For some, the pandemic has been a time of pausing, for others a time of frantically pushing forward, but for most, it has been a mixture of both. Thanks to Film Hub South West’s Bursary scheme, I was able to attend Open City Documentary Festival’s Visual Anthropology and the City course, conducted by the wonderful Barbara Knorpp, and was given some valuable time to pause and reflect on a key tenant of my professional and personal self. I was able to consider why I programme, and ultimately, why I want to share films with others.
I undertook this course with the intention of exposing myself to new ways of thinking and approaching film; to aid my professional appreciation for a variety of cinema. In doing so, I hoped to enjoy films without the pressure of having to programme them – without having to consume films as explicit tools of my creative practice and just enjoy them as contextualised art.
In consciously considering how films can act as lanterns to illuminate experiences, cultures and emotions which are vastly different to my own, I have been able to reflect on my programming intentions.Megan Mitchell
I set out to develop my understanding of film history, as well as different modes and eras of filmmaking, and alternative cultures represented on-screen. I wanted to push myself in a formal setting past the types of cinema I would usually watch, and then ultimately programme them. In doing so, I learned that everything I do (linked to film or otherwise) will always come back to programming because it is my creative practice. In consciously considering how films can act as lanterns to illuminate experiences, cultures and emotions which are vastly different to my own, I have been able to reflect on my programming intentions.
Each week I sat, virtually, with 30 people whose daytime professions were not film-related and enjoyed a nice mix of cinema looking at others, from Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera to Kim Longinotto’s Shinjuku Boys, and I immediately wanted to share what I had seen, what I had learned, and how it had all been communicated to me. The drag of the pandemic has taken some of the wind out of my programming sails, not because it’s necessarily always harder to programme online practically or that it’s also harder to feel the excitement of the collective experience, but because it wasn’t a main concern of mine throughout the year – like everyone else I was simply trying to survive. And my survival involved sheltering from complex cinema, because if I didn’t really want to feel my own emotions why would I want to feel others?
Questioning what I get from viewing films informs how I understand programming and, in the end, this shared emotional connectivity is what films bring to us all. At times that can be painful and I empathise with anyone whose intake of films, ‘quality’ or quantity, has taken a dip over the past year. In undertaking this course, in having the space to think on the ‘why’ of my programming I came to consider filmic anthropology as inhabiting the same realm of the sincere and the creative, and the need to seek understanding through observation as my own programming does. Having spent all of my life vocally opposing so much within the exhibition sector, including its elitism, lack of care and mismanagement of resources, rediscovering this truth about my own programming practice has been a more valuable outcome of the course than I could have ever imagined.
By all rights, I should be sick of cinema by now, or at least desensitised, but I’m not.Megan Mitchell
Taking time as a programmer to examine our own intentions isn’t something we’re often prompted in the sector to do or grant ourselves time to do, even if Film Hubs will support us with bursaries to do so in a variety of ways, but it’s important. Being immersed in film, even before a pandemic that has wounded the sector and society, and as a profession, can drain how we interact and engage with films.
Films can just become tools of our trade, or ‘content’, but in taking time to think about why I still feel the need to share films with people – whether it be action-packed, readily available Nic Cage films or hyper obscure experimental Japanese shorts – I have been able to examine my own need for films. By all rights, I should be sick of cinema by now, or at least desensitised, but I’m not.
Although, sometimes, it takes a little unexpected push to remind me of that.
That’s what Knorpp’s course did for me, it let me reveal the structural walls of my life, my career in exhibition, my use of programming as a creative practice
, as formed by films. Programming isn’t simply about gathering films as tools with which we can generate box office, fill a weekly schedule with or address surface-level under-representation; films are embers around which we, as programmers, build the fires for our audiences.
As a member of Film Hub South West, you can apply for bursaries to support travel, accommodation, enrolment fees or accreditation costs to enable your attendance at relevant conferences, events and film festivals. Gain new skills, increase your confidence, build your network and improve what you do! Bursaries are available to staff, board members and volunteers of Member organisations. Find out more here
Interested in Open City Documentary Festivals online courses with University College London? Find out more here