Herne Hill Free Film Festival returns for 2016

This year’s Herne Hill Free Film Festival runs during May, and will see film-lovers camped out – and in – at some of the area’s most iconic locations.

Herne Hill Free Film Festival 2015. Photo by Pierre Chukwudi Alozie
Herne Hill Free Film Festival 2015. Photo by Pierre Chukwudi Alozie

Now in its fourth year, the Herne Hill Festival offers the opportunity to watch classics such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (from last year’s playlist) with such backdrops as Herne Hill Station Square, Brockwell Lido and the Velodrome.

The Free Film Festival movement isn’t limited to Herne Hill. The initiative was started in south London and there are now festivals in areas including Peckham, Nunhead, Camberwell, South Norwood and Thornton Heath.

Herne Hill organiser Charlotte Ashworth met Neil Johns, who started the first festival in Nunhead, at a BFI pop up cinema event, and decided to hold her own screening in September 2012. “I’m not a film buff,” Charlotte explains. “I just do it for the community feel. Just watching something amazing in a location where people don’t normally go to watch films.”

A screening from last year's festival at Brockwell Lido. Photo by Pierre Chukwudi Alozie.
A screening from last year’s festival at Brockwell Lido. Photo by Pierre Chukwudi Alozie.

The first screening Charlotte organised, separate from the Free Film Festival, attracted 700 people. She then pitched to Film London, securing a £3,000 grant to host a Festival in the area. “That was the quickest 15 minutes of my life. We got the grant and then thought, wow – we have to deliver it now!”

Planning the month-long festival takes five months. The venues are indoor and outdoor, and as you’d expect, running an outdoor screening involves significantly more planning. For example, screening a film at Herne Hill’s Station Square requires the road to be closed, whereas an indoor screening just requires a room booking and a DVD.

The biggest challenges facing the Festival-organisers each year are weather and funding. Charlotte says: “Last year we were lucky with weather. We had some drizzle, but people have a very British spirit; they’ll come anyway and sit with an umbrella.”

Volunteer Helena Mackenzie adds: “People come along with their duvets and sleeping bags, and really get into the spirit of it. People snuggle down together and get on with it.”

Funding is always a challenge for a free community event, and the Festival depends on sponsorship. Herne Hill Free Festival is sponsored by local groups including the Lido Café and Pedder Estate Agents.

With the Herne Hill Festival firmly established, Charlotte would love to see a festival launch in neighbouring Brixton. “There would be so much support if a group in Brixton wanted to organise one,” she says, “We all meet regularly and everyone is so supportive. You just need a core group of ten volunteers willing to commit for six months for a month-long Festival.”

The beauty of the Free Film Festival movement is the initiative’s quirkiness. “We’re not a commercial organisation,” says Charlotte,“There are slight imperfections around the edges occasionally, but that makes it fun.”

Helena adds: “Anything that is a little bit irritating is completely overridden by the fact that it’s such a community spirit. Small children, adults, families, elderly people, everyone gets involved and it’s lovely to see that.”

It wouldn’t be a film feature without finding out what the volunteers’ favourite films are: Charlotte’s is Withnail and I or Gone With The Wind, and Helena’s is definitely Gone With The Wind. It didn’t go unnoticed that there is a distinct weather theme in their choices…

The full film line up for this year’s Herne Hill Film Festival will be available soon on the Brixton Blog. To volunteer for this year’s Festival, or to find out how to set up a festival in Brixton, contact Charlotte Ashworth on hernehill@freefilmfestivals.org. Find them on Twitter @HerneHillFilm or on Facebook.