There’s nothing we like more here at DN than festivals, so when we heard about the impending launch of YARNfest we asked its director Gemma Mitchell to introduce us to the YARN story.

YARN is a brand new festival celebrating story and storytelling – showcasing film, theatre, music and literature and providing a platform for mixing them all up! It’s all about fun and exploration, devoted to letting the imagination run wild.

The debut YARN will run 20 – 24 Feb 2010 across The Book Club and The Queen of Hoxton in east London. Sponsored by Bookhugger, YARN is working in partnership with Shooting People, Faber and Faber, Little White Lies, Opium Magazine and The London Short Film Festival.

But where did it all begin? Way back in 2002 when I was first at art school I intended to become a fine art textile designer! This ambition was quickly quashed after being exposed to the world of film production for only one hour! Combining both the left and right side of my brain, I developed an infectious enthusiasm for a world which allowed me to explore creative storytelling whilst feeding my serious addition to stationery.

Whilst still at uni, I produced my first feature length project Happy F****** Endings which screened to festival audiences in LA and secured a distribution deal with NESTA supported Left Ltd Sales and Distribution. I was involved in both narrative fiction and documentary projects funded by the National Lottery and the BBC, with work screening at various international film festivals and as part of the BBC’s Homegrown Hollywood season.

I’m still producing projects in collaboration with Matt Strachan, as The Room, and our latest projects have screened at various international festivals including Edmonton International Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Foyle Film Festival, and the London Short Film Festival.

I’m also script reader for film festival competitions, regional screen agencies and independent production companies.

What hooked me into the exhibition side of the film world though was working as a short film programmer for the 2009 Birds Eye View Film Festival. Whilst working front and centre in production, I never completely understood where the satisfaction came from in simply taking other people’s work and putting it up on screen. How wrong I was! Something really came alive in me whilst sitting amongst the programming team, fighting over our favourites, why films just didn’t work despite how stunningly they’d been produced, and ultimately what would make an excellent audience-friendly programme – I was hooked!

I went on to immerse myself in the world of events and film exhibition, working for the East End Film Festival, Super Shorts, The London Independent Film Festival and The Canary Wharf Film Festival.

But at heart I’m a story devotee – film, theatre, books, music, photography, art sculpture – you name it, if it’s got a narrative persuasion I’m likely to be a little bit addicted. YARN is the culmination of all of those things – a serious desire to create a platform where story is celebrated and cherished.

So after all that incubation, the debut YARN has been put together in little more than 3 months. As soon as venue partners The Book Club and The Queen of Hoxton came on board we were off!

I wanted to work in strong partnerships with other organisations, bringing together the various pillars of the storytelling community. Shooting People and Opium Magazine came on board as partners very quickly – focusing on our Four Stories High and Literary Death Match events. Faber and Faber, Little White Lies and the London Short Film Festival were soon to follow with direct sponsorship coming from Bookhugger. We’ve also had terrific support from lots of other organisations across the film, theatre, literature and music communities.

We’ve created a packed five-day schedule for YARNfest. We’ve got TairyFales, David Alric in Conversation, Sunday Lunch with…. Tom Wrigglesworth, Paper Cinema, Bedtime Stories, Movies in Minutes, Four Stories High and Literary Death Match!

To tell you a little more about a couple of the events:

For Four Stories High we’ve taken Homer’s Odyssey and divided it into twelve equal measures, split across the four pillars of modern storytelling – film, theatre, literature and music. Novelists, thespians, auteurs and musicians across the city have been developing their own unique ‘odyssey twelfth’, but what will happen when we try and put it all back together again in story order? Our fractional Homers include Harriet Fleuriot, The Android Angel, The Room, Alex Preston, The Improsarios, Theatre Ad Infinitum, Matthew Robins and The Strumpettes.

Movies in Minutes is being presented in association with Little White Lies – it’s going to be a hilarious evening where comedians, cinema buffs, storytellers etc have to distill their favourite film into 5 minutes, be that through spoken word, slide show, audio clips – what ever takes their fancy as long as it can be done in 5 minutes!

Sunday Lunch With… does exactly what it says on the tin! On Sunday, the audience will come to The Book Club for a Sunday Lunch, throughout which a standup will tell a story…just like round at your mum’s! For the debut Sunday Lunch with… we are delighted to have an Edinburgh Award 2009 nominee Tom Wrigglesworth join us.

With just over a week to go until the opening day of the festival, it’s a bit difficult to focus on the long-view! But the ambition for YARN is to become a nationally recognised institution championing story and storytelling, not only putting together festival ‘happenings’ but developing long-running programmes. Most importantly, YARN doesn’t want to take itself too seriously. It’s all about releasing the humdrum and letting imaginations run wild. YARN is for bringing people together to enjoy the most natural human event of all, storytelling.

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