Starting out at the film fest

This week I made the short journey from Hatfield to St. Albans (about 20 minutes by public transport if you take the bus from the Galleria stop) to meet St. Albans Film Festival Director Leoni Kibbey.

Not yet being totally familiar with  St. Albans (although I’m sure that will change over the coming months), I wasn’t entirely sure where I would find the festival shop, but given that it’s practically on top of the market (33 Market Place) it wasn’t too hard to find.

Festival shop window

I immediately recognised the purple festival banners and ‘droog’ character, and took a moment to view the quirky window displays of bowler hats and ribbons and vintage camera equipment before taking a breath, preparing my friendliest smile and venturing inside.

Bowler hat window display

I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but when I entered the rather empty room there behind a desk was Festival Director Leoni, amidst a mass of festival programmes and flyers, and trying to contend with a phone call, a client in the shop and myself walking through the door. I recognised the look of enthusiastic, passionate and (perhaps) exasperated busyness on her face (I’ve been wearing that expression pretty much constantly since starting my final year of my degree) and knew right away that I was going to love getting involved in the festival and getting to work with Leoni.

Film Festival poster in the shop

Once her other customers were satisfied, I took a seat and Leoni got chatting about my role of blogging, and, essentially, what her vision for the festival was all about. She smiled as she told me of the number of puzzled people she’d encountered when explaining she was bringing a film festival to a little market town that has no cinema, but nonetheless she wants the event to become an annual one.

“As it’s the first one, we’ve not really had the funding this year, but hopefully it will get bigger and better each year” she explained.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about the fact there was going to be a film festival in a town with no cinema. Why would she choose to host the event here? She’s either a visionary, or I’m alone in a building with a mad woman, and only a stack of festival programmes for protection… But she seems a normal, successful, totally-up-for-a-challenge workaholic, rather than a Jack Torrance (The Shining). So I stick with it, as she tells me all about the competition categories for this year (more on that in a later post) and then it dawns on me… She’s a genius.

 St. Albans’  historic and charming scenery will suit an art and film culture perfectly. Plus it’s only about 25 mins train journey from Kings Cross station (I speak from experience) and just a stone’s throw from some of the most prestigious film studios in the world Leavesden, Pinewood and Elstree.

It might not have a cinema, but St. Albans boosts plenty of film industry connections, which is the driving force behind the festival. Arthur Melbourne-Cooper who, in 1895, developed the first British 35mm moving picture camera and was a pioneer in making moving pictures, was born in the City.

The much celebrated Stanley Kubrick also came to settle in the area. The legendary director  lived just outside the city and created some of his most famous work in the local area, where he also eventually settled until his death in 1999. Kubrick’s manor was used as a nerve centre for his film productions: the Shining was finished there, and Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut were started and completed there.

The organisers of the festival are optimistic that this annual event will put St Albans firmly on the movie tourism map.

Leoni says: “Not many people are aware of St Albans’ strong connections with the film industry, and I am hoping that the city’s first-ever film festival will help to raise its profile internationally too. The Oscars will have just happened, but St Albans will carry that Oscars excitement on through this very special weekend. The City will be a fun place to be with the thrill of movie-making all around the City centre, and a great festival vibe too. Children will be encouraged to get dressed up in film-themed fancy dress, there will be film pub quizzes, interactive events where people will have a chance to get on camera or try things out behind the scenes, and celebrities from the world of film, art and music milling around the town.”

So roll on 8th March!

… I still find myself using the bus journey home as an opportunity to visualise all the ways you can make an improvised shield from a festival programme though, just in case. Who’s the mad woman here?


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