is quite literally on show in 2023 – a filmic feast lovers of all things on-screen won’t want to miss.