The 2017 FilmBath Festival opened on the evening of Thursday Nov 2nd with an amazing party at the Roman Baths, lit by flares, with the flickering light reflected by the steaming water. Guests surrounded the 200 year old pool where our ancestors used to paddle and chat. Backed by the superlative Pukka Teas, the party was a triumph of imagination, fun and diversity, topped off by the introduction of the extraordinary Cape of Empowerment, modeled by its designer and creator, Lou Gardiner.

The Opening Night film was Battle Of The Sexes, an F-Rated preview starring Emma Stone as Billie-Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs, the self-proclaimed chauvinist pig who challenged Billie-Jean to a one-off match to prove the superiority of men in tennis. Which was a mistake.

The programme of 43 feature films contained a number of exceptional previews, documentaries, family films, half of which were directed by and/or written by women; a genuinely F-Rated festival.

The closing night of the festival was a preview screening of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film that was so popular, we had to show it in the Odeon’s biggest screen – and even then we could have sold twice as many seats. And of course Frances McDormand subsequently won a Best Actress award at the Oscars.

Perhaps the true gems of the film festival were the screenings of films that would otherwise never have been shown in Bath. A few examples include:

Even When I Fall: a wonderful documentary made by two women who discovered a troupe of circus artistes made up of young people who had been trafficked from Nepal to India as children. They rebuild their lives in the face of adversity and the stigma that they so unfairly received, by creating Circus Katmandu. The film was delightful, heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure.

The Rider is as close to being a documentary without being one as you can imagine. The leading actors played versions of themselves, and as a result, we (the audience) felt fully engaged in a story about a young rodeo rider whose injury prevents him from doing what he loves best.

Women Of The Silk Road was submitted to us by its Iranian director, who also attended the screening (flying in from Iran). She has created a wonderfully compelling account of four different Muslim women whose lives revolve around weaving.

In the case of Women Of The Silk Road, Even When I Fall and other documentaries, we were thrilled to welcome the directors at the screening. Their presence really enhances the screenings – and directors are always very complimentary about the quality of the questions from the FilmBath audience members!

Another thrill of the festival as always seeing audiences arrive at the cinema full of enthusiasm and excitement, drinking their free Pukka tea (when the film is F-Rated), meeting friends, and buzzing with anticipation of the movie they’re about to see. And at the end of the film, the same people stream out, all talking about what they’ve seen, appreciative for our efforts, and happy to have been there: watching a film at the festival is quite different to an everyday visit to the cinema.

One of the most popular and special events was the IMDb Awards, at which the best 5 short entries competed against each other in front an amazing panel of judges including Col Needham, CEO of IMDb, director, Philippa Lowthorpe, screenwriter, Andrea Gibba and Anna Smith, Chair of the UK Film Critics’ Circle. The gala evening also featured the premiere of the film made by the winner of the IMDb Script to Screen award earlier in the year, Femme Fatale by Kulvinder Gill. The winner of the 2017 IMDb New Filmmaker Award was French filmmaker, Maxime Pillonel with his deaf-comedy, Martien.

A new development in 2017 was our involvement with the LUX Awards, an EU initiative designed to increase the participation of audiences in European cinema. On their behalf we screened three of the best European films of the year – and it cost nothing to go and see them. One of the few examples of there really being something for nothing. The films were excellent, and the audiences really appreciated the generosity of the offer.

There was so much else for us to be proud of, not least the stats…

We had 4,444 bums on seats and an 86% overall capacity across the festival – a record-breaking year with 24 of the 44 events SOLD OUT.

51% of the films were directed by women, and those films were as popular (or more so) than those directed by men; which disproves any absurd ideas Hollywood may have about female directors being less commercially viable than men.

An entirely new initiative was the project designed to encourage younger people to come to art house/foreign language/feature documentary screenings. Thanks to our offer (to under-25s) of half price, we upped the percentage of young people to 22%, far greater than anything we have ever achieved before.

In addition, we encourage local schools to send students to our foreign language films to help improve their learning; this is both popular and successful.

Our overarching aim is to amplify diverse voices. For that reason we show films aimed at an LGBT audience, family films, documentaries, previews, commercial films, and less well-known films, especially from parts of the world whose films are rarely shown in the UK.

Cinema is such an important aspect not only of the cultural life of the community, but also of the way stories are told, and who tells them, and these stories influence our own inner narratives. FilmBath Festival 2017 offered a rich and varied diet of interesting films for everyone; and will continue to do so.

You can see photos from the 2017 FilmBath Festival here.