Yes. Birmingham. I don't think 'being in Birmingham' is Flatpack's sole USP, but its location certainly adds to the ('mystique' seems a strong word for Brum)... um... 'delightful eccentricity' (better) of this boundary-examining film festival. The juxtaposition of avant-gardist, explosively creative content with the shopping-mall-centric industrial landscape of Birmingham works very well. But I expect that a programme of this diversity would work well in any region. Wherever it is (or might be, or has been based), this festival is yet another testimony to the prevalence and potential of the cross-media, event cinema models that we seem to always be banging on about here at SylC...
I was only there for a day but I managed to fit in an interactive art brunch, a lecture on legendary archivist Iris Barry, a screening about minis in a 1967 government-built mobile cinema, a documentary about classical musicians in the DRC and a music-film-mashup featuring live vuvuzela amongst a host of other instruments. Phew.
What does this tell me that's of use to SylC? That you can entice audiences into your space with the promise of a monotonous plastic African horn and a split screen?... Well, yes - but more than that.
Not limited by location
Flatpack celebrates Birmingham in all its post-industrial, concrete glory - and is all the more fascinating for it. Speaking to some friends who had been there for a few days and who had managed to make it to the Invisible Cinema Tour, I felt dismayed to have missed it. Nosing around in forgotten cinema spaces hidden away behind boards, or accessible only via a nightclub's ladies loos sounded like a glorious pastime to me. Nostalgia imbues the most humbly-grim once-venue with a sense of poetry I find, which is enhanced by the collective loss of a cinema.
In fact, as I type, I realise that this particular concept resonates strongly with our theme of transmedia and the game. Indeed, the Invisible Cinema Tour is itself a narrative seeking narratives in a collaborative interactive journey. See, transmedia is everywhere!
Indulge the insane
Well, I say 'insane'. But often, what seems off-the-wall at pitch level, comes out as a fabulous and sexy concoction. Whether that's returning to early and even pre-cinema techniques as in Shadow Shows where the performance is built around a triple-screen film projection, incorporating techniques of early cinema and a variety of shadow effects. Or webcasting an art-comic live from a custard factory. Or screening a 1990s TV-made teen video diary in In Bed With Chris Needham. The diversity of cinematic potential is exposed as a gift ripe for manipulation, celebration, stretching, moulding and making anew. Such is many artists' passion for cinema that you can rely on the brain power of some more bizarre individuals to sculpt the form into bold, bizarre and thoroughly enjoyable multi-platform artwork. To be experienced only in your local cinema (or on the www). Again, transmedia, cross-media, multi-platform seems to be leading the way.
Cultivate the brain
The other thing that I found really quite deliciously enticing about Flatpack was the level of brainwork I had to engage over the course of even just a day there. I enjoy a regular intellectual challenge with my cinematic intake, and Flatpack certainly provided that. Whether I was asking myself if I was supposed to be eating the art during the Spit and Swallow brunch, or discussing the importance of the process of archiving, feminism and celebration of both the mainstream and the avant garde I felt utterly stimulated and inspired.
You know your audience - they enjoy independent cinema for a reason, because it offers a renewed angle on the world, or an insight into the unknown. Don't be afraid to push them!
Why don't you...?
>> Find the beauty and the poetry in your space and celebrate it? History can inspire all kinds of spin-off content: debates and discussions, artwork in memoriam, the programming of a season of films around a theme...
>> Look to local artists, filmmakers, musicians, students and general 'experimentors' to work with you to reimagine your space, your programme or your archive. You never know, they may come up with something remarkable and moving.
>> Challenge your audience, whilst informing, inspiring and stimulating debate. Don't shy away from the controversial, the unusual or the difficult. Your audience is just like you. And I bet you love an intellectual challenge.