Kinemastik Short Film Festival | ‘That little piece of total freedom’

Ahead of the 12th edition of the Kinemastik Short Film Festival, Teodor Reljic spoke to two of its programmers – Bojana Dimitrovska and Emma Mattei – about what makes this long-standing summer cinephile appointment so endearing, enduring and unique… 

 Still from Strudel Sisters by Jaina
Still from Strudel Sisters by Jaina

How would you rate the viability and relevance of film festivals in the contemporary cultural climate, what with the internet becoming a source of worry for many filmmakers and distributors?

Emma Mattei: The internet has changed the way shorts films are distributed and I believe filmmakers now have more control and more reach. It also enables the short film community around the world to connect more easily and inspire each other, and it has boosted short film and made it relevant and current to a wider audience.

All major film festivals have a strong short film sections, but often audiences at festivals are connected to the industry, so the internet allows for films to each audiences they previously would never have been able to. The internet is only a concern for films with heavy commercial pressure upon them. Short film is liberating in that you rarely expect to get your budget back. It also makes it easier to produce films with contentious subject matter, and be more experimental in the way you shoot your film.

Are there any particular highlights in this year’s programme? What kind of vibe were you looking for when it comes to putting the programme together? 

EM: The programme always reflects whatever is going on within the contemporary short film circuit – we then mix these films up with the Maltese films submitted and that’s the essence of Kinemastik’s ethos. Highlights this year include the highly original Batrachian’s Ballad, a Portuguese film by Leonor Teles, which won the Golden Bear for best short film in Berlin, Oustaz about a friendship between an American boy growing up in Chad and an enigmatic character called Oustaz, an amusing documentary from Myanmar about an entrepreneurial fish trader obsessed with Chelsea FC, a mesmerising experimental short called Ego from Belgian director Nicolas Provost, a heartwarming documentary called Pickle about an American couple who run a very unusual menagerie, and a sailing saga called Head by Maltese director Winston Azzopardi.

Still from 'Rate me
Still from 'Rate me" by Fyzal Boulifa

How would you say KISFF has evolved over the years? What were some of its most significant developments and adjustments? 

Bojana Dimitrovska: One of the best things about Kinemastik is that it has kept pretty faithful to its roots. We never wanted the festival to become too big or too commercial – it’s not an event for the masses and we like it that way. KISFF goers know that this is their home outside home for one weekend in summer, a place where they can meet likeminded folk, have a few drinks in a beautifully hand-dressed venue, watch some weird and not so weird shorts and party till the break of dawn. The venues change, the programme changes but the concept remains the same and that for me has a certain nostalgia to it, a comfort that people like coming back to.  

What has developed over the years is KISFF’s network. Many of Kinemastik’s founding members do not even live in Malta any longer but they remain dedicated to the festival and spread the word wherever they are. They have made the festival very interesting to filmmakers from all over the world who happily submit their work directly to KISFF programmers. Further, since Kinemastik set up on Reelport – where filmmakers can also submit their work online – over a 100 submissions landed on the KISFF account just this year and we are becoming increasingly aware of how sought-after the Kinemastik Golden Dot award is. 

Would you say the Festival is an extension of the Kinemastik Film Club, which runs throughout rest of the year. How are the two connected?  

BD: I’d say it’s vice versa. The Kinemastik Film Club started as a natural extension of the festival. The concept is pretty much the same, except for Film Club we curate the curators rather than the film programme. This came also as a consequence of the wide network of film-loving friends that Kinemastik has made over the years. Some great people put together even greater monthly film programmes for the Film Club including Ben Russell, Basma Alsharif, Bonnie Prince Billy and many others. The Film Club is like a mini-KISFF minus the partying till the break of dawn (although sometimes we do).

How does KISFF distinguish itself from other cinematic celebration of the summer – the Valletta Film Festival? 

BD: Speaking personally, as someone involved with both festivals, there is a world of difference. VFF is a festival that is meant for large audiences and it aims to become a commercial event that will attract the big guns, both in terms of festival guests, sponsors and attendees. This means that the image and content of the festival is somewhat determined by all of these. While I’m looking forward to seeing the VFF grow in all the ways it aspires to, Kinemastik remains my first love for reasons I will try to describe below.

With KISFF, it is the Kinemastik team that determines and decides everything for better or worse. KISFF is in many ways a reflection of the many personalities making up Kinemastik’s team. All our knowledge, passion, relish go into it. And we come from various backgrounds and have various tastes so KISFF can be a little schizophrenic sometimes but we like to keep it horizontal and self-ruling so that’s ok. Kinemastik is everybody’s festival, no seats assigned, no preference given (except to films of quality). This is what makes the festival such an unconventional and unexpected experience for many that keep coming back for that little piece of total freedom called KISFF.

This year’s edition of the Kinemastik Film Festival, which will be taking place at the Garden of Rest, Floriana, will feature a selection of 20 films, which will be screened over three nights: July 29-30. Doors open at 21:00 on each night and entrance is at €7. More information: