One of the smallest, neatest and best-packaged film festivals is all set to celebrate one of the industry’s most influential giants.

Around the country at large, the names of Flatpack and Oscar Deutsch might not mean as much as they deserve to.

But when David fetes the Goliath behind the Odeon cinema chain in Birmingham next week, it will be a reflection of all that has been good about going to the movies in the city and beyond for the past 80 years.

Although today’s film exhibition industry might be dominated by the giant multiplex brands and new-fangled 3D hits like Avatar, the fourth Flatpack Festival in Birmingham will again seek to tap into the Zeitgeist that will always exist amongst true movie lovers for things that are smaller, different and/or more personal.

Director Ian Francis says the festival’s ethos is to present work in an eclectic array of unexpected spaces and places.

The communal experience of watching great work that might otherwise never be seen adds to the excitement.

“The idea is to place exciting new work alongside cult classics and archive gems,” says Ian.

“And to create a real sense of occasion by using unusual venues and combining film with other artforms.

“We get the odd call from people wondering if we’re a furniture festival, but the idea behind the name was to suggest it was portable and could spring up anywhere.

“We don’t want people to think they can’t take part because they haven’t got a full industry pass.

“We’re a non-profit making organisation and the way we structure the festival means we’re definitely making hard work for ourselves, but our role is to try things out – we’re never going to be a big moneyspinner.”

Last year’s event attracted almost 5,000 visitors – with some travelling from places as far afield as Manchester, London, Bristol and Scotland.

There’s a target of 7,000 for this year, with a renewed emphasis on going outdoors already planned for next year.

The organisation’s approach is partly inspired by the early years of cinema, when film-shows could be found on fairgrounds, in empty shop units and town halls.

The 2009 festival paid tribute to Birmingham’s pioneering film showman Waller Jeffs, while Birmingham-born Oscar Deutsch, founder of the Odeon cinema chain, is this year’s ‘patron saint’.

Ian says: “Oscar quickly developed a reputation for being shrewd and persuasive in getting capital projects off the ground. Movie-going had become the national pastime, with close to a billion admissions annually in the UK, and a good proportion of this audience could be found in the suburbs where Odeons were often being built alongside swathes of new housing.

“Oscar Deutsch managed to balance commercial sense with an attention to detail and a sense of drama – not least in the design of his buildings.”

As part of this year’s festival, film lovers can take a bus through north Birmingham with Birmingham Post historian Chris Upton providing a guided tour of three landmark Odeon cinemas.

It will leave the Electric Cinema – Britain’s oldest working cinema which celebrated its centenary at the end of December – at 10.30am on Saturday, March 27, returning to the Electric at 2.30pm. Price: £6 (plus 50p transaction fee).

* The Flatpack Festival runs from March 23-28 at venues all around the city.

Tickets cost £6 each or £20 for four screenings.

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