Flatpack Festival, described by Sight and Sound as “the festival that defines the word eclectic” is returning to screens across Birmingham this month. The mobile arts organisation has been relegated to online events since last year. Ahead of their triumphant return we caught up with their Head of Programme, Sam Groves, on what it’s been like returning to venues.
“To be honest, I’ve felt a little out of practice.” he says, “It feels like it’s been quite a long time – it kind of has – but it’s just so good to be organising something physical, rather than more online stuff. There are obviously a few more things to consider than there used to be, but it’s refreshing to be booking travel and accommodation, and sorting out tech riders and that type of thing. There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a festival, and a shared experience in a physical space.”
Flatpack began back in the early 2000s as 7 Inch Cinema at The Rainbow Pub in Digbeth, and has grown into a many-headed beast running events throughout the year. Showcasing artists and building audiences young and old as a part of the BFI Film Audience Network. While a September festival is a new thing for Flatpack (usually their main programme takes place over the May bank holiday), attendees can be sure of the same eclectic line up.
Sam is particularly excited for the screening of Sidewalk Stories.
“The film itself is from 1989, and it’s a remake of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid set in the Bronx with pretty much an entirely black cast. It’s absolutely amazing – incredibly funny, and just super sharp filmmaking. I’m always amazed it’s not more well known.” As part of the festival, Flatpack have commissioned a new live score from BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018 and Ladywood local, Xhosa Cole.
“He’s pulled together an 8 piece jazz ensemble. It’s going to be really special.”
Always keen to showcase film intersecting with other art forms, there’s plenty of music on this weekend’s programme.
“We’re opening the festival with Optical Sound, a night featuring three live audiovisual performances. Tarik Barri and Lea Fabrikant who are crazy good. Tarik has done loads of live visual stuff for Thom Yorke and Radiohead, and Lea is just an amazing artist. Also on the bill are Paul Prudence, and Zach Walker – both doing quite different things visually and aurally, but both equally as impressive.”
There’s something for everyone this weekend, from hyper-local psychogeographic detective documentaries to mumblecore anime, and the festivals ever-popular family arm Colour Box. And that’s just scratching the surface, as Sam goes on to explain.
“We’re screening the first series of queer Russian web-series Here I Come which is kind of amazing. There’ll be a recorded introduction by a couple of members of Pussy Riot. Dawta by Jessica Ashman should be really something too – it’s a half hour live audiovisual performance exploring the idea of inherited cycles of trauma in Blackness through a time traveller called Dawta. Jess is an excellent animator and storyteller – I think it’s going to be really exciting.”
“Quite a different event, but another I’m really looking forward to is Here for Life at Martineau Gardens, this really beautiful hidden away community garden in Edgbaston. The film itself is a documentary about a group of Londoners who have been marginalised by society in some kind of way, and they all find each other through a community garden in East London. They’re really funny, great characters, and a couple of them are going to come and do short spoken word performances before the film. There’ll be food and drinks, and a campfire too!”
Looking to the future, theres a lot to be excited about for Flatpack.
“We’re always thinking about how we can do stuff differently, and evolve, so we’ll be attempting to mix things up a bit over the next few years. But we’ll also be doing what we have always done, which is to find amazing work and show it to people. You can expect us to be doing a fair bit of stuff for the Commonwealth Games next year, and hopefully our 2022 festival will be a little more ‘normal’, and then there’s Wonderland – a great project we’re running about cinema-going in the city. There’s lots to be excited about, so watch this space.”
Flatpack Festival: Autumn Edition runs 23-26 September across various venues around Birmingham. Tickets are available from the Flatpack website.