Walking into the Phoenix Bar in Canberra on a Wednesday night, you might be surprised to find a room full of people paying rapt attention to a screen at the back of the stage normally reserved for musicians and performers, with a little theatrette in front. But on the first Wednesday of each month, something new and unique is happening: Jumpcuts, an open mic night for short film, run by local filmmakers Elise Dare and Dom Northcott, with hosts Ellie Windred and Nick Delatovic.

“It was actually a member of the public,” explains Elise, “who emailed the UC Media Society with this idea for a relaxed short film viewing night, but didn’t really know how to make it happen. We thought it was a really cool idea, so we got in contact with the Phoenix, and everything just kind of rolled on from there.”

“And now it’s this mess,” laughs Dom.

Each month, filmmakers are asked to create a short film, approximately two minutes long, based on a particular theme. Due to October’s event falling shortly after Halloween, the theme was ‘The Virgin Lives’ – a classic Halloween trope. Most of the films adhere fairly loosely to both the theme and time limit, but the organisers don’t seem to mind too much. They’re just happy that people are submitting films and coming along.

“We think it’s going to take a while for people to get into the groove of writing and creating a film in just a month. It’s mostly film students doing it, and they’re used to spending 3 to 6 months on a film that’s of a similar length. I think we’ll see a lot of evolution in the quality and type of films that we get,” Elise explains. “We already have two recurring series, and we think that’s going to be a bit of a draw card,” Ellie adds. “If we build a good reputation, more people will want to put in stuff.”

The event also includes a film pitch competition. Two words are pulled out of a hat, and the audience gets into groups, or ‘film companies’, and writes a film pitch based on those two words. They submit their pitches, and if they get someone from the group onstage to read it out loud, they win a prize. Elise selects three finalists from all those who go onstage, who then revise their pitch down to a single sentence. The pitch that receives the biggest cheer from the audience is the winner, and receives an additional prize.

“The pitch competition has gone surprisingly well,” says Ellie. “We didn’t think people would want to be performers, especially on the first night we did it. But people picked it up really fast and got excited about writing out an idea quickly and then going up and saying it to the audience, so I guess people are willing to put themselves out there. We don’t think it’s necessarily improving people’s filmmaking skills, but it’s definitely improving their confidence.”

What the organisers are really hoping for with the event is not just for people to watch what local filmmakers are creating, but also for filmmakers to connect with one another. There are already clearly defined groups of people attending the event, but there’s the hope there will be more mixing of groups, to encourage collaborations between different creators. “I think building a community is important for this, because we want people to come along and meet people, hopefully people they’ll make films with, and have a good time while doing it,” says Elise.

The organisers are also making their own connections, and are considering the idea of reaching out to people for guest appearances. On this particular night they had a chat to Melbourne-based actor Liv Hewson about what it’s like to work in the professional film industry, but are not sure at this stage who else they might want to invite along. “We don’t really know what it’d look like to get industry professionals or filmmakers to come in,” Dom says. “We don’t want it to become too rigid and constructed in a way, like a panel discussion; we want to do it in a way that keeps it fun, you know?”

While the future of Jumpcuts and what it will look like is still a big unknown, the crew are really happy with the way things are going so far, and have plans to get involved with other local events and festivals in the future. “We put in an application for You Are Here for next year, although we’re not really sure what that will look like just yet. We’re also toying with doing some kind of script writing thing at Noted Festival, and filmmakers could create a film from those scripts and people could come and see them,” says Elise.

Once the final film of the night ends, we are given the theme for next month – ‘Fight!’ – and thanks are given to all contributors, to the wonderfully supportive Phoenix Bar, and of course, to the excellent organisers and hosts of the night. Most attendees shuffle out in good spirits, and hopefully with some thoughts about what they’re going to create for next month’s event.

If you’re interested in attending Jumpcuts, or even maybe submitting a film for the event, it’s on the first Wednesday of every month at The Phoenix Bar in Canberra, recommencing in February for 2017. For more info, go and check out their Facebook page.

Photography by Adam Thomas