For a programmer, the film festival is always a time of mixed emotion.
There is the relief that all the effort you’ve put in to watching, picking, and arguing over the best films is finally at an end. Nine months of contacting and chasing distributors are over and, for a couple of months, you are allowed to watch Terminator 2 on repeat without feeling as though there is something else you should be doing.
Then comes the anxiety; did you pick the right films? Did the hours you spent staring at screens pay off? Will the film that you loved so much sat in your pyjamas watching it on your laptop translate to the big screen as well as you want it to? Will people want to see it? Is it possible that you are the only one who likes this particular type of film? What if no one comes?
Then, as the ticket sales roll in, and the big names start selling out, the questions change. What if no one likes it? What will that say about you?
And finally you find yourself, sat in a cinema surrounded by people, a Film Note in your hand, waiting. The lights go down and your stomach flips. The excitement that usually accompanies this point in a cinema trip has changed from the “anything could happen” exhilaration to “I hope they love it as much as I do” butterflies.
You become overly aware of people’s reactions. You hear every laugh, every sigh, every tear as though it is happening next to you. Then the film takes over and you become as immersed in it as you were in your PJs.
So that now, as the credits march across the screen, and the rest of the world comes into focus, you hear the applause and know you have done your job well. You have uncovered a gem and passed it on to be loved and shared.
My favourite part of this journey is listening to what people say as they are leaving, and reading the comments on their Film Note tear off slips. It’s always reassuring to hear that someone else thought the same as you did, and truly eye-opening to hear someone else’s perspective and wonder at all the things you missed.
This year’s Bath Film Festival has been no exception. As the wonderful Jonathan Willis and Grant Mansfield pointed out while they were judging the 2014 IMDb New Filmmaker Award, there is something entirely different about watching a film with an audience. Be it a short or a feature, it is always different. Watching Coherence on my mac and watching it with the wonderful audience who came out to Chapel Arts to see it projected onto the marvellous new screen were two completely different experiences and I wouldn’t have missed the latter for the world.
The other joy of the festival from a programmer’s perspective is getting to see all those features you’ve taken a gamble on because, for whatever reason, it was not possible to watch the film before deciding to show it. For me it was Attila Marcel and What We Do In The Shadows that I was most looking forward to seeing, both of which were brilliant, as I’m sure anyone who was there could attest to, although perhaps the latter was not to everyone’s tastes.
I think that’s the point. The enjoyment of programming comes from walking that thin line between “What do I like?” and “What do other people like?” which is not an easy path to tread. These two questions do not always have the same answer, but when you get the right balance, you end up with a festival as magnificent as the one we have just experienced.
Now the pressure is on to make sure that next year is just as spectacular!