People think that programming a film festival is as simple as picking a few movies from a pile of submissions and sticking it on a projector in a theatre.
In reality, however, the process is weighted with myriad considerations and conflicting interests which must be balanced if you want the festival to resonate with your audience.
In short, there is a level of curation in film programming which takes into account the artistic and social importance of the films up for consideration.
As Troy Bordun wrote for Cineaste:
‘Curation is a collected personal narrative; a program is assembled by an individual (or group of individuals) to produce a multiplicity of associations, interpretations, and conflicts for the spectator. Curatorial work and its status as a skill set and art can be best articulated as collection and narrative...’
It’s worthy of note then, when a festival takes strides in ensuring these narratives are as diverse and reflective of a changing society as possible. At MANIFF, Manchester’s very own independent film festival, the programmers have done just that.
Of the narrative features in competition at the festival, seven of 10 are directed by women, with films hailing from the US, UK, Brazil, France and Ireland.
One of the highlights of the 2020 festival is also a celebration of German features with five UK premieres of some of the country’s hidden gems.
Parasite’s recent awards phenomenon is testament to the widening tastes of the general movie-going audience, and it’s important that film festivals help push the envelope of these tastes to wider audiences.
Representation at MANIFF covers a broad cultural spectrum, with films hailing from Italy, Australia, the US, Mexico, Turkey and the UK.
There are movies here to pique the interests of most filmgoers - from studies of unsung boxing heroes to an investigation into the insidious instances of forced and child marriages in the US. There are films discussing AI, jazz, and taxidermy.
Such a varied film programme comes off the back of demographic data and audience feedback, as MANIFF Head of Programming Al Bailey told The Manc:
"I let the submissions dictate the flavour of the programming every year. If it’s good it’s good, irrelevant of who made it. Both male, female, transgender and people of every race and nationality are making both good and bad films. My job is to find what I consider the best in both craft and suitability for the demographic of the festival.
"Over the last six years we have run audience feedback apps that not only give us insights into the opinion of the selection but also the demographic type. MANIFF is a mixed bag across the demographics hence the eclectic mix. But there is a top heavy demand for sports, music and certain foreign films that our programming each year should reflect."
With Manchester’s audience in mind, MANIFF continues to be a film festival the city can be proud of.
Head over to their website to learn more. The full festival film passes are fantastic value for money - offering complete access to every film, seminar, Q&A and party.
Words by George McKay. Follow him on Twitter here.