Dr James Fenwick’s funded research project to investigate the working experiences of Yorkshire’s film festival programmers

Dr James Fenwick

Dr James Fenwick, senior lecturer in the Department of Media Arts and Communication, has received £10,000 in research funding from the Screen Industries Growth Network (SIGN). His project will investigate the experiences of Yorkshire’s film festival programmers, the barriers and challenges they face to entering and maintaining a career in the sector, and the skills and training required to nurture the next generation of programmers.

Dr Fenwick will interview film festival programmers that have worked at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, the Leeds International Film Festival, and Sheffield DocFest for a documentary that will form the primary output of the project. The project, “Yorkshire’s film festival programmers: working conditions, skills, and the relationship to the region’s screen industries”, will aim to inform, impact, and support the growth of the wider screen industries in the Yorkshire region. The role of the programmer, and their importance to the festival circuit and broader screen industries, is often overlooked. But Yorkshire’s biggest festivals are significant contributors to the development and promotion of the region’s screen industries and are vital to Yorkshire’s economy. The festivals are integral to the respective cultural strategies of cities like Sheffield, York, and Leeds, viewed by some political and cultural stakeholders as a crucial means of generating economic growth, tourism, and employment. As such, understanding the role of the key cultural and industrial gatekeeper – the programmer – can contribute to strategies of growth and development, as well as lead to greater engagement and partnership between festivals and the broader screen industries. The project will also highlight issues of precarious labour and casual employment that are a feature of programming work in Yorkshire, and which are also concerns across the creative industries.

Dr Fenwick’s previous research has included journal articles on the early history of Sheffield DocFest for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (view here) and on the early history of Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema for the Screen journal (forthcoming in vol. 63, no. 2 summer 2022). He currently also supervises, along with Dr. Rinella Cere, the PhD project ‘A Critical Cultural History of the Sheffield International Documentary Festival’ in collaboration with Sheffield DocFest.