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Jersey's Branchage Film Festival

Dazed met up with Branchage founder Xanthe Hamilton to talk about one of the most unique independent film festivals around.

Film festivals may be popping up over the country with all the merry abandon of a wonderfully scented strain of wild flower, each hustling for punters’ fiscal pollination, but which one to pick? Named after a bizarre hedge cutting tradition, Jersey’s Branchage Film Festival is certainly the most unique and entertaining independent film festival in the country. The emphasis for the festival is very much about exploring the possibilities for cinema. Live music and scores create a unique and involved atmosphere whilst the great pains to locate screenings in venues somehow appropriate to each film increases the submersion into the film’s character. Last year Lindsay Anderson’s If… screened in the local boys’ school, British Sea Power lit up the Opera House playing a live soundtrack to Man Of Aran and Jersey’s war tunnels made for a particularly powerful staging of photographer Stuart Griffiths’ series Portraits Of Isolation. This year’s festival looks to be even more fun-packed and mind-blowing with French techno-krautrockers Zombie Zombie perform to Eisenstein’s sea-fairing rise of the proletariat Battleship Potemkin on a tugboat in St Helier’s harbour and for landlubbers, ex-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Euros Childs and Richard James performing a live score to Yuri Norstein’s Russian fairytale animations in a church. Dazed Digital met up with Branchage founder Xanthe Hamilton to talk lack of security, vicars and free potatoes.

Dazed Digital: What inspired you to set up Branchage?
Xanthe Hamilton: I went to this festival in the States called True False a couple of times with my own work and fell in love with it. It just had a spirit that didn’t exist at other festivals. It was really cutting edge and really loved by international filmmakers, but it was really community based. It felt like the whole city was throwing the festival. Locals would offer to buy you lunch; they were just so excited to have all these international guests in their town. So I thought this would work in Jersey, it has the same weird characteristics that could give Branchage its personality.

DD: Is there a particular ethos of the festival?
Xanthe Hamilton: We’re definitely committed to commissioning new work and bringing in musicians to put soundtracks to old films, hopefully we’ll be known for that. I tried to pick out all the little bits about festivals that I like and put it in one. I’m not a big fan of hierarchy – I like inclusion, no matter what stage you are in your career. And so I hope people feel that at the festival. We really support new talent, and I want to really make it a festival that young filmmakers can come and bump into and have a drink with the bigger producers. And I think it works in a place like Jersey because everybody's thrown together in a small town, unlike the bigger festivals.

DD: Is it integral to the festival that it’s located in Jersey?
Xanthe Hamilton: There’s great things about doing it on Jersey – we’re not flooded with festivals so people are still very open about being generous with their properties, so it’s quite easy in Jersey to shut a road or use the castle, people are very easy with letting us use their land. There’s one cinema that we use, but all the others we have to create some how. I think last year there were sixteen cinemas we had to come up with, so logistically that was quite mind-bending.

DD: Was it a big decision to pull Antichrist last year?
Xanthe Hamilton: It did upset some people locally, and I just couldn’t be bothered with it, there are too many good films. I agree to a certain point in fighting for the right to show films, but it just seemed that it wasn’t worth it with so much else in the programme. I actually spent a good two hours on the phone to the parish vicar discussing the pros and cons of giving people the right to go and see Antichrist or censoring it. Obviously like every film, a lot of people who objected to it hadn’t seen it, and so I tried to voice my argument that it wasn’t anti-religious, that it wasn’t anti-Christ, it was just a controversial title. He was Googling it whilst we were speaking and he starts to read the description to me over the phone, which is pretty graphic. His view was that it was up to me, but there were people in the parish who would be upset who were giving to the festival, we even borrowed the parish mini-bus.

DD: How do you set yourself apart from the traditional film festivals?
Xanthe Hamilton: The parties are very important at Branchage, it’s more of a celebration than a serious film festival. I don’t like strict rules either. I think it should be possible for people to break in, for people to be able to blag their way in. I quite like that because people are always fearful of security. I prefer more of a relaxed atmosphere where somebody may well abuse it, maybe. So it’s very easy to break into Branchage, not to steal equipment, just to get into screenings. Someone quoted it as a rock 'n roll film festival, which was nice. I guess it’s lawless and music live soundtracks are a big part of the festival, and the parties are an important part.

DD: How is an event representative of Branchage?
Xanthe Hamilton: We try and use interesting venues and try and add atmosphere by decorating them or through what we offer to audiences. Last year we did a digital arts project on the Castle, that really started to define what we were capable of. We worked with a London artist on a tiny budget, trying to get volunteers to put up scaffolding. The projector used was the size of a car and had to be lifted up 600 steps.

DD: Do you put on any events outside of Jersey?
Xanthe Hamilton: Yes, we try to bring events we’ve done in Jersey and tour them, and try to make them representative of Branchage and Jersey. We did the British Sea Power Event at the Union Chapel. A few days before I phoned my friend in Jersey who’s the Jersey Royal man for potatoes and he’s just had his first crop of potatoes out the ground so he sent 700 bags to the event so that everybody had new potatoes to take home. In the Shoreditch event last week, all the greenery was from Jersey, I had driven it over in my car.

DD: How do you select films for Branchage?
Xanthe Hamilton: There are no criteria other than it can’t be playing at the local Cineworld. My mum took me to see the Flutterbies in the small cinema in Angel, everyone there was four except us, so we’re screening that for the kids event. We always have over 100 eight-year olds into the Jersey Opera House. It’s always cross arts, usually with a live soundtrack.

DD: Why is the kids event so important to the festival?
Xanthe Hamilton: A lawyer from the Island was mentoring me in some respect, helping me to get the government on side. He was Chairman of the Opera House and also sat on the board of a charity that helped children get access to the arts. So he found some funding for me to curate this event. But in Feb this year he committed suicide, so when he passed away I set up a Christopher Lakeman Foundation to continue that strand through the festival. So every year we’re committed to doing a youth event for primary school children in his memory.

DD: Most looking forward to this year?
Xanthe Hamilton: Ian Svenonius from The Makeup is going to take 20 or 30 people out to the Minquiers, which is a reef of islands 11 miles out to sea, they’re the most southerly British islands and is famed for having the most Southerly toilet in the UK. They have 50 huts, but they’re beautiful, and he’s going to do a one-man show for them.

Branchage Film Festival takes place from 23rd – 26th September in St Helier, Jersey.