Swagger has its UK premiere at Chronic Youth 2017, programmed by the Barbican Young Programmers group
Different young programmers initiatives are popping up in cinemas around the country. They're an opportunity for cinemas to learn from young people, and young people to learn about cinemas, for everyone's benefit. Over the weekend of 18/19 March, the Barbican in London will be presenting Chronic Youth 2017, a season of six screenings produced by the Barbican Young Programmers group. Here, two of its twelve members give us their take on the process of programming and marketing.
Among the busy culture of film clubs and
collectives exists Barbican’s Young Programmers, a group of fifteen who are entrusted
to curate an annual film festival. The
group has existed since 2012 with different members joining each year. The title “Chronic Youth” carries over from last year's programme.
Coming-of-age films can be a difficult genre: so popular and so familiar, but
regularly producing films too schematic or sterile.
The Young Programmers’
initiative is a great opportunity for us and the Barbican: the cinema team here
gets first-hand insight into how we engage with cinema and receive film. In
particular the challenges of dwindling nationwide average occupancy rate,
multiple means of viewing, the huge number of films released theatrically per
week and the incredible competition there is for young people’s attention.
For us, we get the opportunity
to meet experienced curators, distributors and producers and are free to
programme what we think people would want to watch — to perhaps project things
we’ve only ever seen broadcast on TV or bootlegged on a laptop, or, now, on the
other side of that eye-opening loss-of innocence, try and do something small
toward changing how much important filmmaking sadly still goes without
distribution. Our programme is finalised, we have successfully curated a film
festival, and after six months what have we learned?
Our job was not to type “coming-of-age” into Wikipedia, and
copy and paste what we found, but to create more inspired choices that renders
the programmer not just paper-pusher or rule-follower. Instead, ideally, we
hoped to pick films and filmmakers that refuse formula.
The Barbican Young Programmers Group 2017
Programming could be pure
idealism, an impulse to turn fantasy into reality. But in reality an idea can
create challenge upon challenge as it gets closer to materialising, and only
eventually might it ever amount to anything. Practical realities and
unavoidable logistics threaten you at every corner newly turned, hope is always
commensurate with disappointment, the magical with the miserable. Why volunteer
for this dangerous idea that encourages delusion and daydream? You are not going
to chase your favourite filmmaker to the airport and beg them to stay, and they
are not going to give you their jacket as a souvenir to remember them by. Some
very worthy films had to be set aside.
In our rookie attempt at putting together a programme, we
learned about the machine of International Sales and Distribution; about
strange-sounding things like “Scalarama?” and “Pascale Ramonda?”; about the
difference between championing a film and feeling dangerously kindred with one,
a semi-selfish one-to-one connection that binds you with invisible and
Through the ego-threatening process of pitching our programming suggestions to the group, with space
to deal with rejection and a time window to move on or bounce back, we
recognised our true diversity of taste. It toughened up this group of
burgeoning young professionals.
In our programming, we were ultimately (soberly) at the mercy
of what is available, what is still out there in circulation, within reach,
preserved. Following a “something old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue” approach, this is what we decided on:
Something Better to Come
French film Swagger
(making its UK premiere) and the Danish-Polish Something Better to Come are two most different documentaries: the
former candy-coloured and kinetic, capturing the energy of its subject with a
titular swagger; the latter a 14-year chronicle of the children living on
Russia’s biggest garbage dump, a community struggling to survive in such
Our shorts programme New
Voices of Girlhood showcases five emerging female filmmakers, national and
international, while 1916 silent film Shoes
— the social issues it depicts still relevant today — is from one of the first
women filmmakers: the pioneer Lois Weber.
Romy + Michele’s High
School Reunion is a comedy both beloved and underrated, something even
ahead-of-its-time when we consider how female friendships and platonic
relationships are still too-rarely represented on-screen. Millennium Mambo then, is both a film by Taiwanese master Hou
Hsiao-hsien and a film that can be — excitingly — contextualised and programmed
outside of a Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective. With an ambivalent chronology and
minimal plot, Millennium Mambo could
be film at its most existential, transferring instead a feeling of loneliness
and alienation, its hedonism and melancholy just code for drug use and
depression. In its twin existence - both material and immaterial - it
neatly reflects the work and weight of programming and projection — the
shipping of prints, the assembling of reels — all done for the sake of 105
minutes of flickering light. Millennium
Mambo will be preceded by two short films (never shown before in the UK) by
one of the most acclaimed working filmmakers: Mia Hansen-Løve. As well as the
apparent similarities between Hou and Hansen-Løve’s work, and Hansen-Løve’s own
radical approach to the coming-of-age genre, these debut shorts — made in the
filmmaker’s early twenties — highlight a brilliant filmmaker’s more modest,
With some films moved to larger screens and some nearly sold
out, we’re very happy with what the group has achieved.
Throughout the weeks, we’ve been lucky to have heard from a selection
of guest speakers who have various skills and knowledge in the many points in
the film programming process - distributors, exhibitors, cinema and festival
programmers, marketers and even several filmmakers. With members of our group
itself having our own diverse set of interests, and different routes into
programming, having different experts providing their advice and input
reflected our own different interests nicely.
One insight that stands out for me
has been into the marketing of festivals. Although some of us have
run screenings before, this festival is a massive logistical step-up, and we’ve
had great support from the Barbican marketing team. The diversity of our
programme brings its own challenges, as we’re showing six very different
programmes that each appeal to different slices of the Barbican audience, so
we’ve been working hard to make sure we reach each respective audience through standard
channels like print flyers and social media. Of course, as the final deadlines
for marketing have been approaching, we’ve also been having the standard last
minute shuffles and near-misses with confirming our screenings, so it’s been
very hectic. This has been one part of the process where being in such a large
and diverse group of programmers has really helped — with many different people
involved, we’ve been able to spread the work and move at a fast pace in the
final weeks before the festival.
See the full line up of the Chronic Youth Film Festival programme here. If you would like to find out how to
become a Barbican Young Programmer visit: http://www.barbican.org.uk/education/young-people applications will open in June. For other opportunities for young people
at the Barbican see http://www.barbican.org.uk/education/young-people.If you are interested in setting up your own young programmers initiative, the BFI Film Audience Network is running a scheme to develop them. Sign up to hear more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.