03 Programming tips for archive film

Programming an archive screening or strand can be a great opportunity to demonstrate your creativity and showmanship skills. You could consider:

  • Inviting a special guest such as a local historian to introduce the screening or to provide a running commentary to put the material into context – particularly if the films are silent;
  • Encourage the audience to participate in the commentary by identifying people or locations that they recognise;
  • Inviting live musicians to accompany silent film (do consider the ethical implications of choosing an appropriate soundtrack);
  • Provide food before or after the screening and ask people to dress in period costume.

Our usually well behaved audience actually jeered in disbelief at the methods used in Tea Making Tips… Loud applause at the end and animated discussion said it all!

Reaction from exhibitor screening the BFI/ICO Mediatheque on Tour programmes

If you’re putting together a programme of short films, BFI Head Curator Robin Baker recommends making it no longer than 80 minutes, particularly if they’re silent or if you want to leave time for a talk or discussion.

Ian Francis from Flatpack Film Festival advises, “It’s like making a compilation tape. Don’t hit them with something too long or heavy at the beginning, leave the longer ones for the middle of the programme. Vary the tone, mixing up serious with lighter films, and films from different periods.”

You may even decide to put on a screening in an unusual location. For example, CINECITY Brighton Film Festival showed a compilation of swimming pool scenes in a local pool, and the North Devon Movie Bus screens archive film on wheels.

Consider whether this is a one-off screening or part of a regular archive programme. If the latter, consider branding it in a particular way to create appeal and encourage audiences to return.

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