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BIAFF 2005 start | Main Awards | Report on BIAFF 2005

BIAFF 2005 - Judging

What's more you need a mix of men and women, oldish and youngish, with a wide range of interests and from all parts of the UK. Getting it together was Brian Dunckley's job - and only part of the nightmare role of being IAC Competition Manager.

Portrait of Alice Dunckley.

Alice Dunckley Competition_Secretary

Question: How do you judge an international film & video competition with 212 entries running more than 41¼ hours?

Answer: persuade eighteen people to give up a 3-day weekend to judge and their spare time for a couple of weeks to write critiques for the entrants.  

Portrait of Brian Dunckley.

Brian Dunckley Competition_Manager

Arrive by 6pm Friday Brian said. That meant taking the day off to travel. The marathon took place at Boldon, near Newcastle.  The Quality Hotel offered a good deal on room and board plus screening rooms ... their arms had been twisted by Brian and Alice Dunckley. What those two did to persuade  friends to help with equipment, technical support and providing a shuttle service picking us up from the railway station, I dread to think.

It started well with a decent carvery-style meal and then ...

Setting Standards

The initial session involved the whole group. Brian showed us a set of entries with widely different qualities.  Through discussion we agreed what ratings they should get and that gave us bench-marks for the weekend. Unofficially the grades are:

Grade       meaning very roughly ...
BLUE Shows promise but requires greater discipline.
BRONZE A fairly good film with a few weaknesses.
BRONZE+ Darned nearly a silver !
SILVER A well-made movie that really holds your attention.
SILVER+ Almost perfect but with perhaps a couple of  flaws.
GOLD Real enjoyment, very high standard, close to perfection.

Saturday: the Marathon Begins

We start viewing at 9am on Saturday.  Following Brian's fiendish plan, fifteen of us split into groups of 3. Each group goes to a room set up as a mini-cinema and settles at a desk. Alice ensures there are water, soft drinks and sweets available. We watch and listen closely, make our initial assessments and agree the rating.  On forms helpfully supplied we jot down notes so that we can write full comments later. The films come thick and fast - just 5 minutes is allowed between each one - and we are assured that is an unusual luxury! Lots of discussion follows some movies. Talk about comparing chalk and cheese. This is a smorgasbord of film types and we have to be fair to all of them.

The morning break arrives at last.  We gather in the hotel lounge, sip coffee, nibble biscuits and skulk off in corners scribbling notes.

It seems in no time at all we are off again, but the rota ensures at least one of us moves to another room and we are joined by someone new. This switch round is repeated after each break.  It means you never work with the same three people for more than one session, which avoids bias and personal conflict creeping in. It also allows everyone to work with everyone else, which is great.  We meet a great variety of experience and all sorts of personalities.

When the final credit of the day rolls at 9.45pm a quick drink is in order, continued argument about certain difficult films, a breath of air and then off to our rooms to scribble more notes.

Portrait of Kay Bamford-Burnell.

Portrait of Atta Chui.

Portrait of Richard Curry.

Portrait of Rob Day.

Kay Bamford-Burnell

Atta Chui

Richard Curry

Rob Day

The General Rule is Up

If our discussions suggest we are hovering on the border of a category, the IAC rule is that we give it the higher one. If we cannot agree we can ask Brian to show the movie to another panel. As Competition Officer Brian has already viewed all the entries and if he thinks we have been too harsh on one he can try to persuade us to review our position or put it to another panel. But he only intervenes to put a movie up, never down.

The new ratings of Bronze Plus and Silver Plus are intended to allow for the fact that standards are rising. Indeed we see few films with serious technical faults. What is often lacking are good strong ideas, carefully planned scripts and movies with a sense of pace and purpose. For lots of movie makers the ratings offer a useful guide to how they are progressing in the hobby.  Friends and colleagues may be reluctant to speak frankly about their work - but judges do.

Portrait of Bob Drake.

Portrait of  Val Ellis.

Portrait of Peter Kidman.

Portrait of Derek Mathieson.

