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Hull Film Festival Report

James Russell looks back at our first ever Hull Film Festival.

Several days have passed since the credits rolled on WolfCop, the last screening of this year’s Hull Film Festival. I’ve only this morning gotten round to taking the posters down from my front window at home; to sorting out the haphazard pile of flyers and Richer Sounds brochures [well done mentioning the sponsor in the first paragraph – Ed] that had taken up residence in the hallway.

Although the Festival is over there is still lots of work for us to do. There were things that went well and there were things we got wrong, and we need to learn from those so that next year’s Festival is bigger and better. Some of the lessons we need to learn we already know. Others we need your help to tell us about – more on that later.

But before we launch headlong into planning Hull Film Festival 2015 let’s take a moment to look back at what happened last weekend.

Day 1 – Thursday 2 October

The big day had arrived and began with a mini-whirlwind of local media appearances, with HICP team members appearing on the breakfast programmes of KCFM, BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Look North. We’d only had confirmed a couple of days previously that Jon Ronson, writer of our first film Frank was going to appear at the screening via the magic of the interwebtubes, and the news added a definite air of excitement to the day.

On the evening our first venue, Artlink on Princes Avenue, soon became busy with a mix of new and old faces. Then the moment of truth, the Skype connection did its job and Jon Ronson was with us to introduce Frank. The film itself, a slightly surreal comedy starring Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Frank and verrrry loosely based on the 1980s comedy character Frank Sidebottom (in that the lead character wears a papier maché head and is called Frank), was well received and enjoyed by the sell-out crowd, who were delighted when Jon Ronson returned once more to answer some questions from HICP team member Chris and members of the audience.

Jon Ronson answering audience questions at the Frank screening. He later tweeted that "a middle aged man on Skype always looks a bit like someone from Paedophile Hunter." We'll let you, dear reader, be the judge of that.

Jon Ronson answering audience questions at the Frank screening. He later tweeted that “a middle aged man on Skype always looks a bit like someone from Paedophile Hunter.” We’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge of that.

Jon regaled the audience with stories about his work with the real Frank Sidebottom, the time he met Stanley Kubrick, and his intimate knowledge of Pave, the bar we were all off to for a drink at the end of the evening (he has appeared as a speaker there during the Humber Mouth Literature Festival), before choosing three lucky audience members as winners of free Frank quad display posters. Not a bad start to proceedings.

But as the team packed up for the night, one thing had been overlooked…

Day 2 – Friday 3 October

Friday was the first of our double-bill days, with two films coming from the city centre venue Kardomah94. On the face of it we’d programmed two films that were not exactly complementary: Before the Winter Chill, a French drama about a troubled marriage of the kind that no-one makes as well as the French, partnered with Starry Eyes, a fabulously atmospheric US chiller about the sacrifices made by ambitious young movie starlets with some really very strong scenes of violence. Yet most of the people who attended had bought our discounted double-bill ticket and were there to give both films a try, which was fantastic. Of course, putting a double-bill like this on is one way in which we bring new types of film to those who might not have tried it otherwise, and we were excited to see what the reaction of horror fans would be to French family drama, and vice-versa.

But. Remember that something had been overlooked at the end of the previous evening? That thing was the remote control for our BluRay player. It didn’t affect the first film, but we were screening Starry Eyes from a specially-made disc sent to us by the distributors, (the film hasn’t had a UK cinema or home format release), and for some reason it was playing in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Easy enough to adjust, but a task that requires the remote control, which at that point was sitting on a lectern in the screening room of a very locked and empty Artlink. And so to all corners of Hull we scattered, by foot and by car, to gather all the BluRay players known to man in the hope that one of them would be able to play the disc properly. Our apologies to anyone we startled as we ran through the bar in an obviously calm and controlled manner between the screenings of the two films. In the end the problem was solved by simply manhandling the projector itself to a new position. Phew.

Day 3 – Saturday 4 October

Saturday saw us back in residence on Princes Avenue, this time in two venues: Union Mash-Up for a daytime family screening of Studio Ghibli animation Ponyo and again in the evening for a free event showcasing the short films nominated for this year’s Bafta awards, and at Fudge Restaurant for a special edition of the Fudge Film Club, with the new Jon Favreau comedy Chef accompanied by some superb Cuban-style food.

Ponyo was our first venture into programming for a child-oriented / family audience, and was just the right sort of film to appeal to that audience while still bringing foreign film to a new audience. The venue generously provided free bags of popcorn, eagerly snapped up by our young punters. Several people asked us after the film had finished when we would be putting on our next family film there; a great example of how the Festival has helped us connect with an audience we hadn’t previously catered for but will in future.

