Programming the festival, by Elspeth Hinde

Nick Tobias, Philip Raby, Elspeth Hinde, Chris Baker, Mel Henry, Linda Renton

When I tell people that I help to programme the Bath Film Festival, people often ask me how. Or at least, they should. It’s not as easy as it might seem.

First, you have to watch films. Lots of films; I mean hundreds of films. Yes, I am the sort of person who watches an average of 8 films a week, (12 if I’m feeling particularly anti-social) but this is different.  For a start, not all of the films are good. Some, of course are masterpieces, but some, well, without naming names you get the idea.

The next issue is objectivity. I don’t know about you, but I am a big believer in being able to suspend my disbelief and become thoroughly involved in what is happening on screen. I laugh, I cry, I find myself getting angry at characters being portrayed by actors who did something bad in a previous film, I get involved. Or I do when I am enjoying the film. But there are many perfectly excellent films out there which I don’t enjoy, and therefore find it more difficult to watch. Black Swan, for example, I laughed through the last 30minutes of. However, that does not mean that they shouldn’t be shown in the festival. It’s wrong to believe that my opinion is the only one, or even the right one. Equally, films that I love are not necessarily to everyone’s taste (“It was terrible, I loved it,” is very much part of my vocabulary).

This is where the committee comes in. I never realised before how important it is that more than one person is involved in the programming process. This is where we talk about the merits of each film; whether we enjoyed it, whether we think other people would enjoy it, and whether or not we think we should show it in the festival. Now, although often these three questions have the same answer, they are not mutually exclusive. I can honestly say that I thought If Not Us, Who?  is a fantastic film, but when it came up in the programming meeting I admitted I did not think it should be part of the festival. Why? I wouldn’t have seen the film had it not been being considered for the programme, the title didn’t interest me and I couldn’t imagine selling many tickets for it. The rest of the committee agreed and it was shelved.

However, this is not always the case. Agreement doesn’t always come naturally to the BFF Programming Committee. Differences of opinion arise, and when they do things can get heated – when you are passionate about what you are talking about these things happen. The consensus is majority rules. If you can’t convince the others of your case then you are overruled.  It’s a ruthless business.

And this is only one of many aspects of programming a festival. How do you watch the films in the first place? Do you request screeners or are they sent in voluntarily? How do you hear about films? And what about the talent that Bath Film Festival is so well known for, are you just friends with everyone? How do you decide where to screen it? Do all the films come in one format? And who the hell is going to make the tea?

I told you, this programming business isn’t easy.