A festival is a great place to see a film, but although most big festivals make an effort to show a few of the year’s blockbusters, it’s not always the best place to get the most out of a cinematic masterpiece. So what films should you choose to watch, or indeed screen, at a festival?
Short and sweet
The festival wanderer may not be particularly open to the idea of engaging with a full length feature film. Often you’ll flop into the cinema tent or field for the twenty minutes before the next unmissable gig or to grab a coffee or a burger. Groovy Movie Picture House in Glasto’s Green Fields has successfully met this demand for years with a programme of shorts, ads and music videos while Bestival offers short-film showcases from Branchage Festival and the London Short Film Festival, presenting a range of new local and UK film talent to a relaxed and receptive audience.
I love this bit!
These ‘butterfly’ cinema-goers will also drop into familiar features with established appeal. When you know the plot already, you can pick it up anywhere, the person behind you quoting each line a beat ahead isn’t quite so annoying, and it doesn’t matter if you crash out before the end. Episodic cult yarns like Pulp Fiction, Withnail & I or The Big Lebowski particularly lend themselves to being watched with a field full of drunks, while innocent nostalgia-fests like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to the Future and Ghostbusters tend to crop up on family-oriented al fresco bills.
Not all programmers are expecting you to watch a random ten minutes in the middle. Serious alfresco film festival Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House put one alfresco slot to a public vote this year, and the winner was family-friendly ET. Kendal Calling also features ET this year as part of a surprisingly diverse programme echoing its overall ‘beyond the stars’ theme, and is also promising to hand some programming decisions over to the punters. Glastonbury’s main Pilton Palais cinema will take audience participation a step further, offering afternoon film-making workshops.
Metallica, Dexy’s and The Black Keys all play Glasto this year, and the Pilton Palais will screen films featuring all three. A highlight of Bestival’s 2013 horror film evening was Argento’s Suspiria with live score by Fake Blood. This year Glasto offers Louise Brooks classic Beggars of Life with live score by the Dodge Brothers and Latitude screens contemporary expressionist drama La Antena with atmospheric live music from Esben and the Witch. Progmeisters Suns of the Tundra will present their new album sound-tracking 1919 Shackleton documentary South live at both Latitude and Green Man.
New music documentaries and films about being in a band are also popular with the aficionado. Green Man’s impressive bill includes Gruff Rhys’s American Interior and PULP: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets alongside Frank and A Hard Day’s Night.
A festival screening can become just a part of a joyous communal celebration of the film. Sing-along perennials like Rocky Horror, Hairspray or the Sound of Music are always a hit, and any familiar favourite is more fun if the audience dresses up. Expect Kendall Calling’s 2014 screening of Aliens to be attended by, well, aliens.
So, to recap – familiar, easy to dip in and out of, episodic, music themed documentary with sing-along and dressing up potential. That makes my ideal festival film Spinal Tap. What about you?