A sit down with the minds behind The Reel Film Series


The Reel Film Series launched its 2015-16 programme last week with a Halloween-themed screening of the 1977 experimental Japanese horror film House. Reel Film, which began in 2013 as The Reel Film Society, is a student-led screening series that showcases a variety of films, often accompanied by guest speakers or even live music. The Saint spoke to the series’ founders, Dr Lucy Donaldson and Dr Tom Rice of the Film department, to discuss the Reel Film as it enters its third year.

The Saint: What led you to set up The Reel Film Series?

Dr Tom Rice: One of the main reasons was that we wanted an opportunity for students to think about how you put on film events: the publicity, the programming, and even just the technical aspects of making sure everything’s up and running. Another aim was that we wanted to have students from all years—first, second, third, fourth, and often MLitt and PhD students as well—working together on a programme. It’s a way for students to interact and get a better idea of what happens in the department.

Dr Lucy Donaldson: And it’s nice to get a sense of what the students are interested in seeing, because it gives us a glimpse of their tastes and interests.

TS: The film is strongly rooted in the film department—does that bring its advantages?

TR: Definitely. We hold screenings in School III, which is where we have our first- and second-year module screenings, so it’s nice to kind of build that as a venue where students know they can go and see films. At meetings, we discuss the programming, what’s worked with publicity, what we might do differently—that’s great for us, because often the students have brilliant ideas that we would never think about for our own events. I’d like to think there aren’t strong barriers between staff and students here, but it does mean that it’s nice for us to get more interaction with our students.

LD: [The series] also has strong links to the modules. At the beginning of semester two we start with a silent film screening with live music, which is a tie-in to the film history module, and we have a student at the moment whose dissertation is kind of based on watching a film in last year’s screening round, Sweet Sixteen. Now she’s doing a project on Ken Loach about representations of masculinity.

TS: How does the committee go about choosing which films will be shown?

LD: Last year, they had a theme [“Growing Up”], which we encouraged, because the first year had been quite broad in terms of choices. They were keen on showing more popular films, like Boyhood, as well as more obscure films that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise.

TR: They’re quite particular in making sure there is a documentary during the season, and that there isn’t necessarily an American or a British focus, that the films represent world cinema from a range of interests and topics. Some of the more successful screenings have been ones linked to other societies or subjects.

LD: The Act of Killing was shown in the first year and it tied in to an IR module, and then we had a collaboration screening with the Document Film Festival last year.

TR: Most of our students are joint honours, and certainly first and second year students are all taking film along with other subjects, so we want to reflect that we’re not just a film studies screening. We’ll often get someone from outside of the department, someone from English or IR or Modern Languages, or whoever it may be, to come and talk about a film that is of interest to them.

We want this to be open for everyone, just as we would encourage all our students to go and see a screening in Modern Languages or an event in Management. There are so many film events going on the university that we should be making sure that we go to as many as we can.

TS: This year, the programme’s name was changed from the Reel Film Society to the Reel Film Series. What was the thought process behind this switch?

LD: That was mainly to distinguish it as not an official St Andrews society and not working quite in the same way as they tend to do.

TR: We also felt that ‘society’—and this came from the committee—was a bit of a closed shop. People maybe felt intimidated about coming along, as if this is something where you need to be a member to attend. We wanted to make sure it was much more inclusive, and that anyone could come along to any screening.

LD: [The committee] worked on that a lot last year, trying to be more visible in the university and working on that inclusivity.

TS: Reel Film’s launch event this year was a screening of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s very unusual horror film, House. What was the motivation behind that choice?

TR: It’s partly trying to move away from putting on The Exorcist or Halloween or whatever you might think there. I’ve seen films from the Reel Film screenings that I’d never seen before, and I can’t imagine how I would’ve seen them otherwise. In some ways, this screening was an opportunity for the new committee to dip their feet in and to see how they would organize it, and I hope it will help them now as they’re thinking about programming for semester two.

LD: It’s definitely something you couldn’t see elsewhere.

TR: And there’s the beauty of seeing something like that on the big screen, together, as a group. Because of the kind of comedic elements, it’s the kind of film that you need to see collectively sometimes.

LD: And you have something to say about it afterwards. There’s the tradition of going somewhere afterwards to talk about the screening. I can’t imagine seeing House and not having something to say about it.

TS: What are your hopes for Reel Film for the year ahead?

TR: When people see a film and think, wow, I would never have seen this otherwise, that’s brilliant. There are plenty on the screening list that make me say, I don’t think I would program that, but that’s the beauty of it. We’d all come up with a different program, and it’s working together that works.

LD: What I would most like to keep going is having students working together across all years. I hope that connection will last beyond the series and foster a community both within the department and more broadly. That, and we get the opportunity to work with the students.

TR: These are the nice bits of the job.


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