Prove your humanity

At the beginning of the year, six students from Curtin University came together to create an event to showcase the work of young filmmakers in Western Australia. They became the Committee of the Uni Goonies Film Festival and countless hours of hard work across several months produced an incredible first run at the State Library recently. Festival founder and Director, Luisa Mitchell, answers our burning questions.

You can read our first interview with Luisa and Goonie’s treasurer, Blake Treharne, here.The festival evening on Saturday was a blistering success—the theatre, which seats 200, was at 90 per cent capacity—were you expecting such a warm turnout?

A month or so ago if you’d asked me about my expectations for the event I, quite frankly, would have told you I was shitting myself—we had no films submitted, had only sold a couple of tickets, and only confirmed a couple of judges.

While I had been contacting universities and industry reps for the entire year, these kind of things tend to fall into place at the very last minute, but I still couldn’t contain my relief when we got nearly 50 film submissions and had about 160 people attend the festival. I mean, I didn’t quite believe it until I walked out into the foyer after setting up in the theatre—my jaw just dropped at the amount of people who’d turned out. I was very impressed and relieved!

This jaw-dropping turnout indicates that the Goonies filled a necessary gap in Perth’s cultural landscape, what has the feedback from the festival been like?

I agree. It felt like people were just waiting for something like this, that united all of the different universities and students from across Perth—and even WA. It almost felt like “duh”, why hasn’t this been done before? That was certainly a common reaction I got from people, and also a lot of “thank you’s” for doing this—people were really grateful that they felt like we’d created a space for them that hadn’t existed before. I think they were also really pumped and excited that the festival was being run by someone their age, who thinks and looks like them, who feels their struggles and their journeys on some level.

So, people were also just really excited for myself and the committee; I got a lot of “congratulations”, and “this is amazing”, and people who were genuinely just as surprised as I was at how successful the event was. That was a really nice feeling to share with people.

It’s also been really nice to get some feedback from the judges and other industry people who attended. People have told me their expectations were blown out of the water at the standard of films being screened and I had one judge tell me that she thinks the Uni Goonies can only grow from here with the way we are doing things at the moment. So we’ve certainly gotten a boost of confidence after the event!

In light of this confidence-boosting success, what was most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing, which you tend to almost forget in all the madness of organising a festival and trying not to slip in way-too-sweaty high heels on the night, is the faces of the filmmakers who got up and won awards for their films. You realise that you may have just made someone’s day or someone’s week, or even made the huge amount of time and hard work they’ve spent on their film all the more worthwhile. It reminds people they have a talent and encourages them to keep hustling. ‘Cause it’s all about the hustle in this industry! So, realising people were genuinely grateful for the opportunity has been really rewarding. On a more selfish level, I’ve just been so proud of what myself and the other Goonies have been able to achieve! All the hard work was worth it in the end.

Well all of the hustling—in sweaty high heels or not—wasn’t for naught; but what was the most challenging element of bringing the Uni Goonies together?

There’s been a few things. Probably getting people as motivated as you to be as excited and dedicated to making the Uni Goonies dream a reality. That’s always hard, and that applies to so many different situations. Applying for grant money was hard, and without that money we would have had a far less successful event; so, without our sponsors, Healthway and Propel Youth Arts WA, I don’t know what we would have done.

The thing is, running a film festival isn’t actually a “hard” thing to do on paper; you just need money, a venue, marketing, some films, and some kind of catering. But all those things are made up of tiny little jobs: a million emails, constant online posting and updating the website, getting in touch with people and checking in again when they don’t reply, and so on. So it’s the constant mental energy and list-checking that makes running a festival a big job.

A big job you undertook because of  big inspirations—on the evening, you talked about your aunt, Susan Wells, and your high school teacher, Rani Middleton, inspiring you to found the festival. I chatted with a few friends after the event and we discussed how you, in turn, have became an inspiration. What does this mean to you?

