On the ground: Jamie Dispirito at Outfest

Writer/director Jamie Dispirito reports on a successful trip to Outfest in LA with his debut short film, Thrive, supported by a British Council Short Film Festival Travel Grant.

A man leans on the windowsill of a high-rise flat while smoking a cigarette.

Thrive (2019), directed by Jamie Dispirito.

Thrive is my debut short film as a writer/director. I had no ambitions beyond making my first film, and learning as much as possible from the experience, so I’m extremely grateful for the festival success it’s receiving.

Thrive had its UK premiere at BFI Flare, which was also the first film festival I’d ever attended. The importance of meeting so many LGBTQI+ filmmaking peers soon became apparent, as I made friends, and we discussed wanting to tackle similar issues in our work, whilst facing the same challenges and barriers. It’s with huge thanks to the British Council, and the Audience Award prize money from Inside Out Toronto LGBTQ Film Festival, that I was able to attend my second film festival: Outfest.

Thrive was selected to close out their popular ‘boys shorts’ programme, alongside filmmakers I’d been admiring from afar (on Instagram) for a while. The films programmed across the festival opened my eyes to cultures I hadn’t even seen on film before and proved that there are infinite LGBTQ+ stories to be told, with a huge audience, keen to see them. The post screening Q&A was endlessly inspiring and gave a fascinating insight into the difficulties LGBTQ+ filmmakers face internationally.

Festival highlights

Every morning, leading industry figures would come and impart their hard-earned wisdom upon us emerging filmmakers. A particular highlight was insights on writing and directing from panellists including Desiree Akhavan (Writer/director of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, 2018), and Ron Nyswaner (screenwriter of Philadelphia, 1993), who were incredibly generous and vulnerable when sharing their own experiences as filmmakers.

I was worried that travelling alone I might not have much to do while there, but the festival is so hands on with all filmmakers, that my entire time was spent immersed in cinema: either watching films, meeting filmmakers, or learning how films are made. I had an amazing time learning, making professional connections, meeting peers and making friends. The whole festival was such a whirlwind of activities, that it wasn’t long until the penultimate day had arrived: the awards ceremony.

With such a big festival, it’s hard to see every film you want to, and to meet every filmmaker attending, so I figured this would be a nice opportunity to congratulate my fellow filmmakers. It was fascinating to see which films resonated, with both audiences, and juries. It was also beautiful to see filmmakers receiving their awards, knowing how hard it is to make a film, seeing that their hard work had paid off.

An unexpected victory

What I wasn’t anticipating, was Thrive winning the Oscar-qualifying Grand Jury Prize for Best International Short Film. I can’t remember anything I said in my ‘speech’, but I know that I hugged every person I came into contact with (mostly to their discomfort). It was incredibly heart-warming to have the appreciation of fellow filmmakers as well as the jury, who were extremely supportive. The connections I made at the festival are helping me with my career in ways that wouldn’t have materialised had I not been able to attend the festival.

I had the best time celebrating both that night, and the next, at the closing party. The only way it could have been better, is if my amazing producer Lewis Partovi, was able to attend and celebrate with me. Next for us is Encounters Film Festival, which we’ll be attending together this time.

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