Venue Case Studies

Case Study: Watersprite Film Festival

A panel of speakers onstage.

Watersprite first started in 2009 when a group of students wanted to run a small film festival in Cambridge. 14 years later it is now the biggest student film festival in the UK and the second biggest in the world – and is still run by students for students. We find and platform emerging talent, showcasing the stars of tomorrow from across the globe. In 2023 we had over 1500 submissions from 106 countries and welcomed over 4,000 people in-person and online over our Festival Weekend. We are dedicated to making the screen industries more accessible and as such, we are entirely free to enter and free to attend. We host a weekend of events in March every year with screenings, masterclasses, panel events and workshops across multiple venues in Cambridge. We also run a year-long mentorship scheme where anyone who self-identifies as a disadvantaged filmmaker can apply – in 2023 our mentees are from the UK and Nepal.  

Why We Started This Work

We believe in building the confidence and skills of young people and we host a specific day for 16-18 year olds, our BBC Three Creative Futures Day. This is a full day of entirely free events which students and teachers can join virtually or in-person. We want to give young people the space to share their work, learn from each other and form those important networks. Watersprite is a real community – with filmmakers and film-lovers returning year on year to celebrate international cinema and the next generation of talent. We started this work because we believe in young people working together – showing the world our potential. 

Our Planning and Approach

Watersprite requires year-round planning. We have one permanent member of staff,our Festival Producer and Charity Director who oversees the overall running of the festival, but it is our student team who lead and shape the festival each year. We have a Festival Director, eight heads of departments and many committee members – all of whom are students at either Anglia Ruskin University or the University of Cambridge. The student team are supported by the Festival Producer, the Steering Committee of Watersprite Alumni and our wonderful Board of Trustees. This means that although the team largely changes each year, there is real expertise and continuity behind everything. The total team is often between 80 – 170 students (including volunteers over the festival weekend). We only recruit committee members from Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge but we do encourage anyone to volunteer with us over the weekend. Our team is filled with young people as Watersprite is a festival entirely tailored towards empowering the next generation – there is a real sense of strength in young voices and trust in young people’s abilities which encourages people to take part. The opportunity to have such responsibility and creativity in a huge-scale event is incredibly rewarding. 

The new student team is recruited from May – October, with the Festival Director being the first to come on board. We have such a long window because it allows students arriving for the first time at University in September to take part. A lot of students start working with us by volunteering for the festival weekend before working their way up various positions within the committee. 

Once the core team is in place, planning for the year ahead begins. We open submissions in the summer and judging begins from the end of September. The student team work closely with the Festival Producer to establish a yearlong strategy, incorporating any new ideas of angles the students want to bring to their specific festival addition. 

Our group meets very regularly: depending on one’s position in the group it will vary between daily and weekly. The Festival Director and Heads of Departments meet every week, as well as meeting with their individual committees. The full committee meets around once every two months. And the Festival Producer works on Watersprite full time, engaging with group members daily and working closely with the Festival Director in particular. We organise training for our group members including public speaker training and unconscious bias training and we are looking to do more welfare training in 2024. We organise many public events and screenings throughout the year at our local Picture House, as well as a series of free events and screenings over our festival weekend. This year we hosted six screenings across the year at the Arts Picturehouse and seven screenings of our nominated short films across our Festival Weekend. 


One major barrier is the accessibility of audiences – it can be tricky to engage interest at certain periods throughout the year. For instance, we found that any additional screenings we hosted in the weeks around our Festival Weekend had lower attendance rates because we were saturating our socials and sharing too many events. We are a hybrid festival and reaching online audiences can also be a challenge, particularly when people are bored with using zoom and staying behind a laptop screen. There is definitely still a demand, particularly internationally, but the approach to these audiences needs to be carefully considered with longer campaigns. 

Some real highlights from our festival included screening the nominated films with the filmmakers actually present! We were able to bring our nominees to Cambridge again for the first time since the pandemic (flying them in from around the world including from Taiwan and Canada). After our screenings we hosted Q&As and it was a true joy to hear the filmmakers speak about their work and see their films properly celebrated and seen. We also loved our Puppetry and Creature Effects masterclass with the incredible Tim O’Brien (Producer at the Jim Henson Company), Louise Gold (original Muppeteer), Dave Chapman (Star Wars) and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (Sesame Street) – it was a complete hoot and amazing to see how much love they had for their work. 


The best thing about Watersprite is always the people. We bring people together year on year who have a true love for film and a wish to celebrate emerging voices from around the world – and that is just a wonderful thing. After our puppet session, we really learnt how lovely it can be to have a “fun” event – one that really showcases how much people love their jobs and what joy it brings them. It was so inspirational to see their passion and made many want to find equally joyful careers. 

We also learnt that there really is a demand for student film – the calibre of filmmaking is just extraordinary and it should be showcased more and noticed more. 

We also really loved having another member of the FHSE group from Lowestoft Film Festival come and volunteer at our Awards Ceremony with Amazon Studios. It was so lovely to meet another FHSE member in person and share ideas and experiences, and we would love to continue developing relationships like this. It can be weird and wonderful running events like this and it is so wonderful to feel part of a network.   

Amber Hyams, Festival Producer and Charity Director

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