Our LIFF Behind the Scenes series brings you interviews with a wide range of people working in film exhibition in Leeds and Yorkshire, giving you the chance to get to know the individuals behind some of your favourite film organisations.

Here, we talk to Bex Hill, Festivals and Cinema Events Manager at the National Science and Media Museum...  

 

 

Bex Hill's biography

I have worked within festivals and cinema events across West Yorkshire for just under 10 years, including Sheffield Doc/Fest, Bradford Animation Festival, Bradford International Film Festival and Leeds International Film Festival. Working across a wide range of roles including programming, guest services and operations, I started venturing into festivals through volunteering, working up into a paid internship and then paid positions. 

I am currently Festivals and Cinema Events Manager at the National Science and Media Museum where I am responsible for the Yorkshire Games Festival and Widescreen Weekend, the museum’s festival of big, bold cinema experiences, where I lead on programming. I am currently working on Widescreen Weekend’s 25th Anniversary edition which takes place 7-10 October 2021. 

What do you enjoy most about working in film exhibition?

I love seeing audiences engage in something that you have chosen to exhibit – whether that is a film you have chosen to programme or an event you have organised or a speaker you have invited. Seeing people have a connection to that and leave feeling happy, nostalgic, or inspired is a big satisfaction. It makes the hard work worthwhile. 

What inspired you to become involved in film exhibition and what were your first steps?

I have always loved film and how it brings people together, but it wasn’t until I was at university and started volunteering at film festivals that I realised it was where I needed to be. I knew that I loved being at the heart of this chaotic, frantic thing that brought so many people together. 

I went to Sheffield Hallam University, so my first experiences were volunteering at Sheffield Doc/Fest and Celluloid Screams: Sheffield Horror Film Festival. You can argue that the two festivals are opposites; Doc/Fest being this huge international event that takes over the city and is very industry heavy and Celluloid Screams being a smaller, local festival which a dedicated audience. I loved them both the equally.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become involved in film exhibition now?

Volunteer and stay humble! I started to volunteer to learn more about film and the industry and to figure out where I should be. I am so grateful I did. Volunteering allows you to experience a variety of tasks within different areas and I met so many knowledgeable people from a wide range of backgrounds. You can learn just as much from the box office staff and ushers/volunteers as you can from the Festival Director, if not more!

What is the main change you’ve experienced in film exhibition since you started? 

Despite working in film exhibition for less than 10 years, the change in film formats has been significant. When I first started doing print transport for festivals it was about posting HDCams via recorded delivery and keeping track of small USB sticks. Now it has moved to emailing digital files. 

Maybe one thing that hasn’t changed is that people still crave seeing film on film. There are many arguments on which is better – print or digital – and those conversations aren’t going anywhere. Especially with filmmakers like Christopher Nolan championing print and bringing out new releases on 35mm and 70mm. 

So, formats may have changed, but I still find myself kneeling on the projection room floor boxing and labelling prints from time to time.

What would you like to see change in film exhibition in the future?

Perhaps better skills preservation or training programmes, especially within projection. It’s becoming harder and harder to find projectionists who can operate 16mm and 70mm, as well as 35mm. It’s definitely a skill that seems to be fading. If there is still an audience desire for print, then we need to maintain those valuable skills. 

Do you have a favourite highlight from working in film exhibition so far?

I am so lucky that I’m Festival Manager for Widescreen Weekend at National Science and Media Museum and that we are 1 of only 3 venues that can screen Cinerama in both digital and 35mm formats. I remember seeing Cinerama for the first time in 2011 as part of testing for the festival. Seeing the picture start off at the centre of the screen and then watching it expand across our curved Cinerama screen gave me goosebumps. And it still does now. Every year we show Cinerama as part of the festival and every time I try to slip into the back of the cinema and watch the start of the film. Watching that image expand across the screen gets me every time! 

Is there a film you love that you wish could be seen more widely by audiences?

Perhaps not a film – but as part of the Bradford International Film Festival, there was a strand called ‘Uncharted States of America’ which screened independent American films… or as the brochure described "genuinely independent American cinema... experimental, transgressive, genuinely low-budget, wildly eclectic." 

There were some amazing hidden gems within that strand, Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel comes to mind, and I always wished more people took a chance on them. I think if everyone tried every now and again to just go to a cinema and watch a film they’ve heard nothing about, have no expectations over, they might discover some amazing things. 

Do you have a favourite cinema-going memory as part of an audience?

It was back at LIFF 2015 and it was my first visit to Anime Day. I had only just started to delve into the genre, and I felt very alone in my newfound passion. I went along to Anime Day expecting to be one of only a handful of people sat there, but I was completely wrong! There was such a big audience, and each person was passionate and excited to be there, it was infectious. And it was comforting to know that I was sat amongst a group of like-minded people.

Which filmmaker’s work means the most to you?

I don’t think there is one filmmaker that I could pick as there are so many films and filmmakers who mean so much to me. I use film for escapism and for connecting with people, so it’s very reliant on the memory or moment. Recently, I’m really enjoying connecting with my mum through classic film. Programming for Widescreen Weekend means I’m constantly looking to the 50s/60s/70s for film inspiration, and these are some of my mum’s favourite films – she’s a big Cary Grant fan. I don’t think I appreciated her knowledge and enjoyment of film until the past few years. 

Which new film have you loved recently that you would recommend to audiences?

Weathering with You by Makoto Shinkai was released in 2019 but I only managed to watch it last year when lockdown hit. Shinkai has created a world that you can get lost in and the characters are so well written, I finished the film feeling hopeful. With lockdown being quite anxiety-inducing, it was a welcome break. And isn’t that what film is for?

Part of LIFF Behind the Scenes