Bob Drake

Val Ellis

Peter Kidman

Derek Mathieson

Sunday: There's Still a long Way to Go

By the time this is over we will each have seen around 42 movies. We share the task of writing the final comments with one person agreeing to do the critique taking into account the others' notes. Sometimes we have to tell entrants that we disagreed on some aspect of their work.

We are warned that the notes should be frank but fair.  Our job is to encourage people at every level to try to do better, not to frighten them off. We make a point of mentioning some of the good points of each movie as well as some of the poor points. Our task for the next couple of weeks will be to turn these notes into a brief, helpful set of remarks to be given to the movie makers.  After so many movies in a short time coherent thought can seem an impossible dream. Passing on our views promptly to the designated writer becomes difficult and we promise to email them in the next few days.

Portrait of Pat Menmuir.

Portrait of David Newman.

Portrait of Ron Prime.

Portrait of Ivor N. Rose.

Pat Menmuir

David Newman

Ron Prime

Ivor N. Rose

Scheduling must have been a nightmare for Brian Dunckley. He ensures each group of films lasts approximately the same time so that we coincide for the breaks. He arranges that none of us judges an entry from our own region, and he also tries to give us a range of film types, lengths and qualities to keep our attention fully engaged in the movies. Some people suspect he also tries to ensure movies get seen by judges likely to be sympathetic to them.  The emphasis throughout is on being fair - and more than fair - to each entrant.

Portrait of Jan Watterson.

Portrait of Alan Whippy.

Portrait of Gwen Whippy.

Jan Watterson

Alan Whippy

Gwen Whippy

The Final Judges - running 90 minutes behind.

In previous years final judging happened a week or two after the preliminary stage/s.  This year, as an experiment,  it took place just 90 minutes later. In each break Brian sorted out the movies graded Gold and passed them to the final judges.  He could also use his discretion to show them the odd case where he felt an entry had been marked too hard.  While the rest of us met en masse to record and agree scores late on Sunday afternoon, the final judges were still viewing.

Their task was to approve the Gold rating, sending back any they considered unworthy.  They assign International Medallion awards, various special prizes and the Daily Mail Trophy to the overall champion. The final judges were the only ones not to change partners or viewing rooms over the weekend. Like the rest of us they were asked not to reveal ratings for a while ... it sounded like: "not until the relatives have been informed." Above all the winner of the Daily Mail is kept a closely guarded secret until the festival itself.

The final judges:

Portrait of John Gibbs.

Portrait of Dave Watterson.

Portrait of Tom Hardwick.

John Gibbs

Dave Watterson

Tom Hardwick

18 Limp Rag Dolls

That's how we felt. Red-eyed and mind-boggled we finished early on Sunday evening.  Some set off for home, others stayed on (at their own expense) so that they could drive home refreshed on Monday. Did we get it right? Probably not.  The new Bronze Plus and Silver Plus ratings caused problems for some old hands and newcomers took time to adjust to the pace. But we did our best and the system is designed to be as fair as humanly possible.

I think all the judges would want to say to entrants: thanks for letting us watch and comment on your work. Think about the score and comments we gave it, for a week. Then accept only as much as you think appropriate. Forgive us if our notes are not as detailed as you might like ... 40 films concentrated into a weekend are difficult to keep sharply in the mind. If we refer to a blue dress when it was green it only means we registered a striking colour, not that we dozed off.

No competition: no festival!

The true heroes of the weekend are the couple who made it all happen, Brian and Alice Dunckley. They beavered away behind the scenes to make the arrangements smooth and our task easier. They kept up good-humoured banter and raised our spirits in the breaks. Even then we could see what a mountain of work they tackled.

And we know that weekend is only a small part of the overall work of running the competition.  Then they go on to schedule the films to be screened at the festival in mini-cinemas and the gala show and to prepare the printed brochure. After that they return the movies and comments to their makers ... and start all over again for next year.

Hats off to them!  Everyone who sends in movies, judges entries or enjoys the festival owes them a huge vote of thanks.

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