You programme the Movie Bar at the Ulster Hall. How did you get involved with Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey?
I saw that they were screening Tokyo Story, which is a fantastic film, and thought I’d offer a hand, as I know how time-consuming a film programme can be. We came up with an ideology for film at the venue, and have been working together on it since.
All the September Film Festival films have origins in another art form. So the idea was whether it was photography, literature or animation, it would be a programme that wouldn’t look out of place alongside the other events taking place within the theatre.
Did you have any considerations about tailoring the programme to a different kind of potential audience?
I think it’s a lot more conservative reflection of my own tastes – there wasn’t really any point putting on a night of Jesus Franco films if they were going to cost a fortune and nobody would turn up. So, it was a case of putting on things that people might be tempted to go and see, and if the response was positive to try to push the boundaries a bit.
The festival launches with 'George Lucas Day', including the acclaimed documentary The People vs George Lucas? Is this a Northern Ireland premiere?
Yeah, to the best of my knowledge. I’ve been talking to the producers since March 2010, and they’ve been brilliant. They never took my emails as me pestering them – they always took it as eagerness to show their film. Not enough stuff like this makes it to Northern Ireland.
Where do you stand on Lucas’s work? Do you, like many others, wish he would make a smaller, more personal film? And what are your thoughts on the Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
I actually asked Lucasfilm to pick the two Lucas movies for the festival, but they politely ignored me. I don’t know if he has a small and personal film in him anymore. He’s amassed such a huge fortune over the years that he’s almost cut himself off from the film-making world.
I think the Star Wars prequels have really devalued that whole universe. The second you start deconstructing a character like Darth Vader you lose that awe. It’s a shame, as he’s a striking figure from my childhood, but now he’s just Hayden Christensen and Hayden doesn’t scare me. I almost cried at the latest Indiana Jones – it actually upset me how bad it was.
You’re showing the good and the bad of Lucas’s work at the festival – Raiders of the Lost Ark and Howard the Duck. Are you hoping that notorious turkey Howard can be re-evaluated?
I haven’t actually seen it since my early teens, and I think when I watch it again it’s going to be a completely different movie. It’s in there because Lucas tried to disown the film after it was made. I remember David Lynch saying once that his films are like his children and he loves them all, so the idea of Lucas trying to disown one of his children made me laugh.
Another highlight of the festival is Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera, with a live pianist. In your experience, do modern audiences respond to this kind of dual format?
I remember seeing a live performance of the Nosferatu score at Queen's Film Theatre a while back, and the effect it had stayed with me. I think it’s something that, with the right film, will always draw a crowd.
Macbeth adaptation Mickey B, meanwhile, was shot inside Maghaberry Prison, and stars actual inmates. Are you looking forward to seeing this Northern Ireland film, and are you expecting any of the cast along on the night?
Shakespeare is and always will be universal. The key elements are present inside every person, and it’s why there are adaptations in every country in the world. Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well is a perfect example, and if Mickey B is half as good then it’ll be a real achievement. It would be cool to have some of the cast there – I’m baking a cake with a file in it as we speak.
You have said in the past that Don’t Look Now – showing as part of your Thriller Mystery Day, alongside Hitchcock’s Rebecca – is one of your personal favourite films. Are you hoping the festival might introduce this Donald Sutherland classic to new fans?
Films like Don’t Look Now and Rebecca have that quality most films strive for: re-watchability. I’ve seen Don’t Look Now 100 times, easily, and I always find something new and thought-provoking in it. It’s truly cinema as an art form. I think most people will have seen the film before, but hopefully they’ll bring a newbie along who’ll see it for the first time and we can all be jealous of them.
The festival closes with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. What are your thoughts about the imminent US remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
It’s in safe hands, to be honest. David Fincher is one of the true American auteurs remaining. I love watching foreign titles, it’s the closest thing there is to travelling with a guide, as you get to experience another world through the eyes of a local. On the other hand, it didn’t do the Western any harm when Sergio Leone decided to make a very American genre his own way.
And finally – will you be attending every screening at the festival?
I wish I could say yes, but with working the occasional evening, not driving and having a pug that requires feeding and walking, I will miss the odd one. I’m definitely going to try and get up to as many as possible, though I only really enjoy festivals that I've programmed once they’re over without incident and I can look back!
Theatre at the Mill’s September Film Festival runs from September 18 – 24. Browse the programme here.