Flatpack Unpacked: Ian Francis Interview

Boar film caught up with Ian Francis at a career talk he gave to Warwick film students. The Flatpack film festival co-founder offered his thoughts on everything from YouTube to Cliff Richard’s Take Me High. He also shared valuable advice on careers in film.

Ian studied Film & Literature at Warwick between 1994 and 1997. He volunteered at Birmingham Film & Television Festival before eventually working there for 4 or 5 years. He then went on to found 7 Inch Cinema which eventually grew in to Flatpack Festival.

Boar Film: How has warwick helped you as a platform to your career?

Ian Francis: The space to think and research is probably really important. There aren’t any other film courses like the Film & Lit course at Warwick. When I was shopping around for universities there wasn’t anywhere else I really wanted to go. Because watching and talking and writing about films was what I really wanted to do. It’s still really important. While I was studying here I was under no illusions it was a natural step to working in the same field. So it’s still slightly miraculous to me now, that I managed to carry on doing it for a living.

BF: What advice would you give students on getting involved in film? Is it an uphill battle?

IF: Not necessarily. But you do have to be prepared to work very hard for limited financial return, I think. And it’s working out, you’ve got to have a, which isn’t to say you should just work for free for years and accept it. You’ve got to make sure that if you are working for free it’s taking you further along the road you want to go down.You’re not just doing it because you can’t think of anything else to do.It’s got to be a genuine development for you.

From my point of view there was a lot of volunteering involved before I got to actually earn anything dong this kind of work. Don’t rely on the jobs pages to tell you what’s out there. A lot of it is about getting to meet people. Not just networking, but getting a sense of what different organisations there are, what needs they have. Building up a sense of what your strengths are, as well. Some people are very good at selling themselves or selling events. Some people are very good at the nitty-gritty of events and putting on a show. So I guess try and find a role that suits your strengths.

BF:How did Flatpack develop?

IF: I got increasingly interested in doing non-cinema, non-theatrical film events. So using pubs or community centres or churches or warehouses, to screen films and put on music. It’s something there seems to be a real appetite for. We started out putting on a film night in a pub in 2003. It was a sort of social gathering point and a place to show submissions from filmmakers and work that we found on the internet along with live bands accompanying movies or AV performances. So that was the kind of basic formula that we’ve then gone on to use for larger scale events, and I suppose Flatpack was a natural progression from those smaller pub gigs. I guess we focus on making it a memorable social experience.

BF: Flatpack seems definatly alternative, do you see it as being an addition or an antidote to the mainstream?

IF: We like having a mainstream to define ourselves against I suppose. It’s not necessarily an antidote. But the reason we keep harking back, the reason we return to different periods like 1900s when film first started out it’s because it feels like film could have taken so many forms, that the mainstream multiplex experience is just one version of filmgoing that just happens to dominate the market. There are so many other different ways of enjoying films that it seems daft to limit yourself to just one.

BF: Flatpack seems just as concerned with looking forward as looking backward. Tell me how do the two strands reconcile with one another?

IF:When you find interesting new work you often find that its drawing on something from the past, that nothing is entirely original. We’ve got a hundred years of film to draw on. It just seems like a natural thing to combine the new with the old. To put it in context, and to give people a sense of how film’s changed. I think it’s one of the things I’ve brought with me from Warwick really, is it’s really enjoyable to dig around in archives and libraries and find pioneering work from the past that resonates with what people are making today.

BF: You also try to highlight the local aspect. What influence do you think Birmingham had on UK cinema?

IF: Birmingham has always had a tradition of mad inventors and innovators. People coming up with strange new ideas in their potting sheds. The city of a thousand trades. It’s got a kind of independent mindset. As far as great films go, there’s very few been made in Birmingham. There’s some shocking celluloid moments like Take Me High-Cliff Richard. It’s not a city that’s been well filmed. Although it’s got great potential in terms of different locations around the city. There’s a tradition of showmen and entrepreneurs that we like to kind of like celebrate in the archive work that we do.

BF: Do you feel the way we’ve come to watch films has changed, if so do you prefer the way we watch films now?

IF: I wouldn’t say it’s got worse or better. I just think it’s a completely different environment. The main thing for me is I’d like to see people gathering in one place to watch a film, and not just retreating into their own little pods. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’ll be interesting to see how the cinema experience sustains itself over the next few years. The social factor is integral really. The films are important but they’re almost a pretext for getting out into the world. We’re firm believers in the old fashioned communal film experience.

Interview by Alex King


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