Folk Routes

By Adam Pugh

In dark times, Norwich’s Aurora festival continues to offer illumination

With the façade of the early 21st century goldrush crumbling and lean times ahead, there is a need, perhaps more than ever before, to locate meaning; to find new ways of navigating and humanising our environment. As the grand social engineering project of the 2012 Olympics in London’s Stratford gathers pace and swallows up public funding, art has inevitably been the first to suffer. But art is, ironically, also the solution: it alone allows us to reclaim the wasteland.

In this situation, therefore, there is an opening for activities which are nimble and imaginative; intimate and, crucially, human, operating at a grassroots level. The role of the film festival has to adapt to face this. It will no longer be relevant or meaningful to predicate its activity on the aspirational model of ‘bigger is better’; on an economy informed only by volume which posits ever more audience and ever more films, regardless of which.

Moreover, there will no longer be a need to meet this perceived expectation. It will serve audience, filmmakers and the films themselves better if the festival reorganises itself on a human scale, appealing to a sense of community and congregation, making an intimacy of process and a particularity of vision its guiding principles. In particular, quite in opposition to the tenets of marketability and industry enshrined by funders, the role of the festival should be that of artists’ advocate — a fundamentally different view of ‘value’ but one which, in my view, should be unshakeable.

After all, is it really in this country’s interests to have created, in the next ten years or so, nothing but a bland soup of identikit, ‘on-message’ film festivals, all spewing out spurious ‘digital film’ programmes, sexy but empty ‘new media’ events and seminars about ‘IP’ and marketing, all clamouring for a slice of the elusive ‘industry’ cake? Is this really the way, in one of the awful conjugations beloved of those organisations, to ‘grow talent’? Surely this is not the measure of us as artists, curators or audiences.

With this in mind, at Aurora - the festival I direct - we intend to put our money where our mouth is. This year’s edition will be noticeably smaller in size, which in itself is heresy of a sort for festivals, instructed as they are to yield ever larger returns. And, rather than a sprawling event taking place across several screens, we will return to working with only one, compact main venue to create an intimate, focused gathering with a committed and involved audience; an event in which the borders which traditionally divide artist, commentator and audience member, even cinema, performance venue and social space, are effectively dissolved.

Mirroring the philosophy and structure of the event itself, which proposes a ‘folk’ community of sorts, the theme this year will look at the very idea of ‘folk’, from anthropological investigations, via myth, ritual and storytelling, to a continuing folk tradition in modern urban society. It’s not the way the festival will remain, necessarily, but is rather an experiment; an interstitial event; a chance to test our own theories and see whether the intimate and the grassroots are indeed one antidote to the increasingly disaffecting and alienating environment in which we find ourselves.

A longer version of this text appears in the current edition of Schnitt magazine.

Adam Pugh is Director of Aurora, the 2009 edition of which will take place from 13-15 November. Visit

Aurora’s excellent catalogues and dvd compilations are available from London’s Tate Modern, Liverpool’s FACT, many good stockists and of course