Hull Film Festival posters adorn the wall at Union Mash-up on Day 3

Hull Film Festival posters adorn the wall at Union Mash-up on Day 3

The evening screening of Bafta-nominated short films was another event designed to bring new content, in this case short film, to an audience who might not have considered it otherwise. The venue was packed, a vindication of our free ticket policy for this screening. With the bar open right in the screening room and the walls adorned with the work of local artists, the screening had an atmosphere totally different to anything else HICP had done before and from the feedback we got on the evening and since it was one enjoyed by all present. The films themselves were an eclectic mix of live action and animation, gritty drama and fantastical science fiction, themes dark and comic, all excellent.

Cult Cinema Sunday posters formed part of the art exhibition that accompanied the free Bafta Shorts screening

Cult Cinema Sunday posters formed part of the art exhibition that accompanied the free Bafta Shorts screening

And meanwhile a capacity audience of 22 were enjoying Fudge’s intimate upstairs dining room with a pina colada and delicious food including Cubanos sandwiches, Croquetas de Jamón, Vaca Frita and shrimp cocktails rounded off with a Torta Borracha rum and chocolate cheesecake, all designed by Fudge’s chefs to complement our screening of Chef and all included in the ticket price. I’m feeling hungry just writing that.

Day 4 – Sunday 5 October

And so we reached the end of our first foray into the fraught world of the film festival with a special double-bill Cop edition of the well-established Cult Cinema Sunday at Fruit on Humber Street.

Part one of this donut-loving duo was the should-have-stayed-lost wonder that is Samurai Cop. Truly the worst action film ever made, this redefines the concept of so-bad-it’s-good. The acting is wooden and the writing utterly stilted. Characters make brief appearances, their role unexplained, and never appear again. Scenes in which actors fall over or get chased by dogs (not in the script) are left in the film and never re-shot, while other scenes are re-shot after such a long time that the leaves fall off and then reappear on trees during a single fight sequence.

It’s fantastic, and the audience love it. If you ever saw the spoof TV show Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace you’ll have an idea of what Samurai Cop is like. Except that Darkplace was meant to be funny.

It’s helped by the appearance via video call before the film starts of Matt Hannon, the film’s star. He knows full well what the film is and has no trouble revelling in it. He tells us that after the film had wrapped he cut his long black hair to achieve a new look on the advice of his agent, only to find out that the wrap call had been premature and several scenes needed reshooting. The wig that was pressed into service as a result is so obvious that it is at the heart of a drinking game that can be played while watching the film. Hannon is good-humoured and generous with his time; he contacts us while the film is on to offer to do a post-film Q&A which we have to turn down because of the tight schedule, but we hope to get him back when we screen Samurai Cop 2, currently in pre-production, at a future festival…

Star Matt Hannon talks to the audience at Fruit before they experience the wonder that is Samurai Cop

Star Matt Hannon talks to the audience at Fruit before they experience the wonder that is Samurai Cop (photo courtesy Lewis Stephenson / Screen Relish)

The reason for the tight schedule is our second film, WolfCop. After Starry Eyes on Friday, this is our second Festival exclusive, with a general UK cinema release not due until February. This Canadian comedy-horror tells the story of Lou, a drunk police officer who is turned into a werewolf by a secretive cabal of shapeshifters who run the town. They need wolf blood when a full moon coincides with a lunar eclipse so that… oh, who cares about the plot? This is an enjoyable, schlocky b-movie which plays with tongue firmly in cheek and is all the better for it. A great way to round off an enjoyable night.

Top trivia from WolfCop: the lead character’s name, Lou Garou, is more or less the French for werewolf (loup garoup). Not sure if that’s likely to come up in your local pub quiz but you’ll thank us if it does.

So there we have it. Hull Film Festival 2014. We must thank our sponsors, Richer Sounds, without whom the Festival would genuinely not have happened, and all the HICP team who put so much unpaid time into putting the Festival together and staging the events and rushing all over Hull to collect BluRay players at the last minute. Thanks to our venues for providing us with an eclectic mix of places to sit and watch a film. And finally thanks to all of you who supported us by buying a ticket or a pass, coming to our free Bafta evening, or just for sharing our links with your friends on Facebook.

If you came along to any of the Hull Film Festival events we’d appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to complete a very short survey. It’ll help us figure out what went well, what we could do better next time, and how to make Hull Film Festival 2015 the best it can be. Thank you.

You can read more in-depth reports and reviews from the festival by local writer Lewis Stephenson over on the Screen Relish blog.

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