LFS at Fastnet Film Festival

LFS are delighted that four Grad films screened at this year’s Fastnet Film Festival, an independent festival dedicated to bringing together established and first-time filmmakers. The festival shows competition films in the village hall, pubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and on the sides of buildings, throughout the village of Schull over the last weekend in May. We talked to two LFS grads, Prospero Pensa who made Macchiato and Oscar Albert who made School Ties, about their experiences of filmmaking, the festival circuit and what it was like to study at LFS. 

Can you tell us a little about your films?

Prospero Pensa: Macchiato is my graduation film at LFS. It tells the story of an old-fashioned bartender in Milan who must face sudden competition by a new opening bar in the same street. He’s bitter, prejudiced, and badly advised and he’s going to show the worst of himself. I really cared about my film being shot in Milan, the city where I was born and raised and where I’m living back now.

Oscar Albert: School Ties is about two schoolboys, Sid and William, who find a former pupil, and friend, mysteriously living in their makeshift den on the school grounds. 

School Ties opens with a declaration of its authenticity - ‘this story is a memory and therefore is true’, but memory creates mystery, and this was an important aspect to pull from the narrative. Sid never finds out why his friend ran away or the reason for his return and when questioned, the adults are evasive. But the backstory is not of interest as much as Sid’s realisation that whatever the reason his friend returned, it wasn’t to "get the gang back together" and Sid knows he will never see him again. 

Surrounding the narrative is a British boarding school, itself an institution defined by preserving a narrow worldview that is at odds with a changing world. Sid’s childlike perspective on the events of the film is shaken. He is left uncertain and the world around him feels more fallible than ever.

What’s the reception been like to your films?

PP: The film was generally appreciated by the school and my colleagues, though it started quite slow with festival selections. Having graduated in 2020 screenings that couldn’t be held worldwide, and this disrupted a traditional round of the festivals.

OA: The film's reception has been positive, especially when it comes to craft. It has picked up awards for Fyras Slaiman’s cinematography and Michael Hanes’ sound design. In terms of narrative, people's ‘love it or hate it’ aspect of the story is the decision not to elaborate on the central mystery - Jake's reason for running away. For understandable reasons, some audience members have found this frustrating. Although I have enjoyed seeing people come up with their own reasons and listening to the different scenarios suggested to me in Q&A’s. Leaving so much to the audience's imagination gives the film a life of its own.

What has your experience of the festival circuit been like? 

PP: Macchiato didn’t get its first festival selection until a year after my graduation. The film premiered at Watersprite Film Festival, one of the most important student film festivals in the UK. What changed everything was the inclusion in the Student BAFTA Shortlist and the re-start of many festivals which didn’t even have an online showcase in 2020. One thing led to another, and we ended up with a good amount of selection both in Europe and the US.

OA: The experience has been mixed, primarily because film festivals have been online only during the pandemic. I have missed out on trips to Pendance FF in Toronto or Chicago’s CCIF and had to experience those festivals online. This usually involves me staying up ‘till midnight on a Friday to do a Q&A in a different time zone. Not ideal. I have taken the film to some London based in-person festivals and it’s been a welcome relief to see it with an audience; I also plan to travel to Ireland with Fastnet Festival coming up.

What led you to study at LFS and what was your background before you ended up at London Film School?

PP: I have a literature degree, but I’ve dreamt of making films since high school. After my graduation I started a film school in Milan and then applied to LFS. I knew it to be one of the best European film schools and London is a city I love hugely.

OA: I went to Bristol University and did Classical Studies, but there isn’t a clear career path that comes off the back of three years of reading old books. So, people were pushing for me to do a law conversion. For better or worse, I ignored that advice and decided to go into documentary films and TV - working in New York and then for Nick Broomfield in the UK. I have always loved narrative film and during that time I was making short films whenever I had a chance. These mostly came out terribly and I figured I better go learn the craft, so I applied to LFS. 

What’s the most important thing you learnt at LFS?

PP: The LFS experience is different for everyone, and you don’t necessarily understand what you’re getting out of it in the moment. Two years after my graduation I would say that it really changed my screenwriting game, because that is what I choose to work the most on. If that’s an aspect you want to improve, expect great (and harsh) feedback and learn when to embrace it and when to go your way.

OA: That the hardest part of filmmaking to master is how to construct stories. It’s also the most important aspect to learn.  

What advice would you give to someone who’s been accepted to LFS, to help them make the most of their time here?

PP: I would tell a new student to give 110%. LFS gives a lot to those who put their maximum effort and doesn’t wait for the lazy or the self-proclaimed genius. You’re going to spend many hours with your fellow students – those are the most important people you’ll meet, so surround yourself with people that can help making you a better filmmaker. You are going to find friends and colleagues – they’re equally important.

OA: My advice would be to push yourself in the stories you write about because you will never have this much freedom to make shorts again. After film school, there are always gatekeepers for your ideas that come when raising funds. So, use this opportunity to make inventive and ambitious films. Also, focus on learning how to tell stories over creative visuals. Most of all, make as many films as possible. 

What’s next, do you have any more projects lined up?

PP: I’m about to shoot my new short film here in Italy, while I keep working on longer scripts. I still work with some people met at LFS in 2017.

OA: Right now, I am working on two feature films as writer/director. These are both being developed through the BFI Network Film Cymru. I am trying to go about making my first feature film with a two-pronged attack - the scripts I have written are very different. One is an allegorical horror film called Glass House and the other is a contained comedy drama called Ribollita. I am also co-producing a film directed by LFS tutor Giles Borg that starts shooting in August.   

Good luck to both Oscar and Prospero, we’re looking forward to seeing more of your impressive work!

Still taken from from School Ties

Still taken from Macchiato