Insight Film Festival: past, present and future

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John Forrest, Festival Director, shares his personal journey and how it relates to the evolution of the Insight Film Festival.

This article was first published at AssistNews.net on 23 June 2013. It is reproduced here by kind permission of ASSIST News Service and the publication’s web editor, Dan Wooding.

JF Awards

From small beginnings, the Insight Film Festival has grown globally. It exists to encourage filmmakers throughout the world to make films about ‘faith’. Here is a whistlestop tour of Insight’s development from its inception, to the present day and beyond.

How it all began

I’ve been working in the media industry now for over forty years. Faith has always been important to me. I joined the BBC as a radio producer in the early 1970s when I was fresh out of University and also quite new to a resonant Christian faith, which was to address my life from and influence many of my most important decisions.

I was fortunate (eventually) to work in the religious broadcasting department of one the UK’s leading commercial TV companies as well as with the British Broadcasting Corporation’s department. I noticed, even all those years ago, that ‘faith’ wasn’t regarded as cool by many of the people running the show.

This seemed strange to me as I’ve always found the whole realm of faith to be exciting, challenging – and bursting with ideas that would make good and interesting media.

For my work with BBC Television I was lucky enough to film around the world and to be introduced to many people who clearly found inspiration from their personal faith journeys. I discovered that, like me, many of them felt marginalised by many of the media systems that seemed to refuse to take faith seriously.

I became a freelance producer-director in 2001 and, as well as continuing to make productions, I also got involved in training many young entrants to the film and television industry. During one such mentoring session I was challenged by an aspiring young cameraman who told me how hard it was for him to discuss his faith on the studio floor. He and I started to discuss the idea of a film festival that would take faith seriously.

By chance, I had already made contact with Dr David Butler, a lecturer within the Film Department of the University of Manchester, England. He became very excited with the idea and readily greed to join the planning group. David’s life revolves around analysis and understanding of the moving image and he’s observed the significant role movies play in human understanding.

We agreed that the Insight Film Festival would invite everyone who is interested in faith to join in. From the very beginning we were at pains to ensure that people from all faith backgrounds and none felt very welcome.

Since Insight’s very small beginnings at an arts café in Manchester, England back in 2009, the Festival has grown globally. Our patrons now include filmmaker David Puttnam, screenwriter David Weiss (Shrek 2, The Smurfs), writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions, Olympic Opening Ceremony) and our industry judges have included Gary Kurtz (Star Wars, American Graffiti) and senior broadcast executives.

USA visit (July 2013)

This year we are looking particularly into our international growth and impact. We received films from over 60 countries at the Festival back in March 2013. Now there is significant interest in taking the Festival to various places in the Far East and possibly looking at how we might co-site.

With the blessing of the Insight board of directors, I’m making a very quick visit to discuss the Festival with several people in the USA. We have already mounted a screening and lecture at the Film School of New York University in conjunction with Coexist (in March 2012) and have several contacts in Hollywood. I’m hoping to meet up with any people involved in the media industry who share our passion for faith and film.

The Insight Film Festival exists to encourage filmmakers throughout the world to make films about ‘faith’. It creates events and spaces where such films can be displayed, discussed and celebrated. It welcomes participants from all faith backgrounds and none and focuses particularly on young filmmakers. In doing so it wants to make positive contributions to understanding and respect.