“When you put art and culture in unusual places people encounter it and enjoy it and begin participating with it.”
“As technology becomes more and more accessible, people are able to come across film in lots of different ways, but there aren’t many film festivals that are doing that. When you put art and culture in unusual places people encounter it and enjoy it and begin participating with it, so with Flatpack you find there are people who might not ordinarily go and watch ‘art’ cinema coming across it and getting something out of it,” he says.
“One never knows where something like this might end up. When you have an embryonic festival like Flatpack, which is taking this very new and different stance, and you have a city like Birmingham, which is looking at itself and promoting itself as a true twenty-first-century city, you look at this rather exciting partnership and think, ‘Well this could get interesting’.” But for Francis and McKnight, size is not the only measure of success. Last year’s festival attracted just under 5,000 admissions, and this year they’re expecting something closer to 7,000, but they know that it’s not about packing people in. With their more intimate venues and the opportunity for exploring the city’s lesser-known areas, they need to keep a balance between raising the festival’s profile and making sure that it remains a special experience. “I travel to a lot of film festivals,” says Francis, “and the ones I really enjoy are the ones that keep that personal touch.”
But it’s not just the films that Flatpack’s audiences discover. The festival is based around Digbeth, a creative hub that has taken root among the broken factories and padlocked goods yards of the city’s Eastside. It’s a familiar story – the city’s manufacturing industry collapsed in the 1980s, leaving behind it empty buildings and cheap rents. Artists started sniffing around the area in the late 1990s, and now the workshops and warehouses are thriving once again with an ambitious creative community. “It’s very close to Birmingham’s city centre,” explains Francis, “but Digbeth remains a strange and foreign land to a lot of people. They’re not aware of what there is beyond the main shopping drag, and part of what we’re trying to do is encourage people down here.”
You get the feeling that, no matter how big Flatpack gets, the pair will always be happiest gaffer-taping a projector to a bar stool for a night of weird films in the pub steve Watson
Again, Buckingham is full of praise for the pair’s ambition:
The Dream Factory