Oh, that’s too sweet. I think I always wanted to dedicate the festival to my Aunty Susan, because everything I said about her being one of my role models is absolutely true, both in life and in the film industry. I remember visiting her office at Screen Australia in Sydney and it was just this whole other world, and she was amazing. I think it’s important to remember those key people who make us want to be better human beings, and she’s certainly one of them. I felt her with me throughout this whole journey and I know how proud she would have been.

Rani Middleton was my former drama teacher, and likewise, was an absolutely beautifully spirited person, who encouraged me in my acting and in expressing myself, and like my Aunty, she also passed away very recently from cancer. So I was thinking of these two creative, powerful, awesome women whose lives were taken from them far too early, and I knew I wanted to recognise their achievements and their presence in my life. I think people really felt that too—everyone has amazing women they look up to and who guide them, whether they’re still with us or not.

For me to be thought of as an inspiration, like they are, is just the biggest compliment. I’m humbled if anyone sees me in that way.

I was humbled by the films on the evening; you had nearly 50 film submissions, and they were entered into seven categories. This included a category for Indigenous filmmaking, and those presented on the evening were wonderfully diverse. Many attendees that I spoke to were thrilled by this aspect of the festival—will this ethos continue to drive the festival?

I’m glad you got that feedback about the diversity of the films and the messages the films presented. I really felt like the festival presented a greater vision of what Australia and Australian youth look like today, and what stories they want to tell.

I feel really passionate about social justice, diversity and equality, and any films that expressed that were held in far higher regard in my eyes. The films that got the biggest claps were, by far, the ones about minority groups or people who face discrimination, and this, in its own small way, felt like a little push against that.

Likewise, I was loving the sense that people were really openminded towards what we were screening, especially the Indigenous films. Black Out Films aren’t going anywhere soon, at least while I’m behind the steering wheel. We also had a few films with LGBTQI+ representation submitted, and so I’d love to see what other categories we could explore that cater to those kind of stories specifically.

I know people want to see more diverse films, so I can only see us opening up the festival further in that regard in the future.

Besides a continuing push for diversity and inclusion, what else can we expect from the Goonies in 2019?

I think we can expect an even bigger and better festival in 2019, now that people know who we are to an extent, we can only assume the Uni Goonies will grow with the right team and a continued dedication to it.

I can see the committee behind the Goonies growing in number also, just getting more people involved, and not just from Curtin, but also other universities. Ultimately, I would like to see us cementing strong relationship with the universities and with the industry filmmakers in Perth, so that we can arrange steady, continuous workshops and lectures between the experts in film and the students. Our goal will continue to be to get film students more integrated into the industry and learning as much as possible to hone their craft.

Astounding ambitions from a Committee whose average age is only 20 years old! What advice would you offer to other young creatives who may doubt their abilities?

For those who are doubting themselves, particularly anyone who submitted their film but weren’t chosen to be screened, please know that some of your films were amazing and we either didn’t have the time to screen them with the time slot we had at the venue or they needed a little bit of honing in terms of plot or story—with which they could easily have been an award-winning film. So don’t despair, keep making films and keep asking questions and improving your craft; the best way to do that is to try and put yourself out there. We are more than happy to give feedback on people’s films too.

Aside from the filmmakers, if anyone out there is thinking of creating their own event, if you know deep down you can do it, you most certainly can. Find a group of like-minded friends and just get started—the only thing stopping you is you!

Solid advice, and it seems that you’re not letting anything stop you; and you’re only 21 years old, Luisa! What’s next for you?

I’ve recently finished my second year of studies in film and international relations, so I’m looking forward to laying down the pen over the holidays and getting a little more creative and experimental.

It’s been a while that I’ve picked up a camera myself, as I’ve been doing the managerial aspect of the festival, so I really want to work on my own films now and collaborate with some of my friends. I’d like to explore documentary and poetry-form film, and maybe even some horror.

Next year I’m travelling to China to do a semester in film at Zhejiang University, so I should probably be focussing on my Mandarin more than anything!

So, there’s a few things in the works. When I get back I’ll still be around Curtin University and in Perth for the next year or so though, so I won’t be going too far for long.