Starting life as a monthly night in a pub 10 years ago, Flatpack went on to establish an annual festival which has been drawing ever-growing audiences and critical plaudits ever since. Flatpack 2015 brings together an eclectic line-up, with 120 events at 30 venues across Birmingham. The full programme combines new features, shorts, exhibitions, workshops, talks and special guests. The festival examines the possibilities of the cinema experience, incorporating live soundtracks and audio-visual performances, and will also feature a revival of a distinctly Japanese artform.
During the silent movie era, Japan developed a tradition of Benshi – narrators and performers rooted in the country’s kabuki and noh theatre traditions, who became stars in their own right for their live interpretations of the images on the screen. The popularity of the Benshi meant the silent era continued well into the 1930s in Japan. At Flatpack, Yasujirô Ozu’s 1930 silent gangster classic Walk Cheerfully (1930) will be accompanied by a Benshi performance from actress Tomoko Komura (19 March, St Paul’s Church). There will also be a programme of contemporary work responding to the Benshi tradition.
The festival will make use of the landmarks of the city. Birmingham Cathedral hosts a live score screening of Dziga Vertov’s hymn to cinema and the city, Man With A Movie Camera (21 March), recently voted the best documentary of all time by Sight & Sound. Meanwhile, after closing time at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, its halls take on a supernatural tinge for the Edwardian Horror Show, featuring early spooky shorts and live musical accompaniment.
Animation is a main focus this year. Birmingham City University’s new art school will host a day of masterclasses, demonstrations, panel discussions and a keynote talk by 59 Productions, who were responsible for the visuals at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
Looking to the narrative possibilities of new technology, Flatpack presents the UK premiere of The Doghouse (26-29 March Flatpack hub, Minerva Works), a first-person immersive film installation by Danish artists Johan Knattrup Jensen, Mads Damsbo and Dark Matters. The viewer dons Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, to plunge into the kind of fraught family situation that Dogme movies used to specialise in.
The documentary programme strand also has local resonance, with a Tribute To Philip Donnellan (20-22 March, at mac Birmingham). Over two decades at the BBC in Birmingham, Donnellan created raw, poetic documents of people rarely given a voice on television at the time. He in turn took inspiration from an audio work, the innovative Radio Ballads which were produced in Birmingham and broadcast between 1958-1964 featuring carefully-constructed sound tapestries of interviews and original songs from producer Charles Parker and songwriter Ewan MacColl. Legendary folk singer Peggy Seeger will be in conversation about the Radio Ballads and her memories of this creative period for the city on 22 March.
Flatpack Film Festival, 19-29 March, Birmingham, various venues.
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