Cromarty Film Festival – How do they Do It?

By Angie Jennings 2 years ago
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Cromarty Film Festival lighthouse

Emerging Programmers Catriona Mallows and Eva Coutts give us an insight into the Cromarty Film Festival past and present.

Catriona says
‘Eva and I got involved in the festival in 2015, but wanted to take on a larger role as we really enjoyed it. We then worked closely with the committee over the last 14 months and created a ‘youth strand’ for the festival, which is outlined in the case study. We are both involved in the planning of this year’s festival, and hope to carry on the Emerging Programmer’s strand for future years’.

Please give a short description of your festival, and if it is part of another endeavour, please describe how this is so:

The Cromarty Film Festival is a weekend-long event which celebrates film in the small town of Cromarty, at the tip of the Black Isle in the North of Scotland.
Each year, well-known guests from the film industry select their favourite film to screen at the event, along with one of their own works; its subheading is ‘My Favourite Film Festival’. The festival, which runs during the first weekend of December, takes over the small seaside town of Cromarty. Different venues, ranging from a lighthouse, to a village hall, to a restaurant, screen a vast selection of films, many of which have been picked by our guests from the film and media industry. 

The Cromarty Film Festival is the principal annual event of The Cromarty and Resolis Film Society, a constituted charitable body. The Society is entirely managed by a Committee of seven volunteers based on the Black Isle, who do the preparation and organisation in advance and are supported during the festival by a dedicated group of local and student volunteers.

What are the aims of your festival:

To bring film, discussion and enjoyment to people from across the north of Scotland, and beyond. We aim to be an inclusive festival and enmesh film producers, journalists, directors, costume designers, artists, actors, writers and animators with the general public in venues across a seaside town. We want to break down the barrier between filmmakers and audience; the informal settings and relaxed atmosphere enable a really organic discussion and allow the public to engage with the guests and share a communal experience. We encourage all guests to remember the films which inspired, changed, motivated them, or just made them realise what a magical medium film is. We show new films, old films, funny films, tragic films and everything in between, which brings a wide diversity of people together in an inclusive manner.

How are you funded:

We receive funding from:
Regional Screen Scotland
Highland Youth Arts Hub
Sponsorship from local businesses

Income generation:
Friends of the Cromarty and Resolis Film Society
Film Screenings throughout the year
Ticket sales at the event
Catering sales
Merchandise

Please give a short description of your film programme, and related events:

Jon Snow at Cromarty Film Festival 2016

Jon Snow at Cromarty Film Festival 2016

The guest-led nature of our programme means that we don’t have a niche or genre of films that we return to every year. However, we do have some specialist areas of the festival.
This year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary. We welcomed the Screen Machine to Cromarty, which provided a venue for our ‘Emerging Programmers’ strand, where young people interested in film can learn and engage in its production, discussion and screening. 

We kicked off the festival with our tradition of short films projected onto the Cromarty Lighthouse, as selected by Matt Lloyd of the Glasgow Short Film Festival. We then welcomed people to the Screen Machine to show Touching the Void, with the director Kevin Macdonald. This was then followed by a late night jive at the Victoria Hall, with the newly released Ghostbusters. 

Saturday morning saw a mask-making workshop for children and families, before a parade to the Screen Machine to watch Jungle Book.

Cromarty Film festival 2016 - mask making

Cromarty Film festival 2016 – mask making

The day was full of ‘favourite films’, ranging from Jon Snow’s ‘The Life of Brian’ to Kevin Macdonald’s ‘Singing in the Rain’. Saturday afternoon had pit-stops at the Old Cromarty Brewery, also known as the ‘Hub’, to re-fuel with tasty home-made meals and local, specially made ‘Festiv-ale’ Beer from the Cromarty Brewery Company. The Saturday finished off with an Icelandic film ‘Rams’, chosen by us – Eva and Catriona, – two ‘Emerging Programmers’ who have worked closely with the committee over the last year to arrange the festival. We worked as part of the committee, and felt included from day one.
Sunday morning through to the afternoon flew by, as Jon Snow showed his documentary ‘Maggie & Me’, whilst two Scottish musicians played their live accompaniment to the 1920s film ‘Drifters’. Jenny Beavan, award winning costumer designer, showed her favourite film ‘Gosford Park’, before over 100 people piled onto buses to Resolis Hall, for a curry-filled night with guests, locals and tourists alike. After an interview with producer Iain Smith and Don Coutts, a founding committee member, the hall became silent as all sat down to watch ‘The Producers’.

Please say what your most successful activities are, and why:

The finale event sells out immediately. We think this is because it has become such a special event with fond memories of a community coming together not only to watch a film, but to share a meal, a glass of wine and lots of laughs.
Over the years we have managed to garner some really fantastic guests, ranging from director Paul McGuigan to journalist Jon Snow, to the singer Eddi Reader. Increasingly the guests’ films almost always sell out regardless of the genre; it’s exciting to hear them chat about their experiences through film and our committee has honed their interview skills ensuring a really engaging, audience inclusive conversation.

And the most challenging, and how you dealt/are dealing with it:

Cromarty is a small town so finding venues for our full programme can be tricky, and there are undoubtedly always going to be film clashes at festivals. In our earlier years we would have some sell out films whilst others screening at the same time were empty, but over the years we have become more vigilant and aware of which films will fill up. This year we had the best turn out to all the films screened.
Due to small venues, tickets are limited; this is sometimes a challenge. In order to create the fairest system possible, we allow film festival members to purchase tickets a day early in Cromarty. Following this, the public can either buy tickets from the Festival Hub, or from Eden Court, a theatre in nearby Inverness. We have also implemented a maximum number of tickets people can buy for general films, with only 4 tickets allowed for each person at each event. This is the fairest way to avoid disappointment and ensures everybody from the town has a fair chance to attend.

