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Movies and Mayhem: Managing My First Festival

30 Aug 2021

As a former customer at New Park I would look forward to the festival the way in Scarface Tony Montana contemplates that mountain of cocaine on his desk. Lots of films to see, maybe too many but I’ll give it a go. This year however, I am behind scenes helping to prepare and run the thing, and that, I might add, is a very different proposition.

Box office staff would mention the festival in hushed tones giving me haunted looks that promised weeks of chaos that would test the patience of a saint. However, I feel positive as usual and look forward to a busy but rewarding few weeks. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.

The first hurdle is the brochure, a glossy tome and the bedrock of our endeavours. Walter works with the designers and juggles the exhibition schedule and new website while I concentrate on the copy. The printing deadline looms, volunteers step forward to proofread and it all goes to the wire. A few days later a couple of pallets of brochures arrive and the game is afoot.

The warm-up act is the open-air films screened during that cold cruel period that is early August in Sussex. Saturday brings a deluge and the phone rings off the hook with worried customers questioning the likelihood of In The Heights going ahead. The rain stops, the show goes on and I resort to a woolly hat for the last hour.

The opening gala dinner and film goes swimmingly despite a last-minute head scratch to find room for Timothy Spall’s friends. And now we’re into the meat of the festival with up to ten shows a day in the auditorium and studio. The studio is where to find the niche, the hidden gem and the frazzled staff member. If it can go wrong, then it will go wrong in the studio. One film has no sound for the last five minutes, another’s disc is so damaged it doesn’t play. Several times I almost forget to put on the subtitles and one audience nearly get a Korean road movie instead of a film about de Gaulle. Nevertheless, the studio experience remains something very New Park – a curious and enlightening experience unique in this part of the world.

Live jazz and fabulous talks litter the programme, but for me, the special event of the festival is the silent film with live piano accompaniment. This year we show The Golem in the Guildhall in Priory Park with John Sweeny at the piano. After a mad dash to find somewhere selling WD40 to sooth a squeaky sustaining pedal we revel in the brooding atmosphere of the hall. I am distracted when I notice the golem resembles Ronnie Barker in drag. Sweeny though is magnificent.

The final weekend dawns and we are all a bit fatigued. I claim the fabulous Nashville poster to take home and begin handing out the Autumn season programme. Over a hundred New Park regulars descend on Brasserie Blanc for dinner and a movie at the closing gala. Roger Gibson dissects the audience favourites which comes down to a close-run thing between The Courier and eventual winner, The Collini Case. Roger is off to the Venice Biennale in a few days to scout for entries for next year’s festival.

I reflect on my first festival as a success. To have it up and running with a skeleton crew and after recent tribulations is something for all of us to be proud of. Despite everything, we are back and showing brilliant films to knowledgeable audiences.

Richard Warburton, Operations Manager