Preview: Derby Film Festival 2015

Jenny Agutter in conversation, film noir classics on 35mm, and 22 preview screenings – films fans in the Midlands, get ready for the biggest Derby Film Festival yet.

Christina Newland

Walkabout (1971)

Walkabout (1971)

On first sight of the Derby QUAD building, you’d be forgiven for thinking an alien spacecraft had landed in the city’s cathedral quarter. The modernist glass structure makes for a sharp contrast with its pre-fab concrete surroundings, and its profile is hardly rivaled by the abundance of fast food chains dotted nearby. This is the unassuming setting for Derby Film Festival, and the imposing building – like the festival itself – is something of a newcomer to the city’s cultural scene. QUAD opened in 2008, funded in part by the UK Arts Council and built from the remaining resources of the Metro, Derby’s only and original arthouse theatre.

It’s fair to admit that post-industrial Derby isn’t known as a mecca for world cinema. Successful Yorkshire cousins like Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield all boast lively film cultures and festivals, and QUAD’s creative programming can sometimes feel unfairly overshadowed. But it would be a mistake to write off the burgeoning Derby Film Festival – now in its fifth year running – as a minor event. The line-up grows increasingly impressive each year, with this year’s selection including previews of Cannes favourites Girlhood and Timbuktu, alongside offerings from John Boorman, Wim Wenders and Liv Ullman.

Girlhood (Bandes de filles, 2014)

Girlhood (Bandes de filles, 2014)

The launch on 1 May marks the second anniversary of the festival’s new iteration, complete with a different name and a more wide-ranging programme. From its conception, ID Fest set out to explore thematic variations of on-screen identity, whether it be cinematic ‘Englishness’ or depictions of the family. In 2014, the scope was widened considerably and bolstered by a number of gala previews and special guest Q&As. The programmers of the renamed Derby Film Festival have always worked to include attention-grabbing headliners, from John Hurt to Derby-lad-done-good Jack O’Connell, and this year sees Walkabout star Jenny Agutter in conversation about her work and career.

Agutter’s appearance is the tip of the iceberg in terms of DFF’s female-oriented subject matter: an unofficial theme of this year’s programme could easily be girl power. Previews from acclaimed directors Céline Sciamma (Girlhood) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) are complemented by a Sight & Sound discussion panel on female film critics. Chaired by S&S’s production editor, Isabel Stevens, the panel will explore the forgotten and under-discussed history of women in criticism – the likes of C.A. Lejeune, bell hooks and Dilys Powell.

The festival also plays host to a strong retrospective element, including an annual strand known as Fantastiq – it runs on the last weekend of the festival, with a special focus on B-horror and sci-fi. Fun fixtures like poster fairs and a VHS stall are par for the course. Peter Sasdy, director of Hammer films Countess Dracula and Hands of the Ripper, will also be present for a Q&A on 9 May.

The other dominant repertory strand is Evidence – a celebration of the private eye, the snooping journalist, and the amateur detective. As such, the programmers have selected 35mm prints of some stone-cold classics – including Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947), atomic-age noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966). With DCPs now the norm, this is a happy opportunity to catch these films outside of the capital in their original format.

Compact though it may be, DFF offers opportunities that many larger and flashier film festivals do not – namely, a sense that the screenings are not just for visiting interlopers, but for local patrons too. The festival is determinedly approachable, meting out cinephile picks and audience favourites even-handedly.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Beginning in June, QUAD also runs a Summer Nights series of outdoor screenings. Being a regional festival may have its downsides – but using Derbyshire’s rolling hills and stately homes as a screening backdrop is certainly not one of them. One of DFF’s long-running strengths has been tailoring their programme to local advantages. Flexibility and eclecticism are key – and for Derby, that’s turned out to be a promising combination.

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