Film Fests Aren’t Just For the Cannes and Toronto Crowds Anymore – Liverpool and Other Cities Are Getting In On the Action With The Lift-Off Film Festival

By Shani R. Friedman

In 2008, Liverpool was designated as a European Capital of Culture, leading to the creation of a film festival by co-founders James Bradley and Ben Pohlman. The two met up while they were struggling actors in London and then branched out from acting into production, marketing and teaching and projects such as short films that got them entry into a number of London festivals. Recognizing that there was little on offer for filmmakers and audiences wanting a more grassroots festival, they launched Lift-Off. Honeysuckle spoke with Bradley on the eve the kick off in Liverpool.

Shani R. Friedman: How did the festival get off the ground?James Bradley: The first Lift-Off festival event was in October 2011 in London, and the strong positive feedback allowed Lift-Off to add an extra event each year since. In 2012 we had events in London and Liverpool, then the next year saw the first international addition of LA Lift-Off. Last year we expanded again and incorporated Las Vegas into the festival. This year will add Amsterdam as the fifth Lift-Off annual event and then in 2016 there will be five overall events with the upcoming addition of Tokyo.

SRF: Why was the north of England being looked at as a hotspot for talent?

JB: Liverpool was an obvious choice for us: we knew many filmmakers and actors from the area. For us it had a more rich and romantic draw than any of the other northern cities and the Culture award certainly gave it that international draw, along with the city’s obvious connection to building and fostering exceptional talent.

SRF: What’s the intention of the festival, as far as its immediate future and in the long run?

JB: Our short term aim is to perfect every side of the network, from the moment filmmakers who submit get submission-only educational content to the filmmakers who get great press coverage and packed-out screenings and to the filmmakers who win, for them to get distribution between our different locations. The filmmaker will get introductions to agents/global production companies and the opportunity to go on to our On-Demand initiative where his or her project has the potential to earn some money by being part of a seasons Best Of Compilation at the end of the year.Long term we want to be as important as the Academy Awards for the entry level filmmaker. A Lift-Off winner will be a filmmaker holding some serious weight at the beginning of his or her career. We aren’t just some film festival that only really cares about which star turns up or which $1.2M low budget so-called indie film gets screened. We care about building a professional foundation at the launch pad level for the filmmakers who submit to us.

SRF: Who can submit films? Who have you heard from: what’s the makeup of the filmmakers who have submitted their work? Do you get submissions from more established filmmakers as well?

JB: We get films from everywhere: every country, every demographic, any length, any budget. It doesn’t matter to us whether they are established, a student, a person in their 60s who suddenly gets the calling to make a film – everyone is the same to us and a good film is a good film. Our motto is “Look beyond the gloss. Put talent before technology.”

SRF: How are the judges selected and who are they this year?

JB: Our judges are Ben and I in the first round and then in the next we have previous Lift-Off winners, BAFTA membership professionals and finally the programming falls back to the two of us. We understand the ethos better than anyone else because we came up with it. And we know the cities we screen in and the audiences very well.

SRF: How has the festival grown/changed over the last four years?

JB: We now have six cities around the world and an On-Demand platform. We are getting more submissions each year and have moved over the highly sophisticated and exceptionally well managed third part submissions platform FilmFreeway. That has enabled us to be better value for money and increase our submissions volume too!

SRF: What was the significance for the festival last year in hosting the UK and European premiere for the 2014 Oscar winning documentary-short film The Lady at Number 6?

JB: It brought a big crowd to our other filmmakers’ films, if I’m being honest. The film did win for Best Narrative in Liverpool and it is a great piece of work. But we had other films in there that were as good, by filmmakers less established. It was awesome to see them next to an Oscar winner, and beating it in some cases on the vote count by our audience.

SRF: What are some of the films/filmmakers the organizers are most excited about for this year in Liverpool?

JB: We are particularly excited about Paul Griffin and the duo-team of Ged Hunter and Dave Hart. These filmmakers are providing films that show two sides to a theme that Liverpool Lift-Off will deal with. Griffin’s documentary about his grandfather, Francis B. Griffin, shows a touching story of an elderly man who is surrounded by family and loved ones. Hunter and Hart’s film, A Complicated Way To Live, on the other hand, deals with a very lonely man with mental health issues.

SRF: Besides the Oscar win for the short, what sort of attention has the film fest received in Liverpool and around the world as it has grown and to other cities?

JB: We’ve been on the radio in Liverpool and have gotten some great feedback from our audiences in the UK and the states. We’ve also seen support from major film press such Little White Lies and Paste Magazine. Our partnership with the global production company Great Guns has really turned the attention our way. And [filmmaker] Paul Griffin was featured on SkyNews after winning London Lift-Off. We’d like more attention globally, but only for the good of our filmmakers whom we aim to support.

SRF: What are audiences and filmmakers on this side of the pond going to get out of the film fests in Los Angeles and Las Vegas?JB: Filmmakers, like any other artists, rely heavily on their portfolio of work. The more exposure that work gets, the better their chances of being employed, finding a producer for their next project, approaching and signing with an agent — the opportunities are endless. Also, there is the romantic element too – every filmmaker we screen has put their soul into their work, and the top reason for making their film is usually to show it to people. There is something cool about screening one’s work to the world!For more information on the Lift-Off festival, go to Submissions for Liverpool are closed now but budding filmmakers, particularly in the US, can submit for our Las Vegas and LA events at