THE Aesthetica Short Film Festival has been named by the British Film Institute (BFI) as a festival of national significance as York's annual film showcase reflects on its most successful event yet.

Last November's festival of more than 300 films in 18 venues saw the ASFF stretched to a fifth day for the first time in its seventh year, bringing an even bigger boost to York's economy than director Cherie Federico first predicted.

"I'd hoped for an £800,000 boost, but it turned out to be £1 million, from hotel bookings etcetera, and the extra day made a big difference because it meant people booked in for six days as they arrived a day earlier, and it all adds up to a substantial number of hotel nights," she says.

Next came the news of the BFI bestowing its new status on a festival that is already a BAFTA Recognised Festival in the British Short Film category. "It's quite rare to be made a festival of national significance by the BFI, which is reclassifying festivals as being of regional or national significance, which will affect funding," says Cherie.

"So, to be given this new status means we have national impact on the film industry, which is a really big achievement for us. It means we'll be working with the BFI in London as our main point of contact for the film industry in the UK.

"The reach of the festival, both nationally and internationally, is reflected in the quality of the speakers that address the festival, the number of delegates who come to the festival, and it also means that the film industry comes here to do business with each other. Growing alongside the ASFF as a popular film festival, we have become a significant industry event on a national level."

This year's festival – the eighth – will be a five-day gathering again, this time running from November 7 to 11. "There'll be some changes for 2018," says Cherie, excitedly. "We're going to introduce a VR strand: Virtual Reality at the ASFF. It will be set up much like an installation with stations where you stand because it's an immersive experience where you'll have goggles on and you'll feel like you're right in the middle of what you're seeing.

"It's such a new art form that the vocabulary around it is still being developed. I don't think it will replace [conventional] cinema but I do think it will become a category of cinema. It means we're bringing in interactive media, which is progress, and hyper-exciting for us as it's important for a festival to move forward and progress as film technology changes."

York Press:

God's Own Country: the first feature film by Aesthetica Short Film Festival alumnus Francis Lee

In a second new strand for 2018, the long and short of it is that the Aesthetica Short Film Festival will show feature-length films too. "We'll be starting off small with two feature films a day," says Cherie. "They'll be York premieres of national and international films; whether documentaries, comedies or feature films.

"This decision was inspired by acknowledging that as the festival moves into its eighth year, we have over 2,000 festival alumni who have screened their films here, so we've had people who've had their beginnings in film here and since had feature films accepted into the Sundance, Raindance and South By South West festivals.

"They contact us saying, 'I really want to screen it with you in York but you don't show feature films, so we can't', but I thought, 'why not?'. It's a logical progression for us.

"Francis Lee, the West Yorkshire filmmaker, has had three of his short films shown at Aesthetica since 2011, and you think, 'well, actually, it would be great to show Aesthetica film audiences what happened next', which in his case was God's Own Country, his 2017 debut feature film.

"It would be interesting for the festival to be able to follow a filmaker's career trajectory from short films to full-scale films, but let me make it clear that, above all, we're still a festival focused on short films."

To accommodate feature films, Cherie plans to reduce the drama strand from 12 reels to ten, a minor adjustment in reality. "As ever, the ASFF will be a cinematic feast, and I'm excited to continue that while we also seek to branch out, continually pushing ourselves, and these new strands present a new opportunity," she says.

The ASFF numbers continue to pile up. "We had 2,400 submissions to be among the 300 BAFTA-recognised films we showed at the 2017 festival, and we had 24,000 individual admissions to the films, up from 21,000 the previous year," says Cherie. "2017 was the best year yet, the busiest, the best events, the most films. 2018 will be even better."

As for the future, 360 degree film-making is the new kid on the block. "It's already big in the gaming world," says Cherie. "There are lots of people coming out of film school making 360-degree films, and we already have a festival partner on board, the London College of Communication, which is launching the first MA in virtual reality film-making. Exciting times!"