YFP Stories: Alessia Mavakala

From YFP to Producer and Director

Alessia Mavakala shares her journey from Young Film Programmer to Producer and Director

I am a YFP and project manager with Balik Arts in Cambridge. I’ve studied Film and TV production at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, where I produced and directed various shot films, and last year my friends and I launched Aonia Magazine, a journal dedicated to radically progressive forms of art including writing, poetry and visual arts. I started working in theatre when I joined a Facebook group and people were posting different kinds of projects. Most projects didn’t require me to have experience so I learned and improved by working. I felt that theatre was the best way to get experience as a producer and director as there’s such an amazing community in my city. The overwhelming enthusiasm and support from everyone really makes it worth my time. Since my involvement, I have worked as a producer and director for various theatre productions. Being part of this theatre community led me to start Aonia magazine. We were inspired by the Greek muses, which were a source of inspiration for many, and Aonia was an area in Greece that was important for the Muses. We got access to very uncommon and interesting forms of art made by emerging talents and has been an amazing achievement – I’m pleased with everything I learned.

Becoming a YFP

When I was asked to be a film programmer, I was totally unaware of what the role required me to do but following my desire to experience different fields of filmmaking, I have learnt a wide range of skills. This includes organising film screenings and events, getting permission to screen films, collaborating with other film societies, booking venues, and promoting and marketing film events. I’ve also learnt about hospitality, which is a useful skill in the film industry, especially as film enthusiasts are based all over the world and often meet in one single location or online. For example, when we planned a screening of Papicha, a film that focused on the theme of fashion, gender and religious discrimination, the priority was on finding guests willing to share their experiences as North African women for a post-screening discussion. In the case of the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival, we had guests from Italy, Turkey and different cities across the UK, therefore we found ways to welcome the diverse group of people that were joining. As an emerging filmmaker, I would recommend the programming experience as it involves skills that are not restricted to filmmaking and allows you to network with a diverse group of people, with different skill sets and interests.

Balik Arts

Balik Arts has been working with young people and film for nearly 24 years. From the very beginning, our projects focused on how film could give young people a voice, stimulate debate and be a means to engage with young people who were feeling marginalised for myriad reasons. In 2018, they established Taste of Anatolia, a film festival that aimed to showcase independent cinema from Turkey in the UK, prioritising films from young directors and featuring young people. Find out more about Balik Arts and their upcoming Taste of Anatolia Festival.

Progression Opportunities

With a FHSE bursary I was able to attend the ICO Spring Screening Days in London and BFI Flare London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival. As I’m working to be a director, joining these film festivals gave me access to high-quality and well-produced short films, contact with experienced filmmakers, knowledge about the film industry, and the chance to talk with other film directors and learn from their experience. I’m working on a few short films, including one with Balik Arts, with a focus on diversity, and this also allowed me to showcase my skills as a filmmaker. I was absolutely intrigued by the opportunity to spend days watching short films as I wanted to learn how filmmakers tell engaging and interesting stories in a short amount of screen time. I was also looking to see if there were any films that would be suitable for Balik Arts TV and take back those tips to our programming group.

Getting a job in the industry

I joined the 4th edition of the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival in November 2022 as a film programmer and project manager and I love the connections and experiences created by a festival. I love to get new ideas about film events so that the people who joined TOA can nurture the community created throughout the year and bring new people in. With Balik Arts, we created a young film programmers group and I helped organise various film events, many of which were online. We organised a face-to-face event at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where we screened Rocks by Sarah Gavron. We’d love to organise other film events and involve young people.

My role today

I am currently a freelance filmmaker, looking for opportunities to shadow directors on professional film sets and work as a producer’s assisant. I recently produced a short film commissioned by Shakespeare’s Glove Theatre and worked as an associate director and photographer for the highly reviewed Off West-End play Gaslight by Shaira Berg. I’ve just graduated and the thought of navigating life without academia can be scary, however my involvement with Balik Arts has helped me to start building a network of filmmakers that can help me progress in my career and adjust to a new lifestyle. I also want to know more about funding for film productions as it’s been a big obstacle in the past and something not taught in academia, therefore being part of these events and going to festivals has given me the chance to meet people with more knowledge on this topic! My goal is to become a film director and by working as a young film programmer I have access to a wide range of films that I can watch and analyse. This gives me the skills and knowledge to understand innovative storytelling techniques and methods that I can implement in my work.

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