Interview: Catherine Mugonyi Director of the Winter Gardens Film Festival


altB’s Clancy Mason caught up with Winter Gardens Film Festival Director, Catherine Mugonyi to find out more about  what is happening this weekend:

CMa: Tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get to the point where you are now directing a film festival?

CMu: I’ve run a Blackpool-based neighbourhood cinema group called Pop-up Picturehouse for the last 5 years and it’s been a fascinating journey. I found out that there are plenty of people living locally who enjoy independent and classic film yet struggle to find places to see it outside of their homes.

The group has experimented with different types of screenings and found that we really enjoy event cinema, at this point we had the chance to host a Halloween Screen double bill of classic horror in the Winter Gardens Pavilion. This was a real turning point, the audience made a great effort with their fancy dress costumes and gave us lots of ideas for future events.  Since then, we’ve held more frequent screenings and built up a dedicated following who are super supportive and whose feedback is really valuable. The festival was quite an organic next step, we had a home-grown audience of film lovers and a beautiful venue with fantastic screening capability.

CMa: How has the journey been so far? Any moments you have been particularly proud of?

CMu: It’s been rather a steep learning curve with so much to take in. I’m quite used to event planning so that has made things somewhat easier. However starting a festival was always going to be a challenge, especially if you have plans for the long term. I’ve had to really focus on learning about programming – going on the Independent Cinema Office‘s course was a brilliant starting point – as well as building connections with potential partners from different parts of the industry.

I really enjoyed working on our BFI Black Star event, which was an immersive screening of Stormy Weather in a 1940s setting. We set the Foyer Bar up as the Grand Foyer Club complete with 1940’s volunteer character actors and a live swing/jump-jive band. It was a such a feel-good event; the amount of talent in that film is staggering, but add to that the setting and the atmosphere of the event, it really was a night to remember.

CMa: What are you most looking forward to about this this years festival?

CMu: I’m really looking forward to the new additions to the programme. We have 300 school children coming to see the Wizard of Oz with us on Friday, great live music accompaniment to silent films over the whole weekend from Minima, Wurlltza and the Lancaster Millennium Choir. On the Sunday, there’s the ‘exception to the rule’ colour film which is an LGBT History month screening of sing-a-long Calamity Jane (yee-ha!) and our 2017 film competition where international film-makers have the chance to win a Golden Seagull award. Come and see the shortlisted films on Sunday 5 February, entry is free. To top this all off we have a preview screening of The Happiest Day in the Like of Olli MäkiPlenty to look forward to.

CMa: What is it about programming film that really excites you as opposed to film making or being in front of the camera?

Exhibiting film has a special pull for me, I much prefer activities that don’t just rely on one voice. It provides a shared experience which encourages people to talk. It’s a fantastic way of bringing people together whether that’s for fun or for serious debate. It’s a great leveller: everyone’s opinion counts.

CMa: Why do you think Blackpool needs a film festival like this?

CMu: Why the heck not? We have a strong entertainment tradition, amazing venues, local expertise and the infrastructure to handle festivals. It’s very narrow-minded to think that only big cities deserve big arts events, and it can get quite demoralising to see lots of funding and support going into the same established places year on year. It feels like we’re at a time where Blackpool-based artists, producers and makers are saying ‘Hey, we’re over here and we’re pretty good at what we do.. Let’s get on with it!’ It’s rather exciting.

CMa: Who has helped you along the way? 

Wow, loads. Well the main festival partners are the Winter Gardens Trust and Aunty Social CIC. However we’ve also received lots of kind support from Blackpool Entertainments Co, Burbage Holiday Group, Into Film, the Independent Cinema Office, Blackpool Council, Blackpool Cultural Education Hub, the Granada Foundation and the BFI Film Audience Network.

Huge shout-out to our amazing volunteers that help the events run smoothly and our wonderful competition judges Alison, Michael, Chrissie and Lindsey.

CMa: Quick fire round:
Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire?

Book or Film? Book – ooh controversial! 

Favourite song from a film? Wow that’s tough, I like the oldies best: The Man that Got Away from A Star is Born,  All the Things You Are from Very Warm for May (Will Young also did a really good version of this nearly 70 years later!Having said that, I really enjoyed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack, Seu Jorge’s Bowie covers are brill!

Best film from your childhood? The Red Shoes – not really a children’s film, but it was always on TV – I loved Boris Lermontov!

Actor you would most like to play air-hockey with? Gary Oldman, definitely. Despite his versatility,  I can’t really picture him playing air hockey!

Hollywood or Bollywood? That’s just too tough to answer…

CMa: What do you get up to when you’re not organising the festival?

CMu: Being an old projector lady (projectors are better behaved than cats) – I like collecting 8mm and 16mm film, you can find lots of treasure in junk shops! I spend plenty of time planning events and activities for Aunty Social, as well as putting my shopkeeper hat on in Charabanc. I’m a referee with Manchester Roller Derby so I do spend a fair while on wheels blowing whistles. Oh yeah, and going to work, that too!

CMa: Any big plans for the rest of 2017?

CMu: Sleeping, yep definitely sleeping. There are more film events on the cards: neighbourhood cinema with Aunty Social’s Pop-up Picturehouse, and there’s a fab family archive film day in the pipeline for the Summer.

The Winter Gardens Film Festival takes place this weekend, starting Friday 3 Feb and finishes on Sunday 5 Feb.

altBlackpool reader special offer: 10% off tickets for Rashomon, Embrace of the Serpent, Sunrise, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. Enter discount code: ALTB17 on checkout. For more information or to book tickets visit www.wintergardensfilm.co.uk


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