Every year, beautiful Brighton plays host to CineCity, a unique and intimate film festival that showcases some of the very best upcoming World Cinema releases. For those unable to attend the London Film Festival, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch some of the current top picks from the Festival Circuit. With UK premieres, shorts from local filmmakers, and special one-off cinematic events, there truly is something for everyone at the Brighton Film Festival.
One of the integral members of the CineCity team is Tim Brown, who is also the Festival’s founder. Now in its twelfth year, CineCity has gone from strength to strength since its inception, and this promises to be the biggest one yet. To find out more about the secrets behind CineCity’s continued success, Culturefly sat down with Tim to discuss some of his top picks from this year’s program, the Festival’s future, and its role within the Festival Circuit.
Culturefly: Tell us a bit more about the history of the Brighton Film Festival.
Tim: It launched back in 2003. After the film strand had been dropped from the Brighton Festival, a window of opportunity was spotted. I found it strange that Brighton didn’t already have a film festival of its own. And, as I had already been working for the Duke of Yorks cinema, it just seemed like the perfect time to leap in and set-up CineCity.
CF: Was it hard to gain support initially?
Tim: Yes and no. It was easy setting it up as we had the support of the Duke of Yorks and the University of Brighton, who worked in partnership and helped stage the festival.
Raising the money was, of course, more difficult because CineCity was an unknown venture. And though in 2003 it was a very different economic climate, we still had to prove our worth. So the first few years were quite strenuous, but we’ve always found ourselves to be well supported by our funders and as we continue to grow that financial element has become less of a burden.
CF: Are film festivals important?
Tim: Yes, certainly. Year-on-year CineCity has arguably felt more and more important. I mean there are so many more films being released now; it has gone from 3 or 5 a week to 10 or 12. And it can be difficult for people to keep on top of all the new releases. So we hope that through CineCity, we can offer a taste of the best films to see.
Then, on another level, a film festival can act as quite a useful distribution platform. For example, many of the films we’re showing this year do not currently have distributors and are being brought over for one-off screenings. And there’s nothing wrong with them, we think they’re brilliant, but they won’t make money for anyone. So despite the high quality of the film, the potentially low financial returns damage its distribution potential, allowing the festival to act as a window to show people the films they’re likely to miss.
CF: Would that be why you’re showing Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe this year?
Tim: I’d say so. 5 years ago, without a shadow of a doubt, there would have been a few different distributors keen to buy that film, but now it seems that, even despite its awards success at Cannes and London, people still don’t think its going to make enough money for them.
From our point of view, there’s a hit list of films that emerges as the year develops, and after it screened at Cannes we were quite keen to acquire it for this year’s festival. Every film festival worth its salt should be interested in this element of discovery, and The Tribe is a debut film from an unknown filmmaker. I’ve always been interested cinematically in that part of the world [Ukraine], and when watching it I found the cinematography to be particularly striking. So I was very keen to help The Tribe find a wider audience.
CF: Given the ever-growing popularity of the London Film Festival, what is the role of regional film festivals such as CineCity?
Tim: Well they are all unique and have their own different focuses. For example Sheffield caters solely for documentaries. ‘Brief Encounters’ in Bristol is just for shorts. Together with us and everyone else such as Leeds and Edinburgh, they help form a patchwork of film festivals across the UK. And because we’re smaller, there’s more flexibility to curate. We can wrap things around each other more easily. Such as with the Berg Exhibition and the 60s retrospective strand that we have at CineCity this year. Here’s something that’s different, an exhibition linked to literature with no moving imagery, which I think is quite exciting. That’s what these smaller, regional film festivals should all be doing in their own distinctive ways.
CF: As a lead programmer for CineCity, how do you go about deciding what films to show each year?
Tim: It’s a complex process as there are many different factors involved. Something such as the Berg Exhibition would have been earmarked and then planned up to 2 years ago. And this would form a foundation for the festival as whole; much like the Jan Švankmajer exhibition did last year.
The planning of the film programme meanwhile, begins in January when I go to the Rotterdam Film Festival. We send others to Sundance and Berlin, and between us we try to keep abreast of all the noticeable films coming out. We look to see if anything specifically fits in around our centrepiece, while also trying to curate films that we believe audiences would be interested in seeing.
CF: Looking at the specifics of this year’s program, what was it about the opening gala night film Birdman that appealed to you?
Tim: We’ve always thought that Iñárritu was an interesting director, having shown his work here in the past. And it’s great to have the opportunity to revisit a director’s continuing work through the festival. Part of what makes it so appealing to me is that the film is set-up as if it is one continuous take, which is a very bold and ambitious move.
Another part of the equation was that it has had very few screenings so far. So we talked to Fox, the distributor, and it became clear that there was an opportunity to have it as our opening night film. And then the Leeds Festival was also after it as their closing night film. So between us we worked together to secure this high-profile UK film premiere. It’s a rare occurrence to find two festivals working together like that, and I think it’s a great thing as between us we can work side-by-side, despite being many miles apart, to help develop an audience for the film.
CF: Tell us a bit more about the Berg Exhibition.
Tim: Essentially it is a film set that’s made by professionals. However, really it’s an installation that the audience can walk through, which immerses the viewer in a space and allows them to soak up the atmosphere of Ann Quin’s novel. Quin was from the local area, a Brightonian who died in 1973, and Berg was her debut novel that was published 50 years ago. It’s one of my favourite books, but very few people have heard of it and fewer have read it. So there’ll be copies available for people to buy if they are impressed with the exhibition. Meaning that, as well as there being a film element to the installation, there’s also a literature development component.
CF: There are so many diverse cinematic opportunities to experience at CineCity this year, but if you had to pick just one thing you wanted audiences to go and see, what would it be?
Tim: I think, in a way, I’d just like people to take a chance on one thing they know nothing about. But if I had to pick just one, it would have to be something like The Tribe. It’s a brilliant debut film and we haven’t really seen many films come out of Ukraine. Moreover, we’ve never seen a film that’s told entirely through sign language before. It’s a film that’s interesting on so many levels, which highlights that anything is possible within the realms of cinema.
CF: Finally, what are your plans for the future of CineCity?
Tim: First and foremost, I just want to make sure we keep the show on the road, which is easier said than done. The fluctuating nature of arts funding means that every year throws up new challenges, as does the ever-changing cultural and commercial divide.
Looking further afield, there’s so much that one could do. Personally, I’d like to try more things that are similar to the Jan Švankmajer exhibition. Turning different contextual elements of filmmaking into artwork, and possibly doing a complete retrospective of a director’s filmography. It would be great to try and develop bigger projects over a long period of time too, whilst making sure we continue to deliver the same robust programme of films each year.
CineCity runs from Nov. 20th to Dec. 7th, with the Berg Exhibition continuing until Dec. 19th. For details on how to book tickets, just follow the link here. Culturefly would like to thank Tim Brown for taking the time to speak to us.