Bantock House Outdoor Cinema: La La Land
Open air cinemas are all the rage right now. Aside from those with the “pick a carpark and pack it out” approach, they provide the opportunity to ditch the multiplexes and experience something unique. La La Land at Wolverhampton’s Bantock House perfectly epitomised such an experience.
July the 29th saw over 200 film fans fill the Rose Garden, making for an intimate setting which even the rain couldn’t, ahem, dampen the spirits of. Those eager to see the musical were first serenaded all the way back to Hollywood’s golden era by the retro harmony stylings of The Miss Fortunes, it goes without saying that already, this was infinitely more immersive than 30 minutes of Audi and Apple adverts.
Black Country Touring and Films in a Flash made sure the logistics and technical aspects ran without a hitch (be sure to check out their page for what they’ve got lined up next). Regardless of the inclement weather and early evening lighting difficulties that the British Summertime offers, the film looked and sounded every bit like an Oscar winner.
The good news is that this is just the beginning for Bantock House’s Outdoor Cinema. Event organisers Jeremy Brown and Andrew Atkinson had this to say about how it went and what the West Midlands can expect next:
Midlands Movies: “So, how did you feel the inaugural event went?”
Andrew Atkinson: “I personally feel it was a great success, if you take out the weather factor. But we held an exit poll as people left, and it proved that everyone enjoyed themselves.”
Jeremy Brown: “We had a very, very good turnout…if you put the right product in front of people, they will come out, despite it being an experiment (the first time) and despite of the weather. I think we had a good mix in the audience: it was nice to some families, some diversity. The other thing was, the venue does work very well for these types of events: it’s got a friendly sort of intimacy and it does feels a bit special, especially for a film like La La Land. To be able to stage it in a landscaped garden space in a country house adds value to the whole event experience.”
MM: “There’s some exclusivity there isn’t there. Like you’re part of a club. Who else was involved in the staging?”
“Black Country Touring were very helpful and identified Films in a Flash as potential providers who were relatively local and felt a good match. They did a great job with the ancillary lighting and the PA system for the band. They seemed keen to add value and work in partnership rather than treat it as a commercial event.”
MM: “Speaking of the band, Miss Fortunes was really a nice warm-up act.”
JB: “We felt if people were going to come out, bring a picnic and make an evening of it, it would be fun to have something extra which would feel sympathetic to the film. A bit of harmony singing and period music felt right and added to the celebratory feel.”
MM: “Where do you think the enthusiasm for open air cinema as an alternative to the multiplexes comes from?”
Andrew Atkinson: “Well, you were there. It started to rain as soon as the titles came up and stopped as soon as the end came up and it hasn’t rained since! (Laughs). But had it been a good evening I think people would have been dancing in the aisles.”
JB: “The multiplex issue is a tricky one and we’re fortunate to have the Lighthouse in Wolverhampton. It’s interesting to see the clientele that regularly attend and they’re the kind of people we’re trying to attract. Multiplexes haven’t done themselves any favours. The prices have increased…the levels of hygiene, cleanliness, noise. Just the cinema going experience can be a bit chequered. To have an alternative to that is a really positive one. Thinking about the kind of films that would work in the future, we’d be exploring that slightly more upmarket experience. There are some very commercial organisations that are doing Top Gun, Dirty Dancing and Grease singalongs. I think a lot of that is about how many people you can cram into a space and how many beers you can sell. We’d rather have a more exclusive feel but still have people come along and enjoy them.”
MM: “With going more upmarket then, what ideas have you got for future screenings?”
AA: “To be quite honest, the dust hasn’t settled from the first one and we’re still in the post-mortem stages. All we can say with confidence is yes, there will be another one, perhaps in the late summer. Perhaps two dates pencilled in for 2018, if not more.”
JB: “In terms of the films and grown up cinema, perhaps more feel good than Dunkirk, perhaps (with La La Land) it would have been appropriate after the awards ceremony if we put Moonlight on by accident (laughs). That would be the right sort of film again. I think a film like Baby Driver could attract a real interest, again, it’s got a fantastic score and a real sense of fun…maybe a film like Pride, which has got a feel good resonance and would work in that context. We’re keeping an eye out for some of those really high quality, thought provoking films…rather than the shoot ‘em up, popcorn material. One of the nice things about working with the community…is that we can run a straw poll: put a list together, pick the ones you’d like to see and get buy in as well”.
AA: “It’s always been my mantra that if we’re going to do anything, then we’re going to do it well. We’re providing a quality product…and we’ll bring the arts to the area and to a wider Wolverhampton audience.”
MM: “You mentioned introducing people to silent cinema too.”
JB: “We’re trying that with Funny Things, a pilot comedy festival in Wolverhampton in October. We’re toying with the idea of a live piano accompaniment to a Harold Lloyd movie which we could stage in the tractor shed which holds 70 people and could be an intimate and fun experience. We certainly enjoyed Buster Keaton’s The General when Flatpack put that on at the Brownhills Community Centre last summer.”
MM: “So finally, how can people get involved and support you?”
JB: “Finchfield and Castlecroft Community Association has its own website (Link - http://www.finchfieldandcastlecroft.com/ ) and we’re lucky to work with the council’s events team at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery so we’re keen to hear from people through those networks. Our funding comes from Creative Black Country; they’re very keen to work with any voluntary sector organisation who may wish to engage in quality art activity.”
MM: “Thanks for your time, both.”
You can keep up with the Bantock House Outdoor Cinema events through the sites above and of course, through Midlands Movies.