Ballymena Goes Hollywood With Film@theBraid

Tim Burden, the man behind the projector, on Iron Man, cinematic ambience and Barry Norman coming to visit

Film@theBraid is hosting Barry Norman in Ballymena on April 12 for a talk and a screening of Dirty Harry on April 12. How did this all come together?

Barry first visited Ballymena in October 2010 with his daughter, Samantha. They presented a quiz night, which went down a storm. His Favourite Films event has been touring the UK and Ireland since last year, so the Ballymena Arts Partnership – which runs Film@theBraid – thought it would be a perfect event to host in the beautiful main auditorium at the Braid Arts Centre, coupled with a film screening.

Throughout the show – in which Barry talks about his favourite films, along with delivering some fascinating anecdotes and insights into the movie business. Barry will be opening up questions to the audience, so it will be a very relaxed and conversational evening. He really is a true gentleman and very down to earth.

How long have you been running Film@theBraid, and who else is involved?

We’re exactly one year old. Ballymena Borough Council asked me to be part of a new Arts Partnership in 2010, and one of the key objectives was to increase footfall into the Braid Arts Centre and simply highlight what a superb venue it is. Because of my passion for film, experience in leisure management and industry contacts through my radio show, I seemed to be the obvious choice to form a specialist cinema in the Braid’s studio theatre. It seats approximately 70 guests at full capacity, so it’s a cosy and intimate environment.

I invited two like-minded professionals, Gary Sullivan and Paul Chapman, to be part of the initiative last summer. They’ve been crucial in helping give Film@theBraid its brand identity and social network status. Gary works for the BBC and has designed our superb posters and logos, as well as coordinating our contacts database. Paul runs his own business, but also comes from a cinema management background, which has proved helpful.

Have you encountered many wrinkles along the way?

Fortunately not, other than some very minor tech glitches. Our equipment is all digital, and between the three of us we look after the technical side of things. Ambience is key, so we do our best to ensure that the music playing in the screen is appropriate, have the lights dim at just the right time and never usher guests out of the screen before the end credits have finished.

I always find it unsightly seeing cinema staff with brushes and bin bags waiting in the screen for you to leave. I’m not a grumpy old man; I just consider a cinema auditorium an almost sacred ground that needs to be respected more these days.

Beyond the Barry Norman event, you are showing Les Choristes on April 28, Grosse Pointe Blank on May 31 and Kes on June 28. With just one screening per month, how do you decide what to show?

We schedule six months in advance. We pick one film each, and then decide the remaining three based on either calendar, festival or other films being released that we think would run parallel. The intention is to try to make the overall presentation an authentic cinema experience, one that we would have experienced during the glory days of cinema – a short film, a cartoon and a video intro from either a director, producer or film historian, similar to what you might find on a special edition Blu-ray or DVD. I, Gary or Paul always like to introduce the film with a little background about the production, coupled with our thoughts.

I imagine competing with the multiplexes is not your aim, but do you find today’s cinemagoers have a disheartening fixation on big-budget Hollywood fare, or is there still an appetite in Northern Ireland for smaller, more offbeat films?

I’m not a film snob. The big Hollywood crowd-pleasers have their place and can be fun, adrenaline-pumping experiences if they’re done right. We like to highlight seminal films, though, especially influential ones. I think the recent success of The Artist and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris proves that many can appreciate something a little different. Sometimes audiences are underestimated. We appeal to the film enthusiast, folks who are looking for a night out with a difference and sometimes families.

As well as running Film@theBraid and your DJ gig with Q Radio, you also do voiceover work – where are we likely to have heard your dulcet tones?

Mainly overseas, as it happens! If you’re ever around Verona in Italy and decide to do the touristy thing, you’ll hear me being your English tour guide. The RNLI use me for their training videos, and I also do many medically themed projects – featuring some almost unpronounceable words! McDonald’s hired me for their Australian McCafé campaign, and Hilton Hotels asked me to voice a corporate video for them a few years ago. More locally you’ll hear me in Ballymena’s Fairhill Centre, Derry’s Foyleside and Belfast’s Victoria Square, telling you where and how to get to the toilet!

It’s great fun, and something I have wanted to do since I was a kid. As my father played French horn for many radio, film and TV ads, I paid attention to the overall sound structure of those media platforms from an early age. He played on the James Bond films up until 1979, as well as many other classic movies. He wrote and played the famous horn passage in the Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. His instrument was the French horn – mine is the voice.

You’re also something of an authority on film music. How would you sum up the role of music in film, and to illustrate this can you name one bad film that is made watchable by having good music and one great film that is ruined by bad music?

The Swarm is an atrocious film, only made barely watchable thanks to Jerry Goldsmith’s exciting music. To the other extreme, I love Iron Man, but the music is so poor. Sadly, Hollywood is often afraid of strong thematic music, and Iron Man suffered from an utterly nondescript score that didn’t have any musical identity.

Tell us about your involvement in the Braid’s upcoming Arts Partnership showcase day.

We are very excited to stage this day of various artistic spectrums on Saturday April 14 from 2pm. We’ll start the day with rehearsed readings for local budding thespians, then at 6.30 we’ll show the Coen Brothers’ superb O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Braid Comedy Club will take the reigns between 8.30 and 9, before the Northern Ireland premiere performance from alternative country band My Darling Clementine. There are still some tickets available from the Braid box office.

…And how about your work with Cinemagic?

I love what Cinemagic is all about, educating young minds with all that film involves. When I was manager at the Warner Village cinema at the Odyssey – which seems like a lifetime ago now – they were very keen to base their annual festival with us, so I’ve been working with them in one way or another now since 2001. A few years ago they asked me to coordinate and run their film music workshop for secondary schools, and it’s been a real thrill to showcase the highly skilled craft of placing music to film for young eyes and ears, with some of the film industry’s finest musicians.

Famously, Ballymena is the home of Liam Neeson – but is there much upcoming acting talent in the town?

There has always been a very strong thread of talent, no less with the many drama societies in and around the town, namely the Slemish Players, Liam’s original drama society before progressing to Belfast’s Lyric. I used to act with them – not very well I might add – so in later years I was their music director and found that far more enjoyable. There are also some terrific local bands and dancers from the town, so Ballymena and its many rural surroundings have plenty of talent for sure.

Finally, if you had to name a film that best captures the character of Ballymena what would it be?

What a brilliant question! I would have to say a lovely little film called The Station Agent. It possesses this wonderful, quirky charm with humour, intelligence and emotion. With a minimum of dialogue, it conveys a great deal of wisdom regarding the human condition. There are some parallels between its remote, rural US location and Ballymena and its overall friendliness and individuality.

Barry Norman’s Favourite Films and Dirty Harry screening take place at the Braid Arts Centre, Ballymena, on April 12 from 6.30pm.