In 2020 East Durham Creates led the first-ever East Durham Film Festival which evolved out of the Creative Cinema project, previously supported by East Durham Creates. Although the event was cut short due to the COVID-19 situation, it was an incredible feat to organise an event of this scale and its creation and evolution was indebted to an incredible group of community representatives and volunteers who gave their time, expertise, and enthusiasm to this event.

The festival was supported by funding from Film Hub North- part of the BFI Film Audience Network, therefore enabling venues to screen films with the required licences and equipment whilst allowing the East Durham Creates team to add creative value by assisting local partners to plan and deliver events at little cost the public.

The planning of the Film Festival was led by a steering group of community representatives including venue managers. Having a group of community representatives emphasised the value of local people in helping to shape both the programme overall and the teme and content of each local event based on their memories and stories of ‘their North’ which shaped each event and gave each event a distinct voice.

The project planning process was informed by the use of a ‘Go & See’ visit to the Glasgow Film Festival in February 2019 attended by 11 people including members of the programme Community Panel, local artists, young people and members of the Creative Cinema project.  This was a great time to get inspired about our upcoming Film Festival and see what the possibilities for such an event were. The group saw a range of films and events over the weekend which allowed us to experience different genres of film and gather inspiration for elements that could be reproduced or adapted in East Durham.  From this project, the group, in particular, highlighted the value of film screening forming part of an interactive or immersive event involving wider activities (e.g. wider art form, dressing up and food & drink).

The film festival was set to include thirteen events varying between small pop-up events and larger events including a greater number of films and complementary creative activities.  These events were set to form a month-long celebration of film events featuring a range of music, art workshops, dance, heritage footage and Q & A sessions throughout March 2020. Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic restricted the Festival to just five events, the remainder having been cancelled with the hope to re-launch the event at a later day.

Our first film festival screening was a Dementia Friendly screening of the Full Monty, which was organised in conjunction with East Durham Dementia Friendly Choirs. The event took place at Eastlea Community Centre and included performances from the choir, a sausage bap and an incredible singalong.

One of our large scale film events, ‘Austerity is Over?’,  a day exploring the issues facing our communities, was held at Haswell Mencap. The screenings included I, Daniel Blake, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sorry We Missed You. The event included a Q & A with special guests, collage workshops and themed performances throughout the day.

The following film event was W.O.M.E.N. (Working Outside Men’s Expectations Nowadays).  The event was all about empowering females, and coincided with International Women’s Day and was inspired by the strong female leaders based in the North East (like Women Against Pit Closures)  that have made the North great. The event also included a showing of Cinema For All’s Born a Rebel and Mary Poppin Returns as well as a suffragette tea and protest parade.  The young people of Dawdon Youth and Community Centre Youth Hub worked really hard planning and designing this event, and their hard work really paid off, making a powerful evening of film and chat!

Another fantastic event as part of our Film Festival took place at Seaham Youth & Community Centre, called Animation Creation.  The day included a screening of The Pigeon Cree- a pastel animation from artist Sheila Grabor about one of northern writer Sid Chaplin’s stories, as well as a screening of Aardman Animations Creature Comforts. Following the screening, people got a chance to create their own animations with artist Sheryl Jenkins and make Aardman inspired clay figurines with artist collective CreativePop.

The final event of the shortened film festival was Nothern Soul, led by Thornley Village Centre. This was a fantastic night of celebrating Nothern soul, including a 70s style buffet and a dance workshop. The event included a screening of archive footage, followed by ‘Northern Soul’. Following the film, it was great to see everyone inspired and getting into their grove at the Nothern Soul workshop led by Alys North.

One of the events that had to be postponed was the dementia-friendly screening of The Big Meeting at The Glebe Centre.  Not wanting local businesses to suffer financially we were left with catering for 200 people. Working with the Glebe Centre and East Durham Trust’s FEED project we managed to get all 260 homemade pies and cupcakes out to help those in need during the crisis, including elderly people who had taken the decision to self-isolate.

What films would represent your ‘North’ and what events would you include at your film festival to represent the films you screened?

You can download the full Film Festival Brochure Here