INTERVIEW WITH.. IAN FRANCIS OF FLATPACK FILM FESTIVAL
Flatpack is now in its eleventh edition. Congratulations! How has the festival grown since it first opened?
In all kinds of unexpected ways! We did the first one on a relative shoestring by pulling in lots of favours, and have learnt a lot of lessons along the way. At its heart though, I hope Flatpack has stayed true to its origins. It’s all about showing people things they might not get to see otherwise, and creating memorable experiences.
What have you learned over the course of these festivals in terms of audiences and film submissions? And do you have a goal for each year for the festival?
From an audience point of view – don’t underestimate people’s appetite for all kinds of stuff. If you choose the right setting and communicate well, they will come. Having said that, we’re always aware of the people that we’re not reaching, and in recent years have put a lot more energy into creating pop-up opportunities for them to stumble across us – like last year’s inflatable Action Space, or the Kino Train at New Street Station this year.
In terms of filmmakers, I guess people have now got a better sense of the kind of shorts we tend to programme: colourful, off-kilter, playing with the medium in some way. Establishing our awards has also helped give the shorts a bit more of a focus, as they can sometimes get eclipsed by the features.
How many audience attendees did you have at last year’s festival, and what number can we expect this year?
We had just over 14,000 in total for our tenth edition in 2016. Topping that might be tough, but we’ll give it a go. The line-up is a tough one to summarise! We’ve got popular strands returning like Optical Sound (live scores and music docs), Colour Box (family screenings and activities) and Unpacked, which has a bit of a virtual reality focus this year as well as this magical little holographic theatre called Holorama. There are some great performances planned for the Old Rep theatre, a small bundle of David Lynch treats, and a new canalside strand which we’re calling the Gongoozling Day.
You have a wide and varied programme of films and events. Is there a particular type of film that qualifies as a Flatpack Film Festival film? And how many submissions do you receive a year?
It’s not easy to put your finger on, but I guess a sense of play and experimentation is quite important. We’re also interested in messing with the traditional film-going format, and weaving in other art forms where possible. We get around 500 submissions per year.
You seem to be an all year round operation involved with film projects for the local area. Is there a growing culture of filmmaking in Birmingham from local talent?
Yes, it’s a pretty healthy scene. We work a lot with local animators like the Brothers McLeod, Yaminations, Second Home, and there are some interesting music docs coming through including a film about Steel Pulse. As with other aspects of Birmingham, it can be a little diffuse and hard to navigate, but once you get to know it there’s some really good stuff going on here. We’d recommend people sign up for our monthly mailout Filmwire if they want to be kept abreast of this kind of thing.
Part of the excitement of Flatpack is exhibiting in not so obvious places. What’s the most exciting venue you’ve screened in? And are there any venues you found to not to be a good fit?
I always love a good church to be honest – that frisson when you have to move an altar to make way for a projector, and wait for the lightning bolt to strike. The disused but still beautiful Grand Hotel is the location for this year’s opening night, and that’s definitely up there among our favourite venues. The ones that didn’t work… showing Stan Brakhage in a pub is definitely a bad idea. And last year we put on some live silents in a town hall as part of a beer festival, where unsurprisingly people were far more interested in drinking than watching. It’s really about tailoring the programme to the space.
Why should filmmakers submit to Flatpack or visit the festival?
When you’re choosing where to submit your work it’s obviously a crowded marketplace, so we’re really touched when people send us their films. Our programmes are carefully considered, they get good audiences, and judging from filmmaker feedback it’s a really fun event to visit. If you’re just coming as a punter, I defy you not to find something in the programme that will float your boat, there’s a terrific atmosphere, and it’s also a very good way to explore some of Birmingham’s hidden treasures.
A special thanks to Ian Francis for taking part in this interview. You can find out more about the festival on their website.