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Lights! Canberra! Action!

Amanda Whitley

A little piece of Hollywood will hit town on Friday 11 March, when the 13th annual Lights! Canberra! Action! film festival rolls out the red carpet at the Senate Rose Gardens at Old Parliament House.

It’s a filmmakers’ scavenger hunt, with local creatives given just 10 days to write, edit and produce a seven-minute Canberra-centric film; this year, the central theme is ‘Chance’.

So, how does it work? The filmmakers must include 10 special items in their short films—which could be anything from a paperclip to Parliament House— and a minimum of three items need to feature for the film to be judged. The more items included, the better the chance of making the finals.

The announcement of items (it’s happening tomorrow night, Friday 26 February) signals the beginning of a feverish 10 days of filmmaking, and Hew Sandison knows more than most what’s involved in the festival—he’s a three-time winner and now judge.

“You don’t sleep,” he says.

“You can only partially plan shoots and pre-write the scripts because you have no idea what the objects will be until it’s on.”

Hew Sandison - three time winner and now judge of Lights! Canberra! Action!

Hew Sandison – three time winner and now judge of Lights! Canberra! Action!


Part of the beauty of Lights! Canberra! Action! is that it highlights our city, and this is reflected in the theme and the objects. Filmmakers need to be ‘on the ground’ in order to create their entry.

According to Hew, another great feature of the festival is the opportunity to network.

“Lights! Canberra! Action! is that one film festival in the calendar year that really motivates the entire community, professional and enthusiast, to make stuff. That’s probably the best thing about it, that all kinds of people who love movies are having a go and, a week later, twelve amazing films are screened to a huge audience.”

Adam Stankevicius, Director of Arts and Events for the ACT Government, says EventsACT is always pleased to support the “immense talent” of local filmmakers to further their screen careers.

“Canberra is home to film makers that have produced award winning short films, and Lights! Canberra! Action! is an initiative which provides a platform for film makers to express their creativity and talent, as part of the broader Enlighten event programming.”

After five years competing, Hew is looking forward to stepping into the role of judge this year—and seeing the festival from a different perspective.

“It’s just as fun participating in the screening as it is to make a film – you really see Canberra’s film community come together.”

Hew’s top tips for aspiring filmmakers

1. Have your script ready before the items announcement

This includes knowing your crew, cast and locations; but leaving room for items, some of which will be locations. Montages are useful, especially when they are used to help set up your story.

2. Make a film that plays to your strengths

Know what you and your creative team *can* pull off in a short amount of time. The 10 days to make the film, as well as the seven-minute duration, will disappear quickly. Maybe save your epic blockbuster drama for another time.

3. Don’t get too highly strung

It is an adrenaline rush, making movies with a time limit, but the good spirited nature of the festival is what makes it great. So many creatives donate their time and expertise to making films for Lights! Canberra! Action!, but on the condition that they are well treated and can have some fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously!

Be Enlightened

The top 12 Lights! Canberra! Action! films will be screened as part of Enlighten from 8pm on Friday 11 March, with entertainment from 7pm.

There’s plenty happening elsewhere in the Parliamentary Triangle, as it’s transformed into vibrant arts precinct with free and ticketed entertainment, all set against a backdrop of stunning architectural projections. You can discover more ‘must attend’ Enlighten events here.

And if you’re hungry, the Enlighten Night Noodle Markets are a must. Discover our five ‘must eat’ foods here.

the essentials

What: Lights! Canberra! Action! as part of Enlighten 2016
When: Friday 11 March 2016. Entertainment from 7.30pm, Screening from 8pm.
Where: Senate Rose Gardens, Old Parliament House.
Call: Canberra Connect on 13 22 81.


Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

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