Taking a short film to Clermont-Ferrand


The train arrived at the station on time – which I was later told made me ‘very lucky’ – and I knew I had reached Clermont-Ferrand; not by the solely-French, mumbled announcement; nor by the non-existent station signs; but rather by a silver-haired smiling man who replied “Oui” to my question, in his kind-yet-surprised manner, as if I had asked if we’ve arrived on Earth.

Enveloped by wooded peaks, Clermont-Ferrand is a quaint city located in central France, attested by locals to be rather sleepy – not to say, for some, boring – except for one week in February, which holds their International Short Film Festival.

La Maison de la Culture is at the heart of the event.

The Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival is the largest and most renowned of its kind in Europe and one of the largest in the world – which probably means that you haven’t heard of it. But for its duration, the city becomes a place of pilgrimage, not only for French or Western European, but for global audiences, where most screening venues – and there are many – are packed with audiences of all ages, starting from early morning until late night, which makes you wonder if these people don’t have any jobs! And much like the most renowned film festivals, it has an industry part – The Film Market – and Clermont-Ferrand is celebrated as the world’s leading industry event for short films. This was where I was heading.

Night Ride – a short film I wrote and directed, and filmed in Kyiv – received the festival’s laureled title of “2024 Clermont-Ferrand Official Market Pick” with an invitation. I co-produced it with Ukrainian filmmaker Olesandra Brovchenko in association with Directory Films, and it was executive produced by Schaul Scherzer and Igor Savychenko. It combines a surreal coming-of-age story with a mystery thriller. Set over one night in a nightmarish dystopia, a boy is kidnapped by mysterious rebels. As the boy uncovers their intentions, he unravels a secret hidden within himself. While being a multi-layered allegorical journey about dealing with the dreads of adulthood during the times of war and Covid, with dreamlike symbolism – it is also a hopeful, fast-paced thrilling ride about overcoming trauma and fears; somewhat of a mixture between Mad Max, David Lynch and Fritz Lang. What to one sounds intriguing, to another can be challenging.

A scene from Night Ride.

“Short films are not a highly profitable business,” a sales agent admits during a meeting. “Most people have other means of income, but we believe it’s important. The thing is that there are a handful of buyers – theatrical and TV channels – and there are so many short films that the programmers don’t have the time to watch the films, so they count on us to scout and package them for them”. Therefore, they couldn’t really fight for a unique film. That is the double-edged sword of an industry. To me as a filmmaker, I tell him, it sounds like an incentive to simply follow socio-political trends and not to really have a unique, personal voice. It is not only a theoretical question about artistic integrity, but having too much sameness – which is a current concern of the medium – regresses audience taste and the medium itself, especially in a world where other art and entertainment mediums are easily available.

The most notable importance of short films is a calling card for directors as a stepping stone to director feature-length films; proof-of-concept to longer form stories; or snippets to certain worlds that rarely get seen in the mainstream. The latter is probably the highest incentive for various companies and countries to hold a spot in the cultural market of short films, and there are many professionals who look for good content or offer their services to along the way.

But while not being as luxurious or as profitable, it is still a lively industry, as you can sense from just walking up and down the market stand aisles. This year, the market opened on February 5-8. So, in those 4 days (and nights), my goal was to get it watched by professionals – in the hope to have it picked for other festivals on its festival circuit or taken for distribution and later sales, and establish new connections.


The market is a maze of international delegations of countries and companies, all offering to sell their films slate or services to the market and festival participants – festival directors and programmers, distributors, sales agents and filmmakers, such as myself.

For example, you have a short film and you’re unsure of where to send it to? I say hi to my friends Mark Brennan, Esther Smith, Katie and Ian Bignell at their stand of Festival Formula –  a UK-based festival strategy company. Even that job exists. For now, we discuss today’s socialising schedule – as we later colloquially called ourselves “The Festigang”.

Like every festival with a market, there are special events to meet the festival and distributors, but also there are two ways people socialise (and grab a free bite):

  1. The “MEET & GREET” where every stand at a prescheduled time brings out drinks (usually alcohol as European tradition required) and some of the native dish in finger-food form. Usually some cheese and bread, but it could also be pastries or as for Festival Formula – Jaffa cakes.
  2. The NIGHT PARTIES – arranged and hosted by the delegated country. Those require invitations that are somewhat of a challenge to obtain. Those who do, definitely get riz. The parties themselves are either cocktail parties at a hotel lounge or simple high-schooler clubbing with the hosting country’s club music. While afterwards, participants might feel the anticipation was overhyped, one cannot underestimate the sense of play and treasure hunt energy it brings to the market that can be quite a repetitive experience.

At night, there were two main locations: The Dark Lab – the festival’s “official” club, where each night various DJs and bands performed, at times after screenings of previous participating films; and the L’Univers – the bar/brasserie which we would gather for more talking, laughing and for most – drinking and eating until the early hours of dawn. At then, a couple of hours of sleep, and back to meetings. That’s the vibe of festivals and market, like a social bootcamp where you not only manage to make contacts, but sometimes, friends for life.


Networking and winding down at L’Univers

Surrounded by caffeine and sugar, chitter-chatters drowned in utensil clinks and clanks, I walk from one meeting to another. As the days fly by and sleeping hours diminish, the meetings and encounters never stop. Even when it comes to short films, there still seems to be something around the corner. In every meeting, behind the exhausted smiles, one can sense a fire still burning. A fire of hope to find the path to the next level; to find the partner who will “get” you and will be able to get you closer to success – whether you’re a filmmaker or a distributor, whether festival programmer or sales agent, everyone wants to find the best next thing and be a part of it.

Eventually, we all meet at some cocktail party or outside L’Univers, and laugh tiresomely every time someone asks what do you do or what is your film about; and then respond with blank expression as brain cells seek to find way to say these answers in new ways. That’s all part of the experience, and that is fine. Even as the market and festival days are over, and only time will tell its effectiveness for the films and filmmaker, it’s all about meeting new people, “social investment”, “possible future collaborations”, etc. And while the L’Univers bar may not be as full as it was, as you read these words, it is quite definite that the city will thrive again next year with the members of the Festigang.