In Conversation: Frank Gray 1980 – Present

In Conversation: Summary of interview

Interviewer: Christina Reading
Interviewee: Frank Gray
Date: Monday 19 April 2010.

Frank Gray Audio

Frank Gray is the Director of the Screen Archives South East. He started work in the Duke of York’s as an usher in about 1980-81, whilst he was a postgraduate Art History student at the University of Sussex. His relationship with the cinema continued when he started work at the University of Brighton as a part -time lecturer in Film Studies.

“As a lecturer I started teaching units on European and American cinema. I had the opportunity for the first time to design a programme at the Duke of York’s and to take responsibility for introducing each film. It was so terrific to give that opportunity to my students at the Art college because they could not only engage with the lectures, seminars and the 16mm film, but also there were these other films which they could see at the Duke of York’s.”

Frank acknowledges that they were different times;

“It reflects a cinema culture which had soft edges enough to accommodate that relationship, because I think we now live in tougher times, especially economically. For example today there is the special relationship between the cinema and Cine City, the Brighton Film Festival, which I co-direct with Tim Brown. But that is a formalised relationship and funding is part of it, i.e. the funding that we are able to bring to sustain it. What I am referring to 30 years ago was free of funding and was seen as part of the cultural work of the cinema. There was a – it sounds very blissful- you could actually put on funny Russian films with sub titles and be very happy to have an audience of 30-40 or sometimes less.”

Frank describes three distinct eras of the Brighton Film Festival; the first under Jim Hornsby between 1985-1994; the second between 1995-2001, in which Frank worked with the Director of the Brighton Festival Chris Barren to offer a annual film programme as part of Brighton Festival; and the  third led by Cine City which started in 2003.The Cine City Film Festival emerged as a result of an existing collaborative relationship between Tim Brown, the education officer at the Duke of York’s, and Frank Gray, to a decision by the new director not to continue to offer a film programme in the Brighton Festival.

“So Tim and I thought, well, we don’t want to stop this, so how do we continue it? So we spent about a year and half putting together a film festival which we called Cine City which started in 2003 and continues to this day.”

The current Cine City Film Festival is a 14 -16 day event held at the end of November. Funding from Brighton and Hove Council, The Regional Screen Agency and the Arts Council continues to enable the festival to offer a varied programme.

“We have done special programmes relating to national cinemas and also to particular cinema cities. For example, we did a Berlin season curated by Nick Cave. We also used the archives to show the special relationship to films made here in Brighton and Sussex. These many strands enable us to create what we think is a diverse and exciting programme.”

The early 1980s was an interesting time for the Duke of York’s. This was largely because it changed from a cinema showing mainly second and third run American films to an art house cinema. This change also reflected the growth of Brighton as a student town.

Frank also reflects on the changing role of the projectionist, drawing attention to the increasing challenges of this role .He highlights the theatrical history of the cinema.

“The interesting thing to reflect upon is that the demands placed upon the projectionist clearly are very different now than they were then. Not so much that there was less to do, but technically it was more refined. It was simpler, purely because you weren’t negotiating between film and digital. Now a single screening at Cine City might involve a 35mm digital projector and music from a CD. It might  also be introduced with a speaker, or have a Question and Answer session afterwards, for which there would be lighting to illuminate the speaker, so it’s more complicated,  its more theatrical, its theatrical history.  There is a theatrical relationship the cinema had with its whole history.”

Frank is an advocate for the expansion of the Duke of York’s;

“Clearly in this day and age, with so many different kinds of films which are being made, also for our understanding of the moving image, there are real limitations with what you can do with a single screen cinema, that why I am a great advocate and supporter of the Duke of York’s expansion into the Fire Station next door. When you look at successful cinema-techs around the world, the really interesting new cinemas are redeveloped cinema, for example, the Board Way in Nottingham or the Phoenix in Leicester.  These are multi-screen new builds which have a great deal of social space, and not just in terms of bar and foyers. The Phoenix in Leicester had a Silent Film Festival over the weekend, but they also have a large meeting room, an outdoor courtyard in which they hope to do summer screenings. These spaces really lend themselves to many different uses. The Duke of York’s has great ambition, but it can only do so much with that single screen. There are no  meetings rooms or education rooms, so of course you can imagine the relationship between the Duke of York’s and the University of Brighton is one in which if you saw it as a whole, you could see how the cultural stage we present here, during Cine City, could be used for the gallery etc. When you look across all of the activity you can see how they combine, which tells us how we would like to see the cultural cinema.”

Finally Frank’s favourite memory of the Duke of York’s;

“The one which I probably most treasure was organising for Sir John Mills to come to introduce Great Expectations. It was such a wonderful thing, because he was quite blind and I had to escort him everywhere, he was in his late 80’s. He was so easy to interview because he had all the spiel. He had just got off the QE2, where he had been interviewed a number of times so he told the same stories. That was in 1996 and that was part of a centenary of cinema programmes which we organised and he was the highlight.  He was there to tell his stories and then we showed Great Expectations there was a great sense of there he was, there he is, reflecting on working with David Lean.”

If you would like to listen to this interview please contact Christina Reading cr118

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