Widescreen Weekend 2019 was the biggest edition of the festival yet - one that boasted an expanded programme of special events and accessible pricing schemes to help engage new audiences.
Widescreen Weekend is the UK's annual celebration of analogue film and large format cinema - a festival of wide ratios, big screens and projection purists that takes place in Bradford's National Science and Media Museum. The festival's 2019 edition, running from 10-13 October, was the biggest yet. It featured an expanded programme designed to offer their regular delegates something new and entice the format aficionados of the future to experience the Weekend for the first time.
Alongside the usual presentations of vintage cinema technology, Widescreen Weekend introduced 'Immersive Encounters' - a cutting edge 360 degree viewing experience housed inside a specially designed cinema dome. Young audiences could access a discounted under 25s festival pass, while their voices featured in the festival's marketing campaign through a series of commissioned blogs. And some topical additions to the programme like a Blade (1998) / Black Panther (2018) double bill and a celebration of 'Women in Widescreen' brought fresh perspectives to the festival's heritage-focused line-up, making the event a more representative showcase for the big, wide world of film.
To develop an expanded programme of special events that would satisfy the festival's core audiences and appeal to first-time attendees.
To engage young film fans and practitioners in the festival's celebration of screen heritage through a combination of curation, content creation and accessible pricing.
To ensure the festival's on screen programme and invited guests were representative of the broad range of widescreen cinema, and to engage more diverse audiences locally.
Record festival attendance with admissions across the weekend totalling 4,299.
The biggest programme to date and a real celebration of analogue film, featuring 11 titles on 35mm, 4 titles on 70mm and 2 opportunities to see 3-strip Cinerama in its original format.
The ‘Immersive Encounters’ cinema dome welcomed over 600 visitors across the weekend and was successful in engaging visitors beyond the festival's core audience.
23 features and 10 shorts were screened in the main festival programme, with a further 61 films shown in the 'Immersive Encounters' cinema dome.
Example screenings include a 70mm presentation of West Side Story (1961); an IMAX digital double bill of Blade (1998) and Black Panther (2018); and a mixed media presentation of Cinerama's South Sea Adventure (1958) with Act 1 screening on archive 3-strip Cinerama and Act 2 screening from a new digital restoration.
Two partnerships ensured that digital innovation was at the forefront throughout the weekend. York-based R&D organisation XR Stories introduced the festival's opening night film and Live Cinema UK, West Yorkshire's experiential cinema specialists, installed a 360 degree immersive cinema dome that screened all weekend.
The festival also partnered with Bradford City of Film to celebrate their tenth anniversary and deliver two special events: a film history walking tour of Bradford and a Q&A with director Clio Barnard.
Budget in brief
Total budget: £44,644
Key sources of income -
Box office: £21,128
Film Hub North grant: £8,000
Other grants: £6,000
Hub subsidy per head: £1.86
Commissioning young festival volunteers to write blogs. These were high quality, the posts covered a range of festival activity, and the experience was valued by the volunteers involved.
The festival programme launch event and screening of The Great Victorian Moving Picture Show was successful in attracting a broad age range (21% under 25) and local audiences - both key outcomes for the festival whose core audience is typically older and geographically dispersed.
Successfully securing high quality archive film prints and reviving relationships with organisations like the Eye Filmmuseum.
What has been difficult
A bigger programme presented logistical challenges for the festival team and audiences.
Details and guests for the Girls on Film live podcast were confirmed late in the day - the event could have benefited from a different slot in the schedule and more marketing.
What you would do differently if you did it again
Focus on delivering a more streamlined, well-curated programme - quality over quantity.
Improved marketing of the discounted under-25 passes, with more outreach and engagement work with target audiences.
Consider using external venues for the festival. The immersive cinema dome was a valuable new outlet for festival activity, and taking events further out into the city could be effective.
Following its introduction in 2018, the festival’s Women in Widescreen strand returned in an expanded form, celebrating the contributions of women in front of and behind the camera in the festival line-up. 2019’s Women in Widescreen selections included a broader range of narratives and introduced more BAME representation into the programme. Space was also made to critique elements of film history within the programme, with the introductory speakers for Carmen Jones and West Side Story highlighting the films’ problematic depictions of BAME characters.
Knowledge & Experience
Audience feedback regularly highlighted the chance to see film on traditional formats – something that attendees identified as a “rare experience.” Coupled with this, audiences praised the festival’s programme of introductions and talks that complement the screening schedule. 48% of surveyed audiences felt that Widescreen Weekend had increased their awareness of film heritage, while 41% felt they had been taught something new about film.
The festival’s partnership with Bradford City of Film during its tenth anniversary celebrations helped ground Widescreen Weekend in the city’s communities. Audiences had the opportunity to join a walking tour of Bradford and learn about its cinematic heritage. And the festival welcomed Clio Barnard for a Q&A event where she was joined by local filmmaking talent and discussed how Bradford had influenced her work.
Widescreen Weekend’s core audience represents a passionate niche within the cinema community. The festival is a special occasion for this dedicated fan base, many of whom have been attending since the event’s inception in 1997 – they return, year on year, to meet up with like-minded individuals and discuss their passion for large format cinema.
“The people make this fest: friends and delegates, projectionists, programmers, staff and volunteers. Thank you all!” – 2019 Delegate
Widescreen Weekend attracts a large proportion of its audience from outside the Bradford area. A partnership with the Great Victoria Hotel helped accommodate the festival’s guests and audiences, ensuring that local business were able to serve those travelling for the festival. Local providers were also used for a variety of other festival services – from design to printing to guest programming, even the immersive dome experience.
What audiences said
"For anyone who likes to see classic films in the cinemas they were made for, shown on film prints, I completely recommend the festival and hope to attend again."
"Another great Widescreen Weekend. It was a real pleasure to attend such a well-organised event. Not just the programme and the professional presentation of the films, but also the extras that make the event so enjoyable and memorable."
"I brought my two children along to watch West Side Story. What a wonderful experience it was for them to view it on the big screen."
What professionals, press and partners said
"It's a really lovely and important festival with a committed and friendly community behind it." - Chella Ramanan, Writer and Game Developer
"Thank you Widescreen Weekend! I had a great time. A wonderful event celebrating films on the big screen." - Tom Vincent, Film Archivist
"I had a brilliant time running a dome at the National Science and Media Museum for Widescreen Weekend. It was so popular! More please..." - Kate Welham, Live Cinema UK
"Portrayal of women in musicals gets spotlight at Bradford's National Science and Media Museum" - Yorkshire Post
"Film classics and cult favourites announced for Widescreen Weekend." - Telegraph & Argus