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By Laura Sagar on

Behind the scenes of Widescreen Weekend

With Widescreen Weekend over for another year, Laura goes behind the scenes with the festival team to find out how it’s all put together.

Pictureville Cinema is part of the history of the National Science and Media Museum. When the museum opened in 1983, it also opened an IMAX theatre—the first in Europe. IMAX is still a popular and standout feature of Bradford as it’s still the largest screen in the region.

While the IMAX may be the best-known, there are two other screens in the museum: Cubby Broccoli, a cosy 106-seater cinema, and the Pictureville theatre with 306 seats. Pictureville opened in 1992 and installed a 4K digital projection and surround sound Cinerama screen in 1993. This screen is one of only three in the world, and Pictureville is the only venue outside the USA with the ability to show film in this rare format, with 3 images being projected simultaneously onto the curved screen. You can read more about Cinerama in Bradford in this blog post.

With the museum and its cinemas in the heart of the city, it’s easy to see how, in 2009, Bradford became the world’s first UNESCO City of Film.

Pictureville theatre
Pictureville theatre on Widescreen Weekend 2018 opening night

To showcase all the fantastic screens and projection facilities, the museum hosts Widescreen Weekend, an annual film festival that celebrates the widescreen format. This year’s programme was the biggest yet, utilising all three screens. Now in its 23rd year, Widescreen Weekend is one of the UK’s longest-running film festivals; it not only gives viewers an opportunity to experience wonderful cinema across the 4 day weekend, but also hosts special guests and includes talks and tours.

When I first heard about the festival and saw the programme for the first time, I was astounded at the effort that must have gone into the planning and programming of the weekend. I wanted to go behind the scenes and find out more. I asked the Festival Coordinator and Assistant some questions about what really goes into holding such a fantastic and renowned festival that is truly loved by fans.

Tell us your name and share a bit of information about your role within the festival team.

Rebecca Hill, Festival Coordinator for Widescreen Weekend: “I’m responsible for the logistics and operational side of the festival, as well as curating the main programme.”

How long does the festival take to plan from start to finish?

“It takes a full year to plan a festival from start to finish, though really, we are thinking of programming ideas and best practices even before we’ve finished one festival. So, you could argue it takes longer. The first couple of months are dedicated towards programming and finding prints before we start to reach our main deadlines.”

What is the most exciting part of planning the festival?

“The most exciting part are those first few months of programme planning, where you begin with blue sky thinking and everything is a possibility. You’ve just delivered one festival so you are buzzing on all the things that went well and are thinking of how you can fix the things that didn’t go so well. There’s nothing more freeing than starting with a completely fresh blank page.”

Are there any challenges in planning the programme?

“Print condition and availability starts to become an issue the more research you do. We pride ourselves on showing film on film wherever possible but in some cases that becomes difficult. Quite a lot of archives no longer loan out 70mm prints to try and preserve them. There’s nothing more disappointing than finding a print in an archive and then learning the condition is too bad to screen the film.”

How do you decide which films will be shown in the festival?

“Widescreen Weekend is quite niche in terms of its programming, and it’s something that comes with years of experience and getting to know our audience and what they want. We do like to focus on classic cinema, whether that’s the ‘roadshow’ epics of the 50s or 60s, or something more ‘cult’ from the 80s or 90s.

Among that we also like to use strands and double bills to highlight key genres or important figures in cinema history, such as this year’s Robert Wise focus or 2018’s western strand. We also like to include special guest events or presentations and panels in cinema technology, and we even have a family screening on Sunday mornings—we really do try and make the programme accessible to everyone.”

Jack Wentworth-Weedon, Festival Assistant for Widescreen Weekend: “We also take some suggestions from our dedicated visitors as well as our festival guests, some of who return to us from all over the globe, year after year. They’re incredibly passionate about classic widescreen film from the 50s, archive print material, and bringing all of this to new audiences.

If there are any new prints or films that are made for 70mm, especially from directors such as Christopher Nolan, we want to be able to show them as well, because they are really the legacy of that movement from the 1950s which we all know and love.”

Where does the film actually come from?

Rebecca: “We have a small film archive here at the museum, but we usually only show one or two films from our archive each year, so the rest of the films come from the distributors themselves or from film archives. We have great relationships with the British Film Institute and Park Circus, who trust us and our skilled projectionists enough to loan us their prints. We also work with international archives for really special prints, such as the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam who are loaning us their West Side Story print.”

What is your favourite film included in the festival this year and why?

Rebecca: “I’m a big musicals fan—so I’m glad that we’re focusing on musicals this year with the help of BFI Musicals! My highlight will be West Side Story which will be showing on an archive print on our curved screen, complete in a ‘roadshow’-style presentation with an intermission. I don’t think cinema can get more magical than that—there is no comparison with that and watching it on your sofa from a DVD. “

Jack: “I absolutely love The Iron Giant, it’s honestly the perfect animated film for me because it can be watched at any age and there’s something new there. Like the film is set against Cold War panic with comic book influences and serious moral questions about determinism and free will! What’s not to love?”

The team also let me in on a little secret: ‘Widescreeners’ are very good at guessing the programme before it’s even released. After 23 years they’re been getting good at finding out programme secrets and since the team is made up of three close-knit colleagues, they’re pretty sure there isn’t a secret leaker!

This year’s Widescreen Weekend took place between 10 and 13 October and, as ever, it drew a great crowd who are just as enthusiastic about film as the wonderful festival team at the museum. The festival will be back in 2020—see you there!

4 comments on “Behind the scenes of Widescreen Weekend

  1. Even cut short a Holiday so I could see Ben -Hur (1959) in it’s 60th Anniversary 4k Restoration on that beautiful curved screen..truly amazing experience and good to meet up with old Widescreen Weekend friends. Now if we could get the same treatment for El CID and a re-booking of 2001 then 2020 would good to,look forward to

  2. “Pictureville opened in 1992 and installed a 4K digital projection and surround sound Cinerama screen in 1993.”
    Cinerama screen, yes. 4K projection was obviously much later.

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  4. The Widescreen Weekend is a great focal point for movie buufs from all over the world. I’m so glad that I only live 130 miles away and get there every year. Meeting up with like minded people is wonderful but enjoying calssic movies (made way before my time) on the big screen is a privilege. Missed last year due to Covid but will be back this year for sure.

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