For 70 years, the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) has delighted Australian audiences with the best of local and global cinema. This year, it welcomed four University of Sydney students to experience life behind the scenes in bringing one of Australia’s biggest cultural events to life. Amongst those students was Jessamine Lobb, a third year Bachelor of Arts (English and Diversity Studies) student. We delve into Jess’ perspective, as she shares her experiences of completing her placement at the Sydney Film Festival alongside Angel Wen a third-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in Media and Communications and Theatre and Performance Studies.
My internship took place in the Create NSW building in The Rocks, a fitting home for the cultural icon that is SFF. We could see the gleaming sails of the Opera House from our desks. Festival staff occupied one whole floor of the refurbished factory, with employees from Finance, Graphic Design, Marketing, Operations, and Partnerships and Philanthropy. It was a vibrant, inclusive environment where a Pikachu hoodie and a suit were equally valid forms of attire.
Sydney Film Festival is a not-for-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of sponsors and donors. I worked in Partnerships and Philanthropy, the department that secures funding for the festival by offering advertising and other benefits to brands in exchange for their support. Most of my days were spent chasing down RSVPs, refining guest lists, sending emails, making spreadsheets, and researching prospective sponsors. As part of the Travelling Film Festival’s marketing team, Angel was responsible for getting in touch with regional towns around Australia to garner interest and generate buzz. Our work brought us into contact with many different fields of society, including the financial sector, the media, the hospitality industry, tech companies, film studios, art galleries, retail outlets and government bodies. Working in events teaches you a little bit about everything. It makes you a better conversationalist and a formidable trivia opponent.
Our office was an adrenalising place to work. Before the festival, the atmosphere was akin to a locker room before a grand final. I marvelled at how cool under pressure my co-workers were. All sorts of issues popped up, but they employed their stellar people skills to de-escalate tensions. Once, the printer was possessed by an evil spirit when we needed hundreds of name tags for an event in an hour. Even when it would’ve been understandable to be frantic, the head of my department remained calm and smiling. I learnt how important it was to maintain a sense of humour and adventure when things go awry. Chaos is character-building.
One of my favourite aspects of interning at SFF was the variety. Just as you grew accustomed to office work, you’d be sent on a job in the city, or find yourself at a crowded party offering canapes to filmmakers. At events, Angel did catering, ticketing and photography simultaneously. She found these hands-on experiences to be the most rewarding, as they put her in the room with directors, producers and actors she loved. I worked the door, ticking names off as guests entered (a wonderful people-watching opportunity). I certainly feel more worldly coming out of the internship than I did going in. We saw great films for free, caught glimpses of Jane Campion, Bruce Pascoe and Tongan Royalty, heard ghost stories from stagehands in the State Theatre, and discussed art and life with our insightful mentors. While working at SFF equipped me with invaluable professional skills, I most appreciate the way it opened my mind.
A tip for anyone embarking on an internship: the most revelatory discussions happen in the kitchen. Wash up alongside someone you admire and let the soapsuds set the tone. One of our supervisors, Annie, stressed the importance of talking to people. Find out about a person’s background; what kind of work they do; why they care about it. This is not only essential for building professional connections, but for becoming a more curious, empathetic person. Annie acknowledged that the creative industries are hard to break into, but encouraged us to remain resilient and optimistic. She counselled, “It’s ok to fall down a hole sometimes, but just don’t stay down.” As an arts student, the future occasionally looks bleak: unclear direction, insecure work, intense competition. Yet, interning at SFF showed me that our future is also one of exploration, excitement and community. Angel advises her fellow arts students, “Spare no effort on whatever you love because every step counts.”
My discipline, English, celebrates the power of art to connect, emancipate, and enrich people. Watching families, friends, and couples queue in the freezing cold for events we helped (in small part) to orchestrate, I saw art in effect. The Sydney Film Festival is a living creature. It takes an immense amount of time, physical labour and emotional energy to animate, but it brings just as much joy. Amy, Jiawen, Angel and I wish to thank our mentors for their warmth and expertise. An internship with SFF is a uniquely meaningful experience; don’t hesitate to apply.
This story was written by Jessamine Lobb, student, Bachelor of Arts (English and Diversity Studies).