FOMI: “It’s like being pregnant with a child”, an interview with Thomas Caulton

Emma Davis interviews Festival of the Moving Image 2019’s producer Thomas Caulton.

There hasn’t been a Festival of the Moving Image (FOMI) since 2016, but producer Thomas Caulton has spent the past year resurrecting it. He’s come a long way from the humble weekly Monday screenings. So, I sat down with Tom (on a lovely empty day in the Student Centre) to learn about what the festival is about, what it takes for students to put it together and how essential IMDB Pro is.

But what makes FOMI worth it for an audience? “The fact that it’s really easy to just come along, watch these big well-known classics. It’s a nice opportunity for students to see things on the big screens that you may not get a chance to see again,” Thomas says. He emphasises how accessible they have attempted to make it, with his passion for the titles evident in his voice. “I think with film societies, people often worry that it will be quite niche or quite indie or whatever. These films have come and gone, you can watch them on your phone or you can watch them at the theatre. We know that cinema, like the cinema institution, is dying with the rise of Netflix and streaming. But, it’s really nice to be able to go to a theatre and to watch a film.”

There Will Be Blood (2007)

The Festival of the Moving Image 2019 presents five films and a short film festival taking place 30th May to 1st June. This year’s theme is ‘UNDERGROUND AND KEPT FAR DOWN’. Pitched by its director Hassan Sherif, he wrote that, “The theme opened doors to different dark and dynamic cinematic styles. For instance, the immediate intensity of There Will Be Blood (2008), often set literally underground, uses realism in its contrast between the below and above to capture the deteriorating mental state of our antihero. While steering away from realism with a more obviously fantastical and hellish environment, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), just like There Will Be Blood, still maintains an association of the underground with a nightmarish environment.” Other feature films on the programme include City of God (2002), You Were Never Really Here (2017) and Mike Leigh’s latest Peterloo with the director-screenwriter’s Q&A.

Bringing Mike Leigh himself to the Bloomsbury Theatre — how did the team pull that bit of networking off? “IMDB Pro. We used IMDB Pro.” Thomas is dead serious. “You get the free trial with your email, and make sure you cancel it before the end of the month.” For the year’s work the FOMI team have done, they otherwise would have had to pay $149 USD for the service. They had a massive document with London-based film industry professionals, ready to contact every position and connection. “It just takes a lot of perseverance and usually, they will be relatively receptive. You just have to talk a lot. Make it seem like they wanna come, and they should. It’s a great event.” This does not sound easy. “And obviously, you get lots of people who are interested but they’re busy people. Those are for next year I’ve got them under my belt. I’m very excited for the prospect of next year’s FOMI.”

And often, Tom highlights, “They’re just generous with their time.”

Mike Leigh on the set of Peterloo (2018)

What would Tom’s personal choice be, without budgetary or industry constraints, his dream guests? “Darren Aronofsky, a director I love. He’d be really interesting. Cate Blanchett is very eloquent and she’s great on stage, saw her recently. There’s so many people I would have!” Even with these fanciful notions, Thomas is still thinking about what would serve university students and fulfil the festival’s appeal. “There’s so many options and people that could come along who would be interesting, just talking to students.”

Getting people to come speak at the festival was the biggest worry. “That was a long long lengthy process. The fact that we had two by the end, was great!” Thomas emphasises. This was before Steven Knight’s unfortunate cancelling due to scheduling conflicts. There is some wisdom in the madness of the FOMI’s team efforts – interacting with the film industry can be intimidating. Despite the UCL Film Society’s prestigious history and alumni, the good reputation of UCL and the West End accredited Bloomsbury Theatre, there was still a lot of work required. “If you can craft a good email. It’s essential. Being able to speak eloquently, especially on the phone. If you can sound professional, if you can talk. I talk and non-stop. Then they’re more likely to take you seriously, and you can have a sort of tone or almost even bluff that you’re being professional.”

City of God (2002)

Thomas also has no qualms about how much their team has been through this past year. “Considering the hitches, which have been few and far between, it’s gone quite smoothly.” He has spent most of this interview praising his team. “We just had myself and Hassan, the director. That was it at the start.” His position on this year’s committee was super useful for recruiting. His fellow Screenings Producer, Amelia Christofis, was brought on quickly to compile and organise the short film festival, the last treat of the festival with submissions from university students. “It’s good for people who have made a film: to be proud of it, and to see it on a big screen in a theatre setting, which may not come around everyday for a student filmmaker.”

Through her, Tom met Maria Düster. “I was at a FemFilm meeting — just happened to be there, as a man — and Maria was there. She’s been great at marketing and doing an amazing job since.” She was joined by committee members Xinyi Wang (Blog & Podcast Editor in Chief) and Sebastian Van Der Ree (Marketing & Communications). And of course, he has immense gratitude for the ongoing support of this year’s President and Treasurer. “Money has always been the toughest,” says Thomas, but Misan Aviomoh and Demi Hao were always around.

Festival of the Moving Image 2019 will take place from May 30th to June 1st. Buy your tickets now on The Bloomsbury’s website! Each screening is only £3. Book for all screenings and pay only £10 at the checkout.

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