Tag Archives: flatpack film festival

Illuminate @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

As the sun set over the roof of The University of Birmingham’s Arts building, the night lit up. A projector on the top floor shone a vibrant array of colour and movement onto the red-brick wall of the Watson building opposite. Eyes from around campus were drawn to the large screen, not unlike an outdoor cinema – albeit sans seats.

‘Illuminate’ was staged as part of the University’s 2013 Arts and Science Festival by a collaboration of filmmakers, architects and artists. The screening looped a 45-minute sequence of short films, animations and projected images of works from the Barber Institute collection. Despite the cold wind a committed scattering of people observed the repertoire, and a number of interested remarks were given by passers-by.

Portrait of Bartolomeo Savona by Andre Derain

There was a quirky mix of artwork ranging from sketched graphics and plasticine animations to snippets of some of the films to be shown during the 2013 Flatpack film festival. Among the paintings displayed from the Barber Institute collection was Derain’s ‘A portrait of Bartolomeo Savona’, which lit up magnificently, if only briefly, on the large screen. One of the artists present said that the red-brick wall of the Watson building leant itself well as a backdrop to the projections and added a certain texture to the images, which was attractive and interesting.

Another exhibit  displayed was the proposed design for the University’s new library, due to be constructed by 2015, from Associated Architects, Arup, Couch Perry Wilkes, and Sweet Group. With an extensive glass facade interspersed with grey brick columns, the building’s aim is to provide a bright and atmospheric environment in which students can work. The design will also claim to reduce the structure’s energy consumption by up to 50%, helping the university to reach its CO2 targets by 2020. However to more ‘olde-worlde’ inclined students such as myself, who were drawn to the UoB’s rustic red-brick architecture, the new look in the centre of campus may seem like a slight affront to the listed, historic appearance of its neighbours. Needless to say, it remains a CGI prototype for now.


Being no artist, nor professor of film, many of the displays were alien to me. Regardless of this, the night was a pleasant chance to watch people’s work exhibited publicly and generously. The atmosphere was friendly and warm and spoke of exciting things to come in both Flatpack film festival and the University’s modernisation of the main library. If ‘Illuminate’ happens again, I heartily recommend taking a look at what the local community has to offer in character, charm and cultural diversity.

Will Forster

Flatpack Festival presents: Salon des Refusés

Salon des Refusés is a culmination of those short films that were forgotten and those anomalies which simply didn’t suit any other slot. Curators Chloë Roddick and Kristy Dootson collated eight short films hand-picked amongst five hundred which didn’t make the cut to be screened at some of the major international film festivals. Rather than simply discarding these rejects, for the reason that they don’t seem to ‘fit in’ with the rest,  the event showcased the best of them  to the public in the comfort of a cosy darkened room adorned with an array of furniture ranging from deck chairs to sofas.

The first film, Uncle Fran by Mike Forshaw brought the audience to the character of Fran, a fifty-something alcoholic.  The film follows Fran on the day of his mother’s funeral, and watches his failed attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter and grandchildren, of whom he doesn’t even know the names. Fran makes an effort to fix his wrong doings as he engages with his grandchildren for the first time. The scene progresses and the speed increases as we watch him interact, giggling and playing spinning the children around. However, it all ends very abruptly as he swirls and knocks a glass of red wine off a nearby table, resulting in a smash and splash alarming the rest of the crowd in the pub. The granddaughter of no older than six or seven bursts into tears and Fran’s moment of joy turns suddenly sour.  The film explores the themes of isolation and emasculation and alienation, and the crippling effect it has on this one man.

Moving away from Uncle Fran and a bleak area near Liverpool, the next film Distant Thunder, by Venetia Taylor, was set in a beautiful Australian suburban area following the life of  well-to-do Pam, a middle aged divorceé  who enjoys cheese and a little too much wine. Her former husband Richard arrives at her luxury apartment and Pam’s wry humour and her clearly forced nonchalance result in a comic effect, especially when she jovially tells Richard ‘you’ll be dead soon’. Their meeting is interrupted by the desperate screams of a man on a faraway mountain, whom Richard jokes maybe meditating.  One can’t help but parallel the desperate screaming man to the jolted awkward relationship of repressed emotions and unsettled histories between the two protagonists.

