Flatpack Film Festival is a pop-up festival which takes over venues across Birmingham city centre each spring. Flatpack curates a series of events from live screenings, archive discoveries, animation and VR technology; all aiming to be eclectic, interesting and accessible.
For 2017 Warwick's Dr Richard Wallace partnered with the festival to lead the talk, “Is that a woman in the box?” A Secret History of Women Projectionists, with his research partner Dr Rebecca Harrison (University of Glasgow).
Richard is one of the researchers involved in the ongoing Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Projection Project which was involved in running a range of events and talks as part of Flatpack’s 2016. These included a talk entitled ‘Secrets of the Projection Box’ and ‘The Projectionsits’, an exhibition of photographs of projectionists taken by the project partner Richard Nicholson.
During these events the Projection Project team were approached by Joan and Bill Pearson, a married couple who had both been projectionists in the midlands, and who commented on the invisibility of women projectionists in general, but also within the events (something that the team were very aware of but which was unavoidable due to ethical and practical difficulties with reproducing our own research materials). This did, however, make it clear that more work needed to be done on the role of women projectionists and Richard began working with Project Professor Charlotte Brunsdon (a colleague on the Projection Project) and Dr Rebecca Harrison – who has written one of the only pieces of research on women projectionists – to take the research further. The results of their work will be published in the Spring 2018 issue of the Journal of British Cinema and Television.
The research materials discovered during this process formed the basis of the talk given by Richard and Rebecca at the 2017 festival. Key amongst these was an audio interview with Florence Barton, a Coventry-based projectionist, which was discovered in the Coventry History Centre archives. It also naturally followed that Joan Pearson – who had inspired the project – would be interviewed and be involved in the subsequent event. Joan is a dynamic and enthusiastic raconteur (though she might not admit it herself) and her experiences demonstrate clearly the difficulties involved in being a female projectionist in a male-dominated environment. She was also one of a range of women who helped to open up the opportunity for women to work within these male-dominated spaces long after the Second World War (when women projectionists were very common). Her story became a central part of the event at the 2017 festival which highlighted the role of these hidden figures.
“My first and only love was being a projectionist” - Joan Pearson
"Is that a woman in the box?" was held in the main Flatpack Hub space and every seat was filled as people clamoured to find out more about this secret history which had been uncovered. Richard and Rebecca’s talk featured a series of images and audio clips, some from Joan herself (including those above), sharing their stories and experiences of working in the projection box and fighting against the attitudes which were prohibiting them from entering the space. Richard led a question and answer session which invited audience members to speak about their own experiences, to find out more about the research, and to hear more from Joan and Bill themselves. This event and research has been audience-led with Richard and Rebecca shaping their research hypothesis around discovering the stories their audience wanted to hear. It has allowed them to question and reveal an otherwise unreported history.
Flatpack Film Festival is currently in production for their 12th event is 2018. Keep up to date with developments on their website, and if you'd like to present your research at the festival you can contact the Public Engagement Team for advice and guidance on how best to do this.