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The Screen at Nottingham Contemporary

21 May 16 words: Marcus Brown
We spoke to film programmer Niki Harman about The Screen and its current mumblecore season
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What led you into the film industry and particularly the role of film programming?
I’ve always loved films ever since I was a really small kid and I studied Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University where I specialised in film. After uni I did some work at some production companies which made me realise I loved the film festival side of things. After working at, and going to, so many film festivals I realised so much of what we see is chosen by a film programmer. It’s really exciting and important to expose people to new films which they perhaps might not have been seen before. A lot of films that we know and love are discovered at film festivals and without film programmers we wouldn’t have been able to see a lot of them.

How did The Screen at Contemporary get started?
I’d been doing freelance programming for a while and obviously there's so much going on here with us being an art gallery. We already had our music programme on a Saturday night, so we wanted to do something like that for film that made use of the space and brought in different audiences. At the time I had become the event manager and already had that experience, so I knew that I wanted to do it in seasons.

What sort of process do you undertake when selecting films for a film season?
One of the main things is to choose what theme you want and why you want to choose it. It’s important to consider what you think people will get out of it - always choose the films with your potential viewers in mind. Even if someone comes to just one of the films it might spur them on to watch lots of others.

Do you think that showing films as an ensemble makes them stronger than showing them on their own?
Sometimes, because films come into a movement. The films that we’re showing at the moment as part of the mumblecore season were strengthened because they all came out together; a lot of the filmmakers knew each other and a film critic termed it mumblecore. It’s only ten years on from the first mumblecore film, but that's now a movement we can look back on. Programming can make niche films more accessible when paired with more mainstream films in a film festival. For example in our previous Partners in Crime season we played True Romance alongside I’m Gonna Explode.

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Tiny Furniture

Why did you decide to dedicate a film season to mumblecore?
We knew it would be getting a little bit warmer and we thought it would be a light-hearted alternative to some of the big blockbusters that were coming out. We wanted to give people something new that was a bit funny and cringey that they could take a beer or a glass of wine into on a Sunday afternoon. The genre feels so current, it talks a lot about relationships and the way human beings are with each other on an everyday basis, which is always going to be relevant. 

How would you summarise each of the films in this season?
Mutual Appreciation: Awkward, cringey, funny and authentic, kind of like Woody Allen for generation Y.

Baghead: It doesn't look very smart but it’s very funny and very authentic in the way it shows people's relationships and interactions.

Humpday: It’s the same thing, it sounds a lot like a bro comedy but the way in which they interact with each other is so true and realistic.

Tiny Furniture: I remember thinking that it seemed like a very real description of what it felt like to be at that age, at that time, with those type of friends living in New York.

How did you discover mumblecore?
I was living in New York and went to Sundance festival - I saw the first screening of Baghead and loved it. From that I found out about all the other filmmakers who were making mumblecore films. I also found out a little bit more about it living in London. So definitely film festivals and New York helped me to discover the genre.

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How important do you think it is to preserve and expose old pieces of cinema to young people?
I grew up watching a lot of films but never really foreign or independent films. Then I remember being taken to see a French film called La Haine at a local independent cinema when I was 16 and seeing that gave me absolute confidence to go out and start watching more foreign and independent films. Film helps you understand the world and yourself.

Baghead had a budget of $5000, do you think it’s important for anyone to be able to make films?
Definitely! The technology we have now has democratised the process. Anyone can make a film from their iPhone. Some of the low budget films I see at film festivals just go to show that as long as you have a great story and a talent for it then you can make it.

Do you have any advice for young people wanting to get into the film industry?
Make films part time on the weekends and on the evenings, don’t wait to help other people. Just do whatever you can yourself. But also learn from other people and be nice. Everyone has a different route into the film industry.

Has living in Nottingham and working at the Contemporary influenced the way you work with, and look, at cinema?
It has made me realise that there are people who are passionate about culture and music, film and art in lots of different places. You don’t have to be in London or New York. There’s so much going on in Nottingham and it’s only getting bigger.

What’s the plan for the future of The Screen at Contemporary?
In September we plan to have an All in Your Mind season with films about perceptions of things, like Vertigo and Shock Corridor. The second season we’re planning is called Peeping Tom with films about cinema goers being voyeuristic. Also for Halloween we’re planning on teaming up with the music programme for a big film/music night.

The next film to be shown is Baghead at 3pm on Sunday 22 May 2016 at Nottingham Contemporary.           

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