Out of the Cinema

Making a programme for a film festival is important enough, but actually making an atmosphere for your film festival or even your screening/event takes even more effort.


James Harrison from South West Silents reflects on what it takes to make a great film festival from the sunny piazzas of Il Cinema Ritrovato to the Harbourside adventures of Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered.

There is a special place in the Italian city of Bologna called Piazzetta Pier Paolo Pasolini. This small and very intimate square is very much a Mecca for cinephiles; the facilities within contain three cinemas, a gallery, a library as well as an outside café/bar area and during the annual Il Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival a fantastic, but rather expensive, film fair. The piazzetta becomes a feature in itself during the festival’s summer evenings when an ‘antique’ projector (dubbed the ‘the Grandmother’ by some) is setup and special 35mm carbon arc lamp screenings take place; a nice alterative to the digital projection taking place at the main evening screenings at the far larger Piazza Maggiore.

During the daytime Piazzetta Pier Paolo Pasolini is a suntrap and when not in a cinema, many cinephiles can be found sheltering under the few trees found within the piazzett while others have given up on such a notion of shelter and sit under the late June sun discussing with fella festival goers about what they have seen and what they planning to see. Most are armed with either coffee, water, wine, a negroni or what seemed to be the drink of choice for many, aperol spritz. Add in the music being played out via the bar’s speakers, or even live music at points, it’s a truly wonderful atmosphere.

It was here, after a late afternoon screening, armed with a glass of wine in hand, that I overheard an interview taking place with a student and one of the festival’s programmers discussing the importance of film festivals. “What makes a film festival?” the interviewer asked, “Well… film… How can you not have film at a film festival!” answered the interviewee, they both laughed and the interview continued. But this answer got me thinking, while film festivals are of course made up of film screenings, usually in cinemas, there is one other important aspect and that is the people who attend a film festival.



Making a programme for a film festival is important enough, but actually making an atmosphere for your film festival or even your screening/event takes even more effort. But it really is important! Over the past four years Bristol’s very own Cinema Ritrovato, Cinema Rediscovered, has made the effort to take this into account. We have had a film fair for the past three years; projected archive films on the Watershed café/bar’s large screen, hosted live music gigs and even had bowling on-site (for an anniversary screening of The Big Lebowski). Cinema Rediscovered even has its very own film festival beer! Between each screening we also have panel discussions as well as group talks in certain areas of the bar. All of which builds an atmosphere of a festival even more so.

Over the past year (since going to Bologna) I have kept an eye on what other groups and festivals have been doing in relation to this not only within the south west but beyond and many, not all, but many groups and festivals, seem to think that it is fine to finish the experience of a festival when their audiences step out of the cinema.

In fact, I have actually witnessed certain venues forcing members of the public out onto the streets instead of trying to keep them within the walls of their venue. These are venues which have café/bar facilities and have a number of other screenings planned for the rest of the afternoon/evening for a ‘festival’ or ‘mini season’. With cinema venues trying to keep afloat, this kind of attitude is totally unacceptable from a financial and audience development point of view.

A film festival is a gathering of people who appreciate film, or love to share their thoughts, to share their experience and experience film altogether whether you are in a cinema or not. If you don’t have people, then you really don’t have a festival overall and if you don’t have a regular backbone of audiences then, in the end, you won’t have a cinema or even a venue.

If your venue doesn’t have the facilities for a bar/café then think further afield, speak to other local businesses and see if they can help accommodate your festival goers. In some ways these businesses can also help you in develop new audiences to your festival as well. I have hardly ever been into a café/bar which has never said no to the idea of having more customers; and if they do say no; then they are very much in the wrong kind of business and won’t be around too long.

So the next time you sit down for your first programme meetings for either your film festival, mini season or even your one off event, do think of the films you are planning to programme, but think out of the cinema as well. What can you offer extra to your followers which can only build on the filmic atmosphere and build on a strong following for future projects?

Finally don’t forget to come and join us at Cinema Rediscovered in Bristol, at Watershed, 20th Century Flicks and Curzon Cinema & Arts in Clevedon. We have another fun packed programme with plenty to see and do in and out of the cinema.

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