5 Questions With... John Forrest Founder/Director of Insight Film Festival


Posted by: Creative Times on March 06, 2013 15:05

Founded in 2007 by John Forrest, Insight festival encourages filmmakers from around the world to explore, question and celebrate the role of faith in modern society. Now in its fourth year, the three day event beginning 15th March, involves screenings, awards and workshops. Ultimately aimed at generating discussion as to the value and role of religion today.

Where did Insight come from, what kind of a background story is there to the festival?

Insight began in 2007 with a group of media professionals deciding it was time to encourage film makers to use their artistic skills to explore faith and in doing so to make a contribution to society and social cohesion. For me the idea began in conversation with a (then) young camera trainee who confided that he had a strong Christian faith but felt he had to keep it quiet on the studio floor as few of his colleagues would appreciate it and some would misunderstand it. I was sympathetic because I had worked in religious programmes for the BBC for many years. I had experienced how there’s a sort of systematic refusal to understand many of the positive values of faith and to suppress healthy discussion of the issues and challenges that faith practices present to the modern world. I soon found a valuable colleague in Dr David Butler, senior lecturer in screen studies at the University of Manchester. He had noticed that outlets to present films which may be reflective views on life are less than obvious. It was time to start something different.

Outlets to present films which may be reflective views on life are less than obvious. It was time to start something different.

Submissions to Insight are themed around a discussion of faith, this can be quite a personal and sensitive issue, why do you think it is an important subject for film?

It is difficult to argue that faith is anything other than than a vital dynamic in the contemporary world. Billions of people claim adherence to forms of faith. In our own nation the far greater majority people claim faith beliefs – and many of them adhere to ‘traditional’ faith allegiances – Christianity, Islam, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu etc. Yes it can be personal and sensitive, but its effects impact on how we live our lives together. But a tendency to regard it as personal and sensitive may have lead some media players to think it has no place in the media mix. And the consequence is it has often been ignored or treated with disdain.

I understand, the films featured at Insight do not necessarily have to promote faith, this must create some interesting discussion, what have been some of the most memorable entrants?

Insight is very keen to insist that it is for all who share a passion in film and film making, whatever their faith or cultural background. We make no pre-condition about how faith is to be treated in films entered to the Festival. We’re delighted that our partners range from the Catholic international film agency to the British Rationalist Association.

The film awarded the Best in Festival Award last year was a fascinating animation from a Spanish company. It graphically told the story and legend of the last person to be burned at the stake as a witch by the Spanish Inquisition. I think it won because it was a brilliantly conceived animation. Some of our films deal with overtly ‘confessional’ subjects like the lives of imams or nuns. Others are harder to pin down, but one of the most interesting discussions occurs when we start discussing what ‘faith’ means.

‘Witches and the Inquisitor’ 2012 Winner of Best in Festival the Trailer – by Akerbeltz’

Do you have any hopes for what Insight might achieve or where the festival may go in the future?

Since 2007 we have grown from a one afternoon event in a city centre cafe to a full blown international event, with screenings in London and New York and (15-17 March) a weekend of events at the Z Arts Centre in Hulme. It will include the northern premiere of a feature film – ‘Material’ with a Q+A with one of its stars Vincent Ebrahim (Kumars at No 42). We also have our first education day for local schools. This global reach and connection with feature films has plenty of scope for growth.

The festival encourages entrants from young filmmakers, what advise would you give to them as to what makes a stand out submission to Insight?

Our industry judges – who include Gary Kurtz (Star Wars, American Graffiti) and David N Weiss (Shrek 2, the Smurfs) , Nev Pierce (Empire Magazine) are encouraged to asses the quality of the films they award.


John Forrest Insight Festival Director and Founder

The 4th Insight Film Festival will be held at the Z Arts Centre, Manchester, England from the 15th – 17th March. For more information click here

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