First Night Nerves - How We Select the Programme

A member of CFS's committee gives his impression of what it is like for the committee in the build up to the new season and the nerve-racking opening night

First Night Nerves

Quite rightly, our membership look forward to the opening of the season, heralding as it does a number of dark and cold Wednesday evenings where they can escape into a fantasy world and possibly exercise their brain cells in the company of a good film and other film aficionados.

We the committee on the other hand view it completely differently, as we worry if people will like our choices not only for the season but of this particular first film, by which they may judge all subsequent films.

There is good cause for such apprehension; we have as they say in the B movies, got form:

  • One year we tried to welcome people by showing a warm feel good film. ‘Too lightweight’ came back the response.
  • Another year we tried something more demanding, ‘Too depressing,’ they told us, ‘ease us in gently’ and so we tried for the much vaunted, but rarely found, middle ground.

To fully understand our angst perhaps I should take you back to the beginning:

The Film Selection

The committee meet in a large room in Chesham’s White Hill Centre and one’s first time can come as a bit of a shock. I had been told that this was the fun part of being on the committee which afterwards left me reviewing their definition of fun and mine of masochism.

We sit around a large table strewn with film reviews and summary information on most of the films on our list. That was my first surprise. I had assumed that the committee must look at 30 or so films and whittle this down to 15 or so. I recall thinking “How hard could that be?”

On the first page I counted 25 films and similarly on the following 5 pages. There were easily between 140 and 150 films faced by the committee numbering ten present at this meeting. This was going to be a long night.

The full list includes both films that the committee have recommended and films suggested by the members, the latter marked so that we can give them special consideration to try and ensure we reflect the views of our audience.

Initially the task is to fillet out any that are unsuitable. These would include those having already enjoyed a wide distribution, those already shown by the Elgiva as part of its regular programme and those recently shown on TV. Anyone on the committee can argue for some of these to be retained if they feel particularly strongly, but argue they must.

We next go through the remaining films, still probably over a hundred, to see how much we know about them including whether any committee members have seen any of the films on the list. Strong views for or against are given due weight and this can see films through to the next round or dismissed from further consideration. Having a committee from a wide range of ages and backgrounds ensure that an eclectic list of films is taken forward.

We now pick up the reviews scattered on the table discarding those films that have been universally panned.  Slowly the number of films is reduced, and at around 80 or 90 we are ready to begin casting our votes. Each committee member has 15 votes to cast across the list and much tutting and sucking of teeth is to be heard as we consider which films are must haves and which may be worth a punt.

One by one we deliver our verdict and at this point one gets an idea as to which committee members think like you and the possibility of forming an alliance begins to form. Electing a Pope has nothing on the Chiltern Film Society I can tell you.

Votes are added up and films with no votes are removed as are those with only one or two supporters; thise getting all 10 votes go straight through to the next round as the list dwindles. This process is repeated until we are down to our final 30 or so, each film having gained a minimum of 8 supporters.

We have by this point argued the relative merits and demerits of every film for the past 3 hours or so.

The thirty plus films are divided up amongst the committee and we are sent away to research our three films. When we meet again we will be able to speak authoritatively about the films and offer even more reviews and critiques.

A similar process is then used to get the list down to 17 to provide for the season and as spares in case we cannot find a distributor for any selected film.

Then we need to check if we have a reasonable balance of comedy and drama and a good spread across the globe. ‘Do we have too many French or Italian films?’ is the oft heard refrain.

Finally satisfied, we try to put the films in to a sensible order. Not too many comedies or dramas lumped together and of course what should we open with and what will close the season?

So what did you think?

A good opener or not?

At least now you know why we look so anxious as you leave the cinema.

We tried our best.

Honest.