Since 2005, Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (BFMAF) has taken place annually each September in England’s most northerly town, bringing visitors to North Northumberland and working year round with artists, filmmakers, local audiences and schools.
Longer term work in progress has culminated in a decision to shift BFMAF’s film festival from its established Autumn dates to Spring. Concretely, this means that the 18th Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival planned for 9–11 September 2022 will now take place from 3–5 March 2023. From 2024, Festival dates will move to a date at the end of March and just before Easter.
Announcing this change so close to when we would ordinarily be finalising programming creates a longer wait for artists and filmmakers who have shared their work with us. Taking this into consideration, we have decided not to reopen BFMAF’s call for entries but, given the shift in timelines, filmmakers who have already entered their films are welcome to send us a more recently completed film at no additional charge. We’ll communicate with artists and filmmakers directly about this.
I know also that some of you will also already have plans to travel to Berwick in September. I’m very sorry for the direct inconvenience that this change in Festival dates creates for you. Bearing this in mind we hope to organise a screening or two to mark the original September dates. Details will follow soon.
To better explain some practical and conceptual reasoning behind the date change for BFMAF, there is a longer ongoing work in progress to re-evaluate the language, systems and rituals generally accepted by film festivals such as our own. As documented by the publication of recent research from the Film and TV Charity, standards which sustain precarity and jeopardise workers’ mental wellbeing still predominate within the cinema industry. Festivals, including BFMAF, must be more transparent about their working practices to date and the practical steps they are taking to improve these.
For BFMAF this has meant: fundraising and shifting budgets to increase fees for artists, filmmakers and festival workers; initiating a Fellowships Programme for early career critics and programmers; and transforming our flagship Berwick New Cinema Competition to the Berwick New Cinema Awards where all filmmakers receive fees and a share of prize money, rather than there being a single award adjudicated by a jury.
We see this work as necessary, ongoing and not something to take any particular credit for. Harder to grasp has been how complex the day to day liveness of this evolution is, and how challenging it has been to plan and articulate well. Alongside mitigations against the health and social impacts of COVID-19, thinking through possibilities created by the online space, and essential work to make our festival accessible to more people, routine work has been as consistently constructive as it has been intense since I began working at BFMAF in 2015.
Having produced a Festival that has been greater than the sum of its parts over the last 18 years, BFMAF has been concentrating on making all of these sums add up better. Working with, rather than against, the annual calendar and harmonising with the seasons, already brings this goal closer! Some positive practical impacts are that planning and fundraising has been able to continue during summer months, accompanied by a slight slow down in pace rather than the usual 24/7 full out festival melt down of production, where all social and family relations become subordinate to the September festival.
Significant for myself as a person with the disability ADHD, has been the possibility to apply for support to overcome barriers to work through the UK government’s Access to Work scheme. After a year, that application is nearly complete and – as well as slowly bringing about a more intersectional understanding of disability and its impacts than I had previously – the direct funding for assistive technology and a support worker to aid me in my day to day work as Festival Director is potentially life changing.
A little extra time this year, helps move things further along. With the support of our Board of Trustees and key funders Arts Council England, British Film Institute, Community Foundation and Northumberland County Council, we are currently recalibrating the Festival’s work. This includes settling in BFMAF’s new Deputy Director, Elisa Kay; our interim Festival Chair Laura Simpson; and Hamish Young who’s worked with BFMAF already for four years across almost every area of expertise, moving to a new role as Festival Manager.
The change of Festival dates creates a hugely beneficial time shift this year of around six extra months. Significantly, it also allows BFMAF to step away from one of the most congested periods for film festivals in the UK. Sheffield Doc Fest, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Open City Documentary Film Festival and BFI London International Film Festival all take place over the Summer and Autumn months, with Edinburgh and Open City shifting dates from June relatively recently.
Travel wise (around our previous dates) in September has also been a period of annual train line maintenance in the North East of England, reducing environmentally friendly options for visitors to the Festival. A welcome growth in tourism to Northumberland has also made sourcing in-season accommodation increasingly difficult. Hosting a film festival in March will definitely make it easier for Festival visitors to get here.
From trains to a bricks and mortar perspective on changing dates, The Maltings in Berwick has been BFMAF’s primary cinema venue and office base for almost two decades. As the festival symbolically enters adulthood with its 18th year and all the implied responsibility that brings, it is apt that our next edition will also be our last at The Maltings in its current form. A two-year £14m redesign and reconstruction of the building, now under competitive tender, will see us relocate later next year whilst a more contemporary, accessible and multi-screen facility is developed. Cause to rethink how and where BFMAF operates in the broadest sense, we also want to make sure that the festival this March provides a fitting temporary farewell to our longstanding home.
As well as announcing BFMAF’s change of date, my statement today is a commitment to transparency going forward; to making labours visible; and an attempt to manifest a more honest, caring and less boundaried festival sector.
Many thanks for reading and your interest in Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. Special thanks to Marcus Jack for writing this with me and Elisa Kay and Laura Simpson for their edits.
I hope it’s possible that we might see you in Berwick this March!
PS You can read our accompanying press release here.