“I was apprehensive about my first day in the office…I wondered if working in a cinema might be a bit like seeing how the sausage was made, and ruin attending ¡Viva! forevermore?!”
As someone who is quite obsessive about watching films and doing admin, I eagerly applied for the ¡Viva! 2020 Admin Assistant Internship on HOME’s job page in the autumn of 2019. Despite fears that I’d talked too much in my interview, my application was successful and I began working alongside Jessie, Rachel, Andy, and the rest of the Film Team at HOME to deliver the 26th ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival.
I was apprehensive about my first day in the office as, one, I hadn’t previously worked in an office (that wasn’t a call centre), and two, I wondered if working in a cinema might be a bit like seeing how the sausage was made, and ruin attending ¡Viva! forevermore?!
Admittedly, my first day brought with it the realisation that all my memorable cinema trips of the past three years had been orchestrated from within the walls of a – being honest – fairly average-looking open-plan office. However, spending more time in that office in the weeks leading up to the festival, I found myself in awe of the very orchestration, consideration, and teamwork that goes into running ¡Viva! and HOME in general.
As someone more creatively inclined (bad at maths), I’ve always focused my attention on the artistic and political qualities of film, letting the actual budgeting and financial procedures elude me. I was surprised then, to find myself in awe of Kat’s Excel spreadsheets during our finance induction. Though I had always considered PAYE and Purchase Order forms merely minute and annoying details before, I realised they are not just vital but fascinating.
I had the pleasure of working closely with Jessie Gibbs, ¡Viva! Festival Coordinator, who presented me with an expansive spreadsheet she has been compiling for the past year: the ¡Viva! Matrix. All the information about each film in the festival is well organised and stored, alongside written comments and evaluations from Jessie, and the other two members of the programming team, Rachel Hayward (Head of Film), and Professor Andy Willis (Professor of Film Studies at the University of Salford and HOME’s Senior Visiting Film Curator).
Their selection process began in February 2019; Rachel and Andy attended the Berlinale, in search of films that would work at ¡Viva!, as well as across HOME’s regular programme. Following this, Jessie made her annual trip to the San Sebastian International film Festival in September. Getting an insight into the decision-making process was invaluable for understanding how the role of programmer is influenced by a multitude of elements.
Jessie, Rachel and Andy make their decisions based primarily on the film’s artistic merit, and whether it is in line with ¡Viva!’s identity as a festival, as well as keeping an eye out for returning directors and actors. Other factors also contribute to this, such the screening fees each sales agent charges, the BFI’s yearly diversity requirements, which films are included in other UK film festivals, the international popularity of a film, and the success of similar films at previous editions of the festival.
“I […] had the (terrifying and fun) opportunity to speak on the HOME Film podcast with Rachel, Andy, and Jessie about the festival, and our favourite upcoming films.”
Ready to hit the ground running, I was pleasantly surprised in the lead-up to the festival during my weekly visit to the office; I was asked to watch films and write tweets about them. A deceptively simple task – translating my thoughts on the films into a suitable style, while trying not to disturb anyone with my frequent laughing and crying at Jessie’s wicked selection.
Rather than meetings, the Marketing and Communications team had ‘clusters’: conversations over cups of tea to discuss strategy. As an intern I had the privilege of waking up every day to automated sales reports, and with this data I decided which films to gently nudge @HOME_mcr Twitter followers towards. I also had the (terrifying and fun) opportunity to speak on the HOME Film podcast with Rachel, Andy, and Jessie about the festival, and our favourite upcoming films.
Following the weeks of preparation, as the festival launched my hours went up and my responsibilities encompassed guest liaison, event delivery, and audience feedback collation. At first, keeping track of the times, dates, and places that I had to be made me feel dizzy; I am dyspraxic (chronically clumsy) and have to pay extra attention to not mix things up or get overwhelmed.
“The […] more glamorous part of the job of guest liaison, was having dinner in HOME’s restaurant with the guests and festival team. Over pizzas and anecdotes I felt like I was being tricked, as this can’t count as work?”
My first festival task was to collect Belén Funes, director of opening night film La Hija de un ladrón from Manchester airport. Jessie took the train with me, bearing a ¡Viva! tote bag packed with welcome information for the lovely Belén, and lots of advice for me. After this first trip, I was to make the rest of the guest greeting trips solo. I then met David Romay (writer/director) and Marcela Ruiz (actor), husband and wife team responsible for the devastating and beautiful Detrás de la montaña. They were so kind and lovely, despite coming fresh off a long-haul flight from Mexico, and were still excited to chat and see what Manchester had to offer in the way of cinema and football.
The next, more glamorous part of the job of guest liaison, was having dinner in HOME’s restaurant with the guests and festival team. Over pizzas and anecdotes I felt like I was being tricked, as this can’t count as work? After dinner, Andy hosted an illuminating and entertaining Q&A with Marcela and David, as I stood by with a microphone and an eye on the clock for good timekeeping. Hearing David and Marcela’s thoughts about the film and their experience developing and filming it was so revealing – especially when in conversation with the consistently knowledgeable and thoughtful ¡Viva! audience.
The next arguably less glamorous part follows after each event; the feedback forms which audience members tirelessly fill out, I then tirelessly tally up and input to a massive spreadsheet. On the surface it’s dull, and at first daunting and monotonous, but as I plug in my music – which many have also described as daunting and monotonous – I really get into the swing. Reading through quickly scrawled opinions and identities, and converting them into statistics, was often a hilarious insight into both personal and trivial things people would otherwise spend more time thinking about and expressing.
Acquiring all this information is not only an important part of the evaluation process and a requirement from many of the festival funders, but also a fantastic sociological study of HOME’s audiences. Noting every enthusiastic tick in the ‘very good’ box cheered me up even more when the ‘no’ box had been ticked under question 6. Have you ever attended HOME before? I even noticed one regular who insists on ticking that he has visited in the last month and that he is a British man in his 70s, and then crosses out every other segment. Many reinterpret the ethnicity question and draw themselves an “EU Citizen” box, to then place a tick in.
“I am looking forward to pursuing more work in Film Festivals and Curation, and inviting more people into shared spaces to invest their time and emotion into valuable and overlooked stories.”
I have benefited so much from this entire experience, and thoroughly enjoyed working with, learning from, and getting to know both the HOME team and audiences. I am looking forward to pursuing more work in Film Festivals and Curation, and inviting more people into shared spaces to invest their time and emotion into valuable and overlooked stories. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic forced the building to close its doors on March 17th, cutting the festival short, I, and the rest of the team, thoroughly enjoyed and are grateful to have hit the half-way mark; we were able to share an excellent selection of screenings and events, and have some great conversations inspired by films which provoked a wide range of emotions. ¡Viva! is a longstanding and important event on the film festival calendar, both for Manchester residents and for film lovers much further afield, with this year firmly solidifying the value of watching a diverse wealth of Spanish and Latin American cinema, in the cosy seats of HOME cinema.
Be sure to keep an eye on the HOME website, and social media for more fun, and information on what we still have in store from ¡Viva! 2020.
Check out the full programme of Viva 2020 Revisited here.