A closer look at the SEE Festival

SEE: the Brighton Documentary Film Festival is kicking off its fifth anniversary edition this Friday. Realscreen caught up with festival founder and MD of back2back productions, David Notman-Watt, to reflect on the event's beginnings and find out more about this year's fest.
February 18, 2010

SEE: the Brighton Documentary Film Festival is kicking off its fifth anniversary edition this Friday. The three-day event features several screenings (among them, Beadie Finzie’s Only When I Dance, Günter Schwaiger’s Arena, and Daisy Asquith’s This Is Me Now), many of which will also feature director and producer Q&As. The fest also features myriad panels and discussions, including master classes from Nick Broomfield, Jonathan Meade and, on opening night, a special conversation with Louis Thereux (Louis Thereux’s Weird Weekend, When Louis Met…).

Why did you originally feel that Brighton needed a doc festival?
It actually started by accident, as so many good things do. Six years ago I had just completed a film for Channel 4 looking at the cocaine trade route in Latin America and had taken some shocking photographs during the production which complemented what was a disturbing film. One of the APs here at back2back suggested we hold a showing before it was TX’d. We did. It was packed. Everyone had a great time.
The rest, so they say, is history.

What are your expectations for this year’s fest?
This year’s line-up is spectacular. Every year the crowds attending SEE get bigger as word spreads of what is now being dubbed ‘the UK’s Seaside Sundance’ – not sure who coined that, but I like it. To have filmmakers of the caliber of Louis Theroux, Nick Broomfield, Daisy Asquith, Marc Isaacs, Penny Woolcock and Jonathan Meades and many, many more, choosing SEE as the festival at which to show their work and hold Q&As is a great compliment.
The festival was always meant to be a weekend for documentary makers and [doc] lovers to indulge in what we do in a relaxed, laid-back seaside venue. And that’s what it has become. I expect another three days full of surprises and headlines, and as seems to happen every year now, I look forward to hearing what projects grow out of SEE meetings and conversations, most of which seem to be held at the bar.

Are you doing anything special to celebrate this particular anniversary?
I still can’t believe it’s our fifth anniversary to be honest. But I think it’s fair to say the line-up is our special celebration.
This started as a self-funded festival. Our day job is running back2back productions. After making television all day we organize the festival after work. So it has grown organically. We now have the support of Screen South and BAFTA, as well as numerous local businesses associated with film and television. We’ll keep going for as long as people want to come.

What is your proudest moment from the past five years of the fest?
I’m proud of it all. When I look at the budgets that festivals such as Sheffield, Edinburgh or the London Film Festival have, and then look at ours – [which is] practically nothing – it never ceases to amaze me what we achieve every year.
I think we’re lucky though. Everyone loves Brighton, or as it’s now called, ‘Little Soho.’ The city is awash with TV and film talent, most of whom have to commute to London to earn their pennies. To be a thriving production company running a thriving independent documentary festival makes me extremely proud. We’re now bringing the distributors, buyers, commissioners and agents down to us. That’s the way it should be, no?

SEE Festival 2010 starts February 19. For a full schedule of events see //

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