What marketing do you currently do, and which channel do you find most essential/successful?:

Our Cromarty Film Festival website has been up and running for a number of years now. It has always worked well in providing details and information about the festival and programme.
This year, however, we really pushed our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and a newly set up Instagram). This proved really effective; driving traffic to the website as well as engaging with a whole new audience, resulting in our biggest audience yet. We varied our posts from informative details about the festival, to promoting films, to general Cromarty musings. Facebook was the most interactive with members of the public as it created a back and forth conversation. We hope to expand our usage even further next year.

Who do you want to engage with and what are you currently doing to address this. Tell your story of engagement with audiences:

We have always had an emphasis on being a community festival but we really want to reach every corner of the community. As a small society, fundraisers are important to us. We regularly do film quizzes at the local pub which gather good numbers. This year we also introduced an 80’s disco in the town hall. The turn-out was fantastic and the range of people and ages was truly overwhelming. We had 17 year old lads on the dance floor with those who were double that.. in the 80’s! This also pulled a good cross section of people from different areas and backgrounds in the town which is something we’ve always strived to do, and sometimes had difficulty in.
This year we really saw, and were told, the impact that the festival has on local businesses. We have gathered feedback from businesses around the community for years to come.
Furthermore, we really want to expand our audience to cover a large geography across the Highlands. We also want to engage with more young people; this has been a large focus of our work over the last year, with the development of our ‘Emerging Progammers’ strand. We (Eva and Catriona) arranged children and young people’s films and led on the social media communications. This year we engaged with UHI students on the Inverness campus, as well as film and media students based in Alness. This allowed us to engage with two target audiences: those out with the Black Isle, and those of a younger demographic. This was a very successful venture, and was a learning process too – we learnt lots about marketing strategies, the importance of good Facebook posts, and what makes a young person want to get on a bus to Cromarty from Inverness… good beer being a big factor!
We continuously want to expand our audience, but are aware of the challenges with venue sizes. This is something we will work on in the coming months, in the run up to our next festival.

Where can we find out what you’re showing:

As a film society we do monthly screenings with a specific theme. This year we are doing ‘Your Favourite Film’; ‘My Favourite Film’ has been the premise of our festival for ten years. We now think it is time to open it up to the community. We are asking anybody who fancies it to come forward with their five favourite films, and as we do with the guests we will select one of them. We’ll then ask that they help us introduce the film with a wee chat about what it means to them.
Please keep looking at our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and website to stay up-to-date with news and events!

Where can we go for further information:

You can find out more about the society and festival at our website www.cromartyfilmfestival.org and our related social media sites:
Facebook: Cromarty Film Festival
Twitter: @cromartyfilms
Instagram: cromartyfilmfestival

Please tell us the dates of your festival and how these dates have been decided on:

Our festival runs on the first weekend in December; we chose this time for a number of reasons. Cromarty is a really magical place at this time of year. We love and hate the snow in equal measure! Travelling through blizzards to the festival is not ideal but when the snow floats down in beautiful, weightless clouds as we sit cooried inside watching films, there is quite nothing better. In having it the first weekend, as opposed to specific dates, we have saved costs on marketing material (such as large banners), as luckily ‘the first weekend in December’ never changes!

General Contact Details:

Please email info@cromartyandresolisfilmsociety.org for general enquiries.

Please tell us about your venues and how this factor affects the success of you festival:

We think part of the success of the film festival is due to our vast array of fantastic venues. This year we used a village hall, a lighthouse, a trustee’s front living room, the Cromarty Old Brewery, the Stables – a lovely, artist’s studio a short walk outside Cromarty, the Cromarty Youth Cafe and the local nursery. Over the years we have used a local church, a room in the local harbour buildings and the birthplace of Hugh Millar, among many other fantastic venues. All of these are blacked out, and made very comfortable for the ultimate cinema experience – or at least, a cinema experience with a twist!

Cromarty Light house & Screen Machine

Cromarty Light house & Screen Machine

What has really made the whole town and atmosphere of the festival develop this year has been the presence of the Screen Machine. This really gives a feeling of ‘the circus has come to town’. To see a large lorry parked up by the harbour, with a cinema inside, is a wonderful affair, whilst also bringing people to different areas of the town. People move from the fisherman’s town, down to the beach, up by the lighthouse, down to the harbour, and back through the small streets as they run through the day’s programme. The Screen Machine allows children who won’t otherwise have a chance to go to the cinema, to see a film on a big screen. The nearest cinema is a 50 mile round trip, which is an inconvenience for many locals. It allows families to leave the house five minutes before a film starts, only to nestle down in the comfy red chairs with popcorn and sweets in hand. It allows film fanatics to see their all-time favourites on a big screen, in a warm and comfortable place. It allows a young couple to grab a pint of beer at the Royal Hotel, before walking up the silver steps to the screening of the BFG. And it was a wonderful base for our Emerging Programmer strand, where young children came dressed up in masks to watch the Jungle Book, and where we – as the Festival’s Emerging Programmers – introduced our own film of choice. It became a film hub for the festival, and iconic symbol of bringing film to a whole community.

Is there anything else you would like to add. Maybe something you wish someone had told you when you embarked on your film festival journey:

It is never easy, but boy is it worth it! Working as a team of volunteers has time constraints and difficulties, but when a group of very passionate individuals come together, with a variety of skill sets, something very magical can happen.

Cromarty Film Festival volunteers

Cromarty Film Festival volunteers

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