Wheels in Showcomotion – An Interview with Joan Parsons
Young People's Film Fest Showcomotion turns the Showroom Cinema into a muppetey phantasmagoria from May 25 – June 3rd.
Boasting a line up that goes from Sesame Street to Polish animation, the 'Young People's Film Festival' is once again set to deliver an endless array of entertainment for kids and adults alike. Mickey Mouse notepad in hand, we caught up with festival director Joan Parsons for a chat…
Exposed – How did Showcomotion come about?
Joan – Well we’re in our thirteenth year now. There’s always been a real passion among the Sheffield scene to have an option that’s an alternative for children.
What do you mean ‘an alternative’?
An alternative to the massive summer blockbuster, really. Children’s film is a huge moneymaking venture for Hollywood, but other than them there’s not a lot of investment – there’s not a lot of opportunity for kids to see foreign language kids’ films. So when Showcomotion first started everyone was very keen that children be given the opportunity to experience variety; and that’s what we’re still basing our programme on. Our audiences will see films they’ve never seen before and may never see again, but hopefully they’ll be inspired to go and seek out other movies. And in an ideal world the rest of the industry would wake up and see there is a market for children’s films that’s an alternative and not put all of their money in one pot.
So let’s talk about this year’s festival. What are you looking forward to in particular?
Well this year’s opening film is The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom. It’s a coming-of-age tale about a young girl who has to go and find herself, and it’s about identity. But it’s funny and sweet, and English language which is a bonus if it’s on opening night because we don’t want people to be too scared of subtitles – we’re easing them in gently.
Oliver Twist we’re really excited about too. We’re doing some stuff with Sheffield Library who are doing a big City Read; we have around 100 copies of the book to give away, so when people come we’ll give them a book so they can see the annotations. And we’ve also got this great Polish retrospective this year, which is a tough one to start with. Another of our films, Copernicus Star, is subtitled and is not particularly aimed at the much younger kids, but what we’ve got with it is a workshop about Space afterwards, so if they didn’t understand something in the film we can hopefully explain about the Solar System in the ‘shop afterwards. And the Encounters stuff is really interesting too.
It’s an internationally renowned short-film festival down in Bristol, and they’re good friends of ours. They’ve given us a brilliant opportunity this year because they have a children’s selection within their festival to which international delegates come and it’s a huge deal with prizes and what have you. And they’ve allowed children in Sheffield to select films for their festival next year, so we’ve got a workshop with them, and kids can come and work with the Encounters people, make some selections, learn about short-film programming, and put it together themselves to be presented at an internationally recognised festival.
The whole Showcomotion programme is almost like a film funfair, there are loads of different things going on…
I think with children at the moment if there’s a big blockbuster out, it’ll be everywhere. They have huge marketing campaigns. Y’know, there’s buses and posters and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and everything is branded, and if young people are being bombarded with all that then you can’t see the little films underneath. So Showcomotion is an opportunity to bring those films up to the attention a bit more and put our marketing weight behind them and give them a bit of a chance.
Could you tell us about the Showcomotion children’s juries?
Well, there are two this year. Last year was the first time we had a jury and they were for 15 to 18 year olds and that was a great success. They loved it.
What does the jury do exactly?
They watch all the films in competition. The younger jury are 11 to 14 and they’re watching four films, which are Tigers & Tattoos, My Dad’s A Detective, On The Sly and Petit Nicolas, and the other three films will be watched by the older jury, and they award a cash prize each. Which means it’s quite a big deal…
Hang on. That money doesn’t come out of the jury’s pockets does it?
[laughs] Absolutely not, it comes out of the big, empty Showcomotion pocket! But the fact that there’s a cash prize adds even more value to their decision. I watch a lot of kids’ films, but I’m not a child. It’s important to have that different outlook.
How do they reach that decision? Is it a little like 12 Angry Men where they’re all in a room stuck with one another ‘til they reach a decision?
I think they fight, yeah [laughs]. Nah, usually there’s a little bit of a debate.
So there is actually a little bit of a discussion afterwards?
Oh yes, there has to be a consensus…
As opposed to just a vote?
Yeah. We'll normally sit down with the jury after each film, get a few opinions about that particular film and then at the end of the weekend we’ll say, “Look, let’s get together, we need to pick a winner,” and then anybody will pitch in. And also they can’t just say “We like this film…” They need to be able to give a little bit of justification, and a lot of the films will not be based entirely for their age range, so they need to have quite a lot of foresight to be able to think “When I was seven, I would really have liked this film…”
So you’re almost turning them into young critics! Do you have any great memories of watching films in the cinema when you were a kid yourself?
Well I moved from a village to my town, and there was a cinema at the end of my street and it was an old-school, one screen, fairly big cinema (Photo below – Braintree Ed). It’s still there, it happens to be a pub now. If you go right to the end you can see all the seats and the projector’s still there!
Yeah it’s a Weatherspoons now. Basically they put the bar at the bottom of the screen, which is still there and they use it to put football on occasionally, and then if you walk to the bar and turn back, all the gated seating is still there.
Is this from the balcony above?
Yeah, you used to have to walk up a load of stairs and come in through the top, so the seating was really angled. And they basically dug out all the stuff underneath so it’s now a flat pub level.
What was it like when it was a cinema?
Like I said it was old school, there’d be an interview where an old woman would come round with ice cream! Really, really old fashioned.
Was that the start of your beautiful relationship with cinema then?
I think so yeah, I loved it. And I love the idea, y’know it was a really luxurious thing to do – go to this cinema that was in a pretty bad state even back then and buy some bad food that my mum wouldn’t normally let me eat, and watch a film…
Showcomotion runs from Friday 25th May to Sunday 3rd June at the Showroom Cinema. Tickets are priced at £2 for kids, and £3 for adults. Click here for a full programme list.