It seems strangely appropriate that I sit down to interview Alex Darby directly following a lecture on Italian Neorealism for the European Cinema paper we’re both taking this term. As co-president of the OBA, Alex is at the forefront of Oxford’s student filmmaking scene, and begins by telling me about some of the Oxford-produced films being screened this Sunday in an event that will showcase the university’s directorial, screenwriting and acting talent.
“The event is the OBA (Oxford Broadcasting) short film screening. It’s a selection of the best student shorts made over the last year, so they’re mostly made by people who have just graduated, and these are projects that OBA has funded and backed, quite often with our own equipment.
“One exception to that is a short film called Stray, a film by Sophie Russell who is at the National Film and Television School at the moment. She was at Oxford about four or five years ago and that was her entry film. She’s happy to have it screened and it might be of interest to other people looking to go down that route. But it’s mostly the premiere of films that OBA’s funded; the most exciting student films made over the last year.”
So some of these films will never have been shown before?
“Most of them. We have the first screenings for Lick, Genius, Catkins and Baktrack.”
I ask how many films are being shown. Alex laughs. “I should know this! About eight. No, the premiere is for six out of nine — it’s the premiere for Waterbird as well.”
What films is Alex specifically excited about? Having directed three of the nine, I assume it will interest him to see how they go down.
He nods. “The films I’m specifically excited about are… well, all of them really! But I produced one called Genius which I’m really excited to see. It’s a Spinal Tap-esque mockumentary of the student drama scene in Oxford. I think it’s devastatingly funny.” There is a moment’s pause. “It’s just fucking funny. It’s about students making plays and being ridiculous but also has quite an intelligent, satirical side to it too. I’m hoping that’ll go down really well; it was a lot of fun to make, it’s got a good score and some really good acting in it as well.”
So it’s kind of a mix in terms of Oxford-related subject matter and purely creative alternative films?
To an extent, apparently. Alex elaborates: “Yeah, although actually I don’t think any of them are Oxford-related other than Genius and Lick. They’re nearly all shot in Oxford.
I suggest that if they’re all OBA-produced, the crew will tend to know each other. Might the collaborative element come through?
Alex agrees, but is quick to play down the idea of an exclusive group. “I think that will come through, yeah, though one thing Ksenia [Harwood, Alex’s co-president] and I have been trying quite hard to do this year is to make OBA really accessible and approachable for people who are starting. Hopefully this should be a good platform for people who are interested but haven’t made anything to come and talk to us, to meet the other filmmakers. By the very nature of the beast there aren’t that many students making films so yeah, everyone knows each other and helps each other out, but it’s not a clique. People should feel very happy to come up and ask questions.”
I mention that I’ve noticed some of my friends take an interest in OBA this year, including one whose script has just been optioned, and the conversation turns to the organisation itself and what OBA does.
“We mainly do two things,” Alex tells me. “One is helping get good student films made — giving productions we like a bit of money and giving them kit. Secondarily to that, we have a lot of events. This term we’ll have had Roger Michell [director of Notting Hill], Eric Fellner [head of Working Title] and Barnaby Thompson [head of Ealing Studios]. We’re also running a screenwriting competition. The main things are film-related events and actually getting student films made.”
I tell him I was impressed by Joanna Hogg’s talk earlier this term.
“Yeah.” Another pause. “The other thing to say is that anyone can use the kit as well, it doesn’t cost that much and we’re happy to make it more affordable if you’ve got a good project.”
Speaking of projects, what kind of things has OBA got coming up?
“There’s a short film that Alvin Yu is directing. He’s really talented and also made the The Dancing Vendetta, which is in the short film screening. I saw that and then watched it straight away again. It’s really funny. He’s doing a short written by Howard Coase; that looks exciting.
“Then Harry Lighton has written a script – his film, Three Speech, won a competition we did last year, so he’s got money from OBA. He’s written a really beautiful script. It’s about a first- actually I shouldn’t say, but let me just say it’s a really cool script, and that will shoot in the summer.
“We’ll have the screenwriting competition too, the deadline for which is at the start of Hilary, and those films will shoot between Hilary and Trinity. So a few things coming up. Then for the summer, there are two things I’m fucking excited about. One is, er… have you heard of the Oxford University Exploration Club?”
I admit that to my shame, I haven’t.
Alex laughs. “Well, it exists! I’m going on an expedition with them and Nick [Lory] who has been director of photography on my last few film to make a documentary about an indigenous tribe in the oldest rainforest in the world in Borneo.”
“I know, it’s gonna be so cool! It’s a six-week trip through the rainforest and we get funding. It’s such an ideal thing to do after graduating. Then the other thing is quite an ambitious plan to do a short with Ksenia, who produced Waterbird and Catkins. Set in Sicily, it’s called After Sunstroke and is based on Ivan Bunin, who’s a Nobel Prize-winning Russian author who is sadly forgotten. It’s one of his short stories, a really intense but cool short story. We’re just starting work on that now. Obviously we’ve got a bit of money to raise but we’ll put a good team together.”
As we wrap up, I ask if Alex has anything to add about the event. He does. “It’s a combination of very cool stuff from everyone making films last year, so it’s awesome to showcase it.”
A nice variety?
“Yeah. And everyone coming back for the screening is now working in film or doing something in film.”
So there will be some interesting people around?
He nods. “Yeah, some interesting people. Basically we just want people to come and see the films.”
The OBA Short Film Screening will take place on Sunday, the 23rd of November from 4-6 pm, at the Phoenix Picturehouse on Walton Street.
A link to the Facebook event can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/791880210834405/