Birmingham’s Flatpack Film Festival kicks off for the fifth consecutive year this week. The festival holds a variety of screenings and events showing alternative classics, lost gems, a selection of alternative cinema and short films. Held in various venues and cinemas around Birmingham this year they are screening Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing’s Self Made, Dasies a Czech Dada-ist film made in 1966 and selections of shorts from Too Much Information and Shorts on Walls amongst a lot more. This is great place to discover films of all kinds be it a lost classic or a great new piece of work and in the dramatic setting of industrial Birmingham, fast becoming a cultural centre, this really is a fantastic festival. Founder and filmmaker Ian Francis took time out to speak to us he prepares for Flatpack number five.
Dazed Digital: How did you come to start the festival?
Ian Francis: We were running monthly nights under the name 7 Inch Cinema, and wanted to do something on a bigger scale but using a similar formula; informal film events with a strong live element, using all kinds of venues. With a festival it’s easier to pull in audiences and artists from further afield, and there’s a special brand of madness that regular events don’t have.
DD: Did you think you would still be running in five years time?
Ian Francis: In a funny way, we did. Calling it ‘the first Flatpack Festival’ was a deliberate way of saying that this was just the start, and we knew it had the potential to grow - but we didn’t quite know what we were letting ourselves in for! What’s really nice now is that there are a lot more film events in the UK with a similar ethos, so we feel part of a wider thing and not just a weird sideshow.
DD: How do you go about selecting the films for the festival?
Ian Francis: It’s a mixture of trawling the web, visiting other festivals, watching film submissions and following up tip-offs and recommendations. The process begins nine months before and it feels like it comes together in quite a haphazard way, but I suppose there are recurring themes and particular areas that interest us. On the whole you’re looking for something indefinable and amazing that people might not get to see otherwise.
DD: What are the highlights for you this time around?
Ian Francis: Self Made, Gillian Wearing’s first feature, is very intense and I’ll be interested to see what people make of it. There’s a Uruguayan movie called A Useful Life, which I fell in love with, partly because it’s about a tap-dancing film programmer but also because it looks gorgeous. There’s an installation by Mordant Music, rescoring public information films in a bunker, a headphone performance piece which you have to experience as a couple sat in the cinema, and a vintage mobile cinema which is coming up from Devon and touring all over the city showing archive footage. I’ll probably be too busy to enjoy any of it.
DD: Birmingham's reputation for the arts is growing. How do you think this has affected the city?
Ian Francis: We don’t apologise for ourselves now. Whereas ten years ago it felt like a bit of a one-horse town culturally, Birmingham has a growing sense of itself as a place to be, by choice and not just by accident. There’s a really good collaborative spirit between the different organisations and artists, and because there’s more going on people are more likely to stick around.
DD: For people heading down to the festival, what would be your tips for getting the most out of the festival?
Ian Francis: The Dirty End is a very good place to start. It’s the social hub we’re sharing with Fierce Festival, where you can find good food and beverages as well as free screenings and events. While you’re in Digbeth make sure you check out our wealth of canals, art spaces, pubs and cafes. A bike could be quite handy, as we’re a bit more spread out this year. I’d also say come for the weekend or longer if you can – there’s such a mixture going on that it’s hard to get a real taste of it in one day.
Text by Amah-Rose McKnight-Abrams