The next two film short films shall be grouped together for the only reason that they are both truly chilling. Brotherhood explores the relations between two Muslim brothers who have immigrated to the UK. They choose two very different occupations. Through the moral righteousness of one brother, both their lives become extremely dangerous. Nina Please revolves around a young Polish couple, in which Nina epitomises the oppressed woman who has to give up work to care for her baby.

Thankfully, in-between these harrowing yet thought provoking films was a delightful Canadian piece, Two Men, Two Cows, Two Guns (Pardis Parker) which is available to watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POcGENMfL_M

My personal favourite was The Trip, a piece set in the Polish countryside exploring the relationship between a girl of thirteen and her elderly grandfather. They go on wonderful camping excursions and the footage of the vast green landscapes are breath-taking. Her grandfather pokes  about  in trees, digging around, slips and falls down a grassy knoll whilst Asia  watches and giggles, in-between playing with her mobile phone. They walk to the top of a hill where they sit and watch the sun set, where her grandfather offers Asia a priceless nugget of wisdom that time is more precious than any gold or silver. The sun is just about to set as Asia fiddles with her phone; the polyphonic tones rudely interrupt the tranquillity. She grabs for her digital camera as the sun drops below the horizon and takes a snap.

Words and photography by Natalya Paul

Flatpack Festival presents: Another Fine Mess

The sixth Flatpack Film Festival kicked off with a great night showcasing several classic silent films. This was the first event of this year’s Birmingham-based film festival, which screens a glut of films for every taste from classics such as The Elephant Man to surreal and niche shorts like The Cat With Hands.

Another Fine Mess was a showcase of black and white comedies from the early part of the twentieth century, accompanied by the expertise of Neil Brand, a pianist who accompanies silent movies across the world (he also featured on Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns TV series).

After we had taken our seats in the (surprisingly warm) cathedral along with 200 others ranging in age from teens to pensioners, Ian Francis, Director of Flatpack, gave a brief introduction to the four day festival taking place at venues across the city. It was then on to the main event as Neil Brand highlighted the recent renaissance of silent film, undoubtedly spurred on by the success of The Artist.

The first film we were show was A Pair of Tights, from 1929, which centred around a pair of tight wads taking two (hungry) ladies on a double date. Resisting their date’s calls for a slap-up turkey dinner, the ‘pair of tights’ agreed to splash out on four ice cream cones. This prompted hilarious scenes involving revolving doors, amorous dogs and fist-shaking policemen, climaxing in what can only be termed reciprocal slapstick violence. It was a great introduction to the genre and you quickly forgot that Neil Brand was playing the piano in the room throughout, his compositions matching the drama and his emphasis perfectly timed with what was happening on screen.

Next up was one of the highlights of the night: a short entitled The Dog Outwits The Kidnapper (1908). What starts out as a very sinister tale of a toddler kidnapping turns rapidly into a heroic story of canine bravery. I won’t ruin it for you, as it’s available on YouTube in all its glory, but I will say though that from a personal perspective any film involving a dog dressed up, or driving a car, is a winner in my book.  See for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qApoxM41NGQ

Following these were some shorts illustrating the imagination, escapism and fantasy that characterised early black and white films. We were treated to eerie musical accompaniment for a man sneezing until he exploded (as funny as it sounds), a dramatisation of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (as if it had been filmed on an drug induced high), and a train journey through space to the sun. These were also some of the earliest first colour films, created by artists individually hand-painting every single film cell – an arduous task to say the least, but the results were undoubtedly astonishing to audiences of the time.

Then it was the final event, starring one of, if not the most famous double act in cinema history: Laurel and Hardy in You’re Darn Tootin‘ from 1928. Audience participation was key to the screening of this film, with a drum handed out to replicate the noise of a punch to the stomach, a triangle for a kick to the knee, and pieces of paper for everyone to rip during the fabulous final scene: a mass trouser ripping involving over a dozen characters.

Accompanied by rapturous laughter, Another Fine Mess was a great start to the festival and also a great introduction to the silent film genre, the piano accompaniment and introductions to each short by Neil Brand really enhanced the event. The mixture of ages in the audience shows the variety of appeal these films have, and the overall audio and visual experience were unlike those found in Cineworld, the Showcase or the Odeon, and more like that at the theatre or the concert hall – a refreshing change to say the least.

A final thought for those who may not be too familiar with the stars of the silent comedy era: if you grew up finding the Chuckle Brothers funny, you’ll be in tears watching anything involving Laurel and Hardy.

Words by Andy Newnham