Books, Film & TV Wednesday, January 6th Words by: Lauren Rogers, pictures by: Borderlines / Dmytro Larin

Rural screens: putting together a Herefordshire film festival

Books, Film & TV Wednesday, January 6th

Rural screens: putting together a Herefordshire film festival

While waiting patiently* for the full Borderlines Film Festival programme to be revealed, we spoke to London-based programmer Jonny Courtney about hand-picking the titles we’ll be lining up to see.

*Clearly a lie, we have no patience.

Ethiopian drama film Lamb, a breakout success at the Cannes Festival, tells the story of a boy trying to save his pet lamb from slaughter.

You’re a film programmer for the Independent Cinema Office (ICO) based in London. What does that job entail day-to-day?

Well if you asked my friends they'd likely say I just watch films! But in reality I work with a number of independent cinemas across the UK to help them programme and book the films they screen. There are 15 films, on average, released each week, so it is crucial that cinemas book the right films which are commercially viable, and will also appeal to the most diverse range of audiences possible.

How did you get involved with Borderlines Film Festival?

The ICO started working with Borderlines four years ago, and last year I helped to programme the festival alongside David Sin in part due to my experience of working with rural venues, including two cinemas in Shropshire (Wem Town Hall and Festival Drayton Centre).

Does the rurality of the festival site - spread across Herefordshire, Shropshire and the Marches – change the way you approach programming?

I think logistically, we approach Borderlines slightly differently as there are so many venues involved (and so many films!) and in terms of the films we choose we know there are specific titles that will work really well for rural audiences.

That said, the audiences for the festival are very cine-literate and we try and give them the same opportunity that audiences have at larger festivals, which is to see the best films possible from around the world.

Do you programme with a certain audience in mind, or is part of the fun getting people to watch something that’s a little out of their comfort zone?

One of our main aims at the ICO is to build audiences for diverse films, which is something we try to do at the festival also. Festival audiences appreciate that the festival will present lots of new films, and so are generally open to taking more risks in the hope that they will discover something new.

You co-programme the festival with David Sin and, I’m sure work closely with festival chairman Jane Jackson, does this lead to lengthy ‘debates’ about what to screen or does it all come together in relative harmony?

One of the reasons Borderlines employs the ICO is because we have a wealth of programming experience amongst the team, and also because we get to view so many of the films we programme well in advance of the festival.

So whilst we do work very closely with the festival board and discuss the programme at length, there aren’t too many debates about what to screen as there is trust from the festival that the ICO understand the kinds of films that will work well at Borderlines. David and I tend to have similar ideas on which films we should show at the festival, so it's pretty harmonious in the office too!

JC Cannes port

There are invited guests and Q&As to add something extra but is there a magic ingredient that makes a film festival one to remember?

I think that, if we've done our job well, we should be bringing to audiences in Herefordshire and Shropshire a programme of films that represents what’s happening in the wider film world, and at the major film festivals; and then there should also be themes which run through the films at the festival which reflect issues in the wider world.

Issues around displacement and identity are prevalent in many of the titles you'll see in the programme, for example in Son of Saul, Mustang and Mediterranea, and I think this helps to tell an overarching story about what’s at the forefront of people's minds in 2015/16.

I also think momentum is important at a film festival, particularly as Borderlines runs for 17 days in we need to ensure the line-up of films and events is strong throughout.

Finally, is there anything in the 2016 programme (without giving too much away) that you’re particularly looking forward to / proud of getting on the bill?

I think this year we have secured some fantastic previews again, including award winners from major festivals around the world, so giving a chance for local audiences to see these before they’re released later in 2016; and we will also be running a full retrospective of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films which is very exciting, as it’s the first time all his films have been available on digital format.

Borderlines Film Festival 2016 will run across 30 venues from February 26 to March 13. Now in its 14th year, the determinedly rural and expansive festival will incorporate the Festival of British Cinema in Hay-on-Wye (March 11 to 13).

Whetting the appetite, festival organisers have already confirmed this year’s festival will include Oscar-tipped titles such as The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Trumbo and Suffragette to Lamb, a comprehensive retrospective of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, a ground-breaking showcase of Romani Cinema, and give Herefordshire film lovers the chance to see new movies months ahead of their general UK release.

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Herefordshire Live is proud to be co-sponsor of Borderlines 2016. 

Tile image credit: British Film Festival 2011 Opening by Dmytro Larin, Flickr, via CC.

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