Venue Case Studies

Charlotte at Watersprite International Student Film Festival and Picture House Screening Strand

In the run-up to Watersprite International Student Film Festival 2023, to get everyone in the mood for quality independent cinema, the student committee programmed a number of different film screenings thanks to funding from the BFI Film Hub South East. The series, titled ‘An Intro To…’ has included Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016), Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, 2007), La haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995), Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen 2022) , Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011) and Queen and Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2021). 

The aim of these screenings was multi-layered. Firstly, it is a wonderful opportunity to facilitate our student committee’s route into the film industry, after their studies, as it demystifies the process of film programming! Watersprite Film Festival is made up of events and screenings over the course of a weekend in March, so the chance to programme six film screenings at a professional venue, The Arts Picturehouse, was a wonderful learning opportunity, and worked to raise the profile of Watersprite throughout the academic year, in the run up to the festival. 

Running screenings at a public venue was also brilliant for attracting a wide and diverse audience. Aimed at 16-30 year olds, the programme of screenings was designed to give young people who reside in Cambridge, whether students, young professionals, or school pupils, a taste of independent cinema that they may not have encountered before. The Arts Picturehouse is located handily between the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin campuses, making it a great venue to support our mission of accessibility and inclusivity at Watersprite. Our audiences have reflected this. 

Finally, the screenings have been an invaluable time for the Watersprite student committee, made up of ten Heads of Department and 50 subcommittee members, to gather once a month and spend a bit of time watching quality independent films. The YFP screenings have been important for committee bonding, which is integral to a festival that is made up almost entirely of volunteers! 

When it came to recruiting those in charge of putting on these screenings, the process fell pretty naturally within the general recruitment strategy of Watersprite. Positions to be on the committee are opened up to students at the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University in the summer of each year, and we decided that the YFP screenings should fall under the festival’s pre-existing Events Department. The Head of Events, Flora O’Neill, conducted interviews and selected her events team, made up of seven people, some of whom were entirely devoted to YFP screenings. 

Once this had happened, Flora and her team met to discuss what the strand of the screenings should be. Flora was keen to make independent cinema seem more accessible, so she and her team came up with a brilliant ‘An Intro To…’ series, giving the public a taste of six different types of independent cinema that can sometimes be branded as elitist or limiting. She and her team curated a beautiful programme that proved this wrong! 

Our screenings have taken place once a month from October 2022 with our final screening to happen in April 2023. They have been advertised as ‘Watersprite x the YFP Presents…’ so as to raise the profile of Watersprite Film Festival on the ground in Cambridge! However, the main festival is still the principal organisation, and this happens in March every year. This means that the main committee of the film festival has been involved in delivering these screenings.

It has been a brilliant learning experience for the team, particularly the Video Production and Creative Design Departments. For each screening, Jack Seaden and Lucas Warren, the co-heads of Video Production, tasked their team with creating a teaser trailer. These have worked beautifully, and we have used them to advertise the screenings, as well as to play at the beginning of each one. Thanks partly to this experience, the duo were fully prepared to make their own Watersprite Film Festival trailer for the main festival, which, to their delight, was retweeted by Neil Gaiman when it was released!

Our Head of Creative Design, Mobolaji Babolala, was responsible for all the graphics we used to promote the screenings. He also made a quad poster which is on display in the foyer of the Arts Picturehouse. Thanks partly to this work, he successfully applied to a graduate internship in Germany and has just moved there! 

So the promotion for the screenings was absolutely key! And, when it came to the screenings themselves, we found that Moonlight and La haine were the most successful. It has been very effective to exploit the ‘angle’ when advertising each screening. For Moonlight, for example, we focused on its status as an ‘Award Winner’ after the scandal at the 2017 Oscars where La La Land was mistakenly awarded Best Picture. We wanted to create an event around the idea of award winners in cinema, and how important these titles are. La haine was part of our ‘Intro to French Cinema’, which appealed to the strong Francophile community of Cambridge and, as was the case with many members on the committee, seemed to be one of those films that you had heard about but never actually seen. The screening was a sellout! It is, obviously, a great feeling to sell out an event. However, it was really important to be mindful of the fact that the Watersprite student committee is made up of extremely hard working individuals, and there is a lot to deliver for our main festival in March. This means it is tricky to strike a balance between motivating people to do this adjacent activity, and respecting that they are all volunteers already going above and beyond the average student. Overall though, the screenings have been wonderful, and our main festival was the best-attended ever, so thank you to the YFP for your part in that!

Charlotte Matheson, Director Watersrpite Film Festival 2023

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