The new Hastings Film Festival wants to be the Cannes of the future

It will take place April 22-24 at St Mary in the Castle and the Electric Palace – an ambitious project, says founder James Rowlins.

“The festival celebrates local film talent – dozens of local filmmakers and films shot in Hastings – with a focus on the esoteric (i.e. horror films), for which St Mary’s is the perfect place.”

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james rowlin

Film festivals involve a certain kind of madness (logistics, etc.), but also magic – the magic of cinema. In short, I am a fan of independent cinema and crazy about film festivals!

“I discovered independent cinema as an undergraduate in Paris and then got a scholarship to study cinema at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Instead of attending lectures, however, I tended to skip to attend some of the myriad film festivals held each year in Los Angeles, which was a great kind of education.

“As a lecturer, I organized mini film festival competitions on campus, and these became local institutions. But I also aspired to make an impact in the real world or in the industry. I started the Brighton Rocks Film Festival five years ago. He started small but got stronger and stronger.

“I chose Brighton because it’s a real mecca for free-spirited creatives from all walks of life. It’s incredibly rewarding to give kids a platform – the filmmakers are often young or at least young at heart – and to share that buzz when they’re together and the thrill of seeing their work on the big screen.

“The festival showcases a wide range of indie talent, but mostly films that deviate from the mainstream by offering some sort of alternative way of seeing the world – whether it’s a different time/place or genre point of view, sexuality, race etc.

“I moved to Hastings three years ago and quickly started to create a sister event. The pandemic delayed it, unfortunately, but it also gave us the opportunity to carefully develop the identity of the festival.

“We decided that Hastings Rocks should focus on esoteric films in keeping with the history and heritage of the town (the infamous witches and ghosts, the Jack the Ripper connection, Aleister Crowley, faded gothic architecture , etc.), as well as films made by local film-makers and/or shot in Hastings.

“Our venues (St Mary in the Castle and the Electric Palace) have helped us a lot in getting the festival started, and in turn we hope to help them in their post-Covid restart.

“We want to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and watch something different from their usual weekend viewing – whether it’s an LGBTQIA+ documentary or an experimental horror film. Above all, we hope that local residents and visiting filmmakers will bond and be inspired by the films they see. We have filmmakers from Canada and the USA to present feature films (eg Camping Trip and Skagit on Friday 22nd April) so we hope they will be warmly welcomed by Hastings moviegoers.

“We also hope this will be the first of many annual festivals and that over time we will gain international recognition like Cannes, Berlin and Sundance. One day people will be talking about the winners of the Hastings Rocks Film Festival and this recognition will help independent filmmakers in a market where blockbusters – alas – still rule.

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