ONE hundred years ago a gentleman by the name of Waller Jeffs had an idea, and the good people of Birmingham would be the hamsters for his experiment.
For some time now, ‘moving picture shows’ had been displayed at fairgrounds, sitting semi-comfortably in between bearded ladies and exotic animals.
However Waller’s idea was to bring these early films out of the fairground, and to give them a wider audience in town halls and city centres.
“He made it is mission to make it a business, to make it palatable for the middle-classes,” Pip McKnight tells me.
She is co-director of 7 Inch Cinema, a group dedicated to showing film, and one of the creative brains behind Flatpack Festival, taking place later this month all over Birmingham.
“At fairgrounds, films were seen as a corrupting influence, Waller had to change people’s minds,” she continued.
Waller’s idea worked, with two shows a day, as many as 3,000 people turned up at each showing to marvel at the new medium. Film had come to the masses.
Waller has been adopted as a kind of “father figure” for Flatpack Festival, and his ideas and the atmosphere of his shows has influenced the Flatpack team.
Opening night of the festival is ‘Curzonora’ and will take place in Birmingham Town Hall. It takes its name from Curzon Hall, which was the venue for many of Waller’s showings.
Folk band The Destroyers will accompany films from the early 1900s, including George Melies’ ‘A Trip to the Moon’.
The night should capture the spirit of Waller’s early showings, with variety aplenty in an apt setting.
Flatpack runs from Wednesday March 11 to Sunday 15, and Pip is eager to emphasise the variety of what will be on offer.
“We really tried to come up with a programme that would have something for everyone in, without diluting the content of it.”
With feature films, shorts, installations, live shows, new independent films and children’s films, it is an ambition aim, but one they look likely pull off.
However, with such a mix of content, what is Pip most looking forward to seeing?
“Let The Right One In!” (a Swedish horror film) she immediately answers, “I’m really excited about that.
“Also the Travelling Picture Show, it’ll be showing family matinees. It’s difficult to find interesting children’s films so we’re really pleased to be gathering together all the films that it will be showing, I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
With some of the highlights of the festival promising to be a Japanese film about an animation making cat, a Finnish re-imagining of the cult cartoon The Moomins, and a documentary about brutalist architect John Madin (the divisive figure who designed Birmingham’s Central Library), Flatpack’s mix of fascinating films combined with non-traditional venues right across the city may well be a memorable festival of exploration.
Flatpack Festival takes place from March 11-15, for more information visit www.flatpackfestival.org.
Opening night ‘Curzonora’ is at Birmingham Town Hall on March 11, beginning at 7.30pm. Tickets are £12.