Roger Gibson, Artistic Director of the Film Festival, the Cinema’s Consultant Artistic Director and founder of the Chichester Cinema at New Park, spills the celluloid beans: his all-time favourite films and why he was attracted to films and a film festival. Carol Godsmark asks the Questions.
Roger has been part of the Chichester arts scene since the 1960’s, starting at the Chichester College of Arts, Science & Technology as the ‘Chichester College Adult Education Film Society’ in September 1979. Films were shown on 16mm one evening a week for 24 weeks, plus a Saturday Junior Film Club. The first film shown by the Film Society was Woody Allen's ‘Love and Death’ on the 20th September. This developed into an independent cinema, now in its 37th year and which has won awards thanks to his astute programming and tenaciousness when dealing with distributors, directors and producers.
Roger attends all the major film festivals: London, Cannes, Berlin, Karlovy Vary and Toronto to source a legendary mix of eclectic films, his unerring eye and ability to match the good ‘bums on seats’ ones with those which will meet arthouse expectations, although the word arthouse sits uneasily with him. He prefers to open people’s worlds, not creating a niche, rather elitist-seeming market. He will be the first to acknowledge that he is not a one-man band, Jo, his wife, equally a keen exponent of film and of social issues explored by this medium, “viewing things from a different angle.”
He has been supported by not only a series of trustees over the decades and its strong chairmanship but, unerringly by sterling cinema staff headed by Walter Francisco (General Manager), Henry Beltran (Front of House Manager), Mark Bradshaw and James Stokes (Chief & Senior Projectionists) and the rest of the staff and volunteers over the years.
Q: What drew you to film, Roger?
Probably Saturday morning pictures, especially those cinemas that showed two serials, rather than one, like the Grand cinema in Gillingham, and my first cinema visit (in South Africa) with my father to see ‘Fantasia’.
Q: When you moved to Chichester from London, why did you decide to set up the film club?
This was a continuation of starting a film society at my art college in Rochester in the 1950’s on 16mm. Our first two films were ‘Wild Angels’ (banned - only film societies could show to members only) and ‘Seven Samurai’. I started teaching Film Studies at the Chichester College of Technology and the society was a logical extension. My training in Fine Art (RA student late ‘50's) linked me with another visual medium. I did teach both Art and Film studies as my additional adult education courses in film seemed to strike a note with the public: it grew from there.
Q: Did you have aspirations to run a ‘proper’ cinema in tandem with your work as an art teacher?
No, I thought that the film society was in a better situation to explore a much wider range of programming, with some themes - genres or director strands, and wider choice of European and World Cinema. With a “proper cinema” you would be showing mainly USA mainstream fare with a restricted choice for financial viability.
Q: Why did you see a need for a Film Festival?
This is an opportunity to explore an even larger range of World cinema. The Festival circuit is almost the only place one can see many films as their chance of distribution is unlikely. 90% of the films I see at other international film festivals never get seen in the UK. Having film makers, actors etc follow their films with Q&A’s is another important aspect of the Festival experience. The prestige of a good Festival also strengthens our reputation as a Cinema at New Park
Q: Who have been your most favoured directors to turn to over the decades? And Why?
Difficult to say because my interest in Cinema has roots in an appreciation of its evolution (i.e. from Russian Cinema 'Eisenstein', through to World Cinema today. That's a massive sweep! Through teaching film and programming one builds up pantheon of “auteurs” and there are predictable choices:
EISENSTEIN - For his many concepts (in theory and practice) of montage/editing and development of film language. Striking visual images and powerful storytelling.
HITCHCOCK - The master of narrative - each frame has meaning and contributes to the visual storytelling. He has a great sense of structure often employing playwrights. I do love Hitchcock, representing as he does, mainstream film making, faultless craftsmanship and a personal vision.
ORSON WELLES - The magician. The ability to explore every technical possibility that cinema has to offer. His visual style is stunning as is his use of sound.
LUIS BUNUEL - Incorporating surrealism in various degrees within an apparent normal narrative. A wicked sense of humour and critiques of class and religion.
You can probably learn almost everything about cinema from these four, but there is a long list to add including Erich Von Stroheim, Billy Wilder, Renoir, Chabrol, Tati, Kurosawa, Leone, Kubrick, Sam Fuller, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Powell & Pressburger, Visconti, Fellini, Clint Eastwood.
Q: Although a highly tricky question as you have seen countless films, can you name your Top Ten films which you would rejoice in discovering if marooned on a desert island?
Not in any order and would probably change every week:
1. North by North West
4. Ivan the Terrible Parts I & II
5. Some Like It Hot
6. M. Hulot’s Holiday
7. West Side Story
8. Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
9. The Leopard
10. Once Upon a Time in the West
Q: What do you hope the 25th film festival film-goer will take away with them?
Hopefully the buzz and excitement of the Festival itself. To make new discoveries, which may be followed up, and to revisit some old favourites. To have been stimulated, challenged and entertained. And of course to return…!