My Cultural Life: Susan Picken

Manager of Belfast’s independent cinema Queen’s Film Theatre on why Ciaran Hinds is lovely, Jim Jarmusch is cool, and Mowgli broke her heart

When did you fall in love with the silver screen?
It’s hard to say. I’ve always loved going to the cinema. My earliest defined memory is of seeing the Jungle Book in the cinema and of bawling my eyes out when Mowgli went off with the girl at the end. I think the first film that really blew me away and made me want to learn more was David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and that would have been at QFT.

Given that the QFT often shows mainstream films, is there a need for the little independent cinema at all?
There are far too many cinema screens in Belfast but I think that this makes QFT even more important because without it people wouldn’t have a chance to see anything apart from the blockbusters that are on offer in the multiplexes. QFT shows almost 500 films a year and more than half are exclusives. That’s a lot of films that people wouldn’t otherwise see. QFT is about more than just film screenings - we have talks, discussions, retrospectives, education events and festivals on a regular basis. You wouldn’t get any of that from a multiplex.

What has QFT got in store for this summer?
It’s a real bumper time coming up for us with Coco before Chanel, the new (and very controversial) Lars von Trier film Antichrist, and the new film from Pedro Almodovar, Broken Embraces. It’s looking like a great summer.

Do you find the general public still think subtitled films must be dull or pretentious?
There have been so many breakthrough films over the last few years (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) that I think people are a lot more open minded. I also think that people are a lot more used to getting information from lots of different sources simultaneously now so reading subtitles is a lot less daunting that it used to be.

You lived and worked in London for 20 years before returning to Belfast. Do you miss it?

I originally only intended to live there for 6 months or so but ended up staying for a very long time. I love London and always will but it does get a bit exhausting after a while. Managing QFT is a bit of a dream job though, so when it came up the opportunity was too good to ignore. I really didn’t expect to get it, to be honest, so I was very chuffed when I did. Needless to say my mum was over the moon.

Do you have a favourite director or screenwriter?
The eternal question... I have a long list of people including Powell, Shane Meadows, Fassbinder, Altman and Hitchcock - it really does depend on what mood I’m in. If I really had to choose though I would probably say Jim Jarmusch. He’s so darn cool and Down by Law is wonderful. Horror films are my guilty pleasure.

Apart from enjoying the delights of cinema, what cultural activities do you indulge in during your down time?
As an ex pat returning to Belfast quite a large part of my time has been spent re-acquainting myself with the city, so I’ve been spending a lot of time walking and exploring. I really like the Ormeau Baths Gallery and the Golden Thread Gallery. I also love a good festival so the Belfast Film Festival and Cathedral Quarter Festival are highpoints of the year and I love the Black Box. Bill Bailey’s Tinselworm show was one of the best things I have been to for ages. Apart from that it’s the usual really: reading, gigs...

What cultural event are you most looking forward to in the months ahead?
I’m just off to the Edinburgh Film Festival, which I am really looking forward to and also seeing Eddie Izzard later in the year.

If you could have three cultural figures from throughout history round for dinner, who would they be and why?
Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker and Lord Byron. Imagine that conversation!

If you could have created any work of art in any discipline from throughout history, what would it be and why?
I would love to have been around making films during Andy Warhol’s factory period. It was such a vibrant time and anything seemed possible.

You made a short film a few years back, what was it like to see that side of the camera?
It was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done but it also was a fantastic experience. I love being on a film shoot; there is such a strong sense of community and shared purpose, especially on short films where everyone is doing it for love, not money.

Of all the celebrated actors and directors QFT has had through its doors who is your personal favourite?
Ciaran Hinds was here last year and was absolutely lovely. We didn’t want him to go! A lot of staff have very fond memories of Daniel Day Lewis when he was here.

If you could write your own epitaph in no more than 10 words, what would it be?
‘It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.’ I find it applies on a fairly regular basis!

Brendan Deeds

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