New films are to receive “trial by fire” at a festival opening this month at Oslo inspired by the famous amateur nights at New York’s Apollo Theater.
The Sir Charlie Darwin Film Festival invites all-comers to submit their films, and has promised to screen all full-length features.
But whether the films are shown in their entirety is down to audience members, who are encouraged to vocalise their views and give the films the thumbs up or down.
Frustrated filmmaker Eric Schachter conceived of the idea after becoming fed up at an industry he felt is not an “open door”, and where getting ahead is a question of money and contacts.
“I knew it wasn’t a fair game we were playing,” he explains. “So I decided to establish a festival where there was an audience response and films basically got awarded or accorded attention simply from an audience.”
Schachter cites Amateur Night at the Apollo, the New York singing competition that spawned the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and the Jackson 5 among others, as his inspiration.
“In the early days of the Apollo all and sundry came along and the criticism was savage. It was trial by fire, and though I’m not expecting anything that savage, it is the principle by which I’ve established the festival.”
Schachter, who has spent much of his life living in Canada, has made three feature films of his own. But any plans to show them at the festival will have to take a back seat due to the sheer volume of submissions already received.
“I actually don’t have a life now,” he jokes. “I’m just preparing for a festival!”
The hunt for a charismatic compere to host proceedings is ongoing, although judging by our conversation the outgoing Schachter is himself a suitable candidate.
“I’d have to blunder myself through three nights before I found my feet,” he says, batting off my suggestion.
For now, the only other concern is whether audiences will have the stomach to jeer and make judgements aloud about the films.
“The British have an extraordinary capacity for forbearance and not thinking they deserve more than they’re given,” says Schachter delicately. “So somehow we’re going to have to break down that sort of patience. It’s a lovely quality –but it doesn’t make for the Apollo!”
Sir Charlie Darwin Film Festival is at Oslo, 1a Amhurst Road, E8 1LL on 8 and 22 September.