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FilmBath: An Interview with Producer Jocelyn Chandler-Hawkins

FilmBath’s 32nd annual festival ran across the city from 4th-13th November with a full programme of 40 films. Through the pioneering F-rating, over 50% of films showcased were directed by women. During the festival, Ben Harrison-Hyde had a conversation with the festival’s new producer Jocelyn Chandler-Hawkins about the putting the festival together, the importance of the film festival, and some of her highlights.

Ben Harrison-Hyde: You’ve taken on the role of producing the FilmBath festival for the first time this year. Where did you begin when given the task of constructing a film festival?

Jocelyn Chandler-Hawkins: It’s been a challenge, but also energizing and exciting. When I started, the programme and locations had already been agreed which was really helpful to move things forwards. Then it was just a matter of pulling things together. One of our assistants has been helping recruiting volunteers, another was doing stuff on marketing as that’s a career they want to go into, so I worked with them on newsletters. There has been lots of work with the wider team to deliver festival.

BHH: How do you get the previews for the festival agreed as those films are hotly anticipated?

JCH: It was a mixture of asking the question, the film companies wanting to get films out there, and a bit of tenacity. Often filmmakers, distributors and directors want to get films out there, so they look for places to go. Fortunately, our founder Chris Baker is well connected with studios and distribution houses but to try and get those films, there’s an awful lot of negotiation that goes on. We’ve had lots of conversations, some trustees are well connected and helped put us in contact with people. Because we’re offering a preview outside of London, filmmakers want their films out there as wide as possible so it’s a nice niche for us. I was thinking we will probably need to start planning for next year straight off the bat in December; reviewing what’s happened, what we did and what we want to happen next year.

BHH: Getting films out to as wide an audience as possible is clearly crucial. With the pay-what-you-can structure this year at the festival, is that more important than ever given the cost-of-living crisis?

JCH: It was something we’d seen other organizations do and my predecessor (Holly Tarquini) did some research and said this could be a really good thing. We’ve trialled it and need to review figures to see how it worked in the hope we can keep offering something like this. We are a charity so still need to cover costs, but we still wanted to respond to cost-of-living crisis and democratize cinema and art. It can feel you only get to the cinema if you have a certain financial background. We want to make the cinema accessible and open to all. If more people see it, the next generation can be really inspired and engaged which means there will be a wider range of storytellers and those who get involved in film at all levels – we’re really pleased we did it and it’s been well received.

BHH: It’s a fantastic film festival for showcasing a wide range of filmmakers with the F and Triple F rating pioneered by Holly – has that been something that’s impacted how the line-up for this year’s festival was built out?

JCH: It’s become the fabric, people know us for that now and continue to offer films by female directors, featuring female talent and films where the female storyline isn’t always resolved by a man. People really look for that from us. What’s great with the team who do the programme including founder Chris Baker is they make it part of the short-hand when they look for films; it’s part of the criteria. That’s going to continue and we’re proud of that. It’s the way forward and should never have been the situation. In an ideal world Holly wouldn’t have had to create something to push female filmmakers getting their voices heard, but she has and done it so well we will continue building on that.

BHH: Have you seen the F rating philosophy spread to other festivals on the back of Bath’s work?

JCH: I must admit I haven’t, but we have inspired other people to make it part of what they do. It’s a bit like when you see music line-ups for festivals when the posters come out; it tends to be loads of men and then towards the bottom there are a few women – there’s very rarely female headliners. There’s still a long way to go and as much as we want to level the playing field, there also needs to be a space for underrepresentation to be key parts of film festivals. In the same way, the black and Asian minority communities need to feel included and see themselves on the screen. The work of women in film also needs to be celebrated – that includes allyship and any male filmmakers helping to support female filmmakers. It can be daunting being on set, in distribution or film festivals and being a lone voice so we need allyship and support in all of those areas.

BHH: This festival also creates space for global filmmakers as well, with films from Djibouti, Angola and Bhutan featured this year, has that also been part of the decision-making process and trying to bring in as many voices from around the world as possible?

JCH: Indeed, and it’s always something we’ve been passionate about. One of our filmmakers founders Phillip Rabi is so passionate about films from all corners of the world, so him and the programming team will bring everything to the table. If we had our way and could afford to do it, we’d show films for a month. In all of these things there’s so much you could show and at some point you have to decide what’s going to be strongest, what’s going to be preview, what’s going to bring an alternative story. One of our programmers, Lorena from Venezuala was really passionate about Children of Las Brisas which was a really lovely film that we screened. So not only do we find those gems, often our programming team are keen to bring through those underrepresented stories

BHH: Has there been a positive public response to the festival so far this year, have you been able to find out what the people who have gone to see the movies have thought so far?

JCH: Wherever possible we’ve tried to make some mini videos and get some sound clips that we’ve shared on social media channels. People are saying its so nice to finally come together (we were able to keep the festival going through Covid and lockdown doing online screenings, Some screenings were done outside at Green Park Station which were very chilly as it was outside and spaced apart). They love the idea of coming back out, and certain stories lend themselves to being on the big screen. Empire of Light, as a real homage to cinema and people going through lots of life changing moments, feels really special on the big screen. We also want to help people get back into the rhythm of going to the cinema as during lockdown we got out of the habit and you can get things at home so easily. I always feel refreshed and renewed after going to a movie so it’s a good thing. 

BHH: As you’ve seen plenty of movies at the festival, what’s been your top movie so far?

JCH: I really enjoyed The Gravedigger’s Wife. I saw that on the Saturday at the start of the festival. It was a really moving, great film and had a certain amount of humour in there which was lovely to see even though the couple in the film were up against some really tough battles – that was a real highlight. The Silent Twinswas a story I’d heard about in the news many years ago but didn’t know much about their journey – it was a challenging watch as it centres on topics of mental health and understanding, and a lot of racism in terms of that era, however it’s a powerful story in showing their connection and their bond so that was a really great film as well. We also had a Q&A with the director of Queen of Glory, who came down from London to be part of our festival for the evening, so that’s really special and the sort of thing FilmBath is able to do – connecting with directors and filmmakers and have them join us here.

BHH: Beyond the festival, there is also the monthly Film Club that also shows preview-style movies, what plans are currently in place for that?

JCH: At the moment we’re getting the festival delivered, but we’re going to be in conversations about what sorts of films can we show and where can we show them as we’re aware not everyone wants to come into the centre of town. It’s how we make sure cinema is available for all and supports people if they want to enjoy a film, become a filmmaker, or join film festivals. We’re keen to do more with that, and we’re going to try and do a bit of a refresh and see where we want to take it. We have an established team who are used to setting up those screenings so we know it can be done. We’re looking to collaborate with different venues across the city and wider to keep it going.

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