Isobel Harrop is Storyhouse's Cinema Assistant and their former Young Programmer. As part of Film Feels Curious, she has programmed their My Forgotten Favourites programme - a season of cult and kitsch films from the late 90s and early 00s. Ahead of the season kicking off on Saturday 25 June, we asked her to write about the inspiration behind the programme and the role that curiosity has played in the season's curation, her personal cinema journey, and during the pandemic.
Curiosity has always been an important part of my relationship with film. When I went to university to study English, the biggest lesson I learned was that I did not particularly like reading. What I DID love about studying was moving to a new city, with new sights and new experiences. One of these was access to independent cinema. It was like a whole new world was opened up to me. When I discovered the diversity of choice, I started going regularly to my local cinema, seeing all kinds of films from around the world. It was so different to what I had been able to experience in my hometown, where I had to travel half an hour by train to go anywhere other than the multiplex on the retail park. When I graduated and moved back home, I got a job in that multiplex. I used my pass to get into any and every film I had access to. Sometimes I saw two or three films in an afternoon. I ate up whatever I could.
It was during this period that I discovered film programming. I sought out opportunities to work in cinema and tried my hand at all sorts. I had become aware of film programming through a friend and, on one session of late-night research, I caught the deadline to apply for Storyhouse Young Programmers, a programming scheme at the cinema where I now work. It felt like fate, and through those sessions I learned a lot. I found it fascinating; though I was still a baby cinephile, I wanted to share my passion with others. When it was over, I was lucky enough to get a place in a Masters course in Film Programming. It gave me the freedom to embrace my curiosity, watch new things, and learn about film practically every single day, an activity that I had previously had to squeeze around my university reading and part time work.
Unfortunately, halfway through the course, Covid hit and everything ground to a halt. Forced to move back home and into online learning, it was incredibly hard to retain my enthusiasm for... anything. Between hours of video games and government-approved walks, I felt my curiosity dampen. I couldn’t sit and concentrate; films began to feel like a chore. I seriously wondered if I followed the right path; had lockdown literally killed my cinephilia? Would I do nothing but play Animal Crossing for the rest of my life?
As I tried to pull myself out of my stupor, I started watching a lot more American, English-language films. "Easy” stuff; 90s teen movies and rom coms galore. They seemed to awaken something in my brain that the pandemic had put into hibernation. Starting with old favourite “comfort movies”, like Josie and the Pussycats (screening in My Forgotten Favourites), I followed the trails of actors and directors I liked, making new-to-me cult discoveries to satisfy this new cinematic craving. Through this, I started to enjoy watching films again.
Since lockdown ended, as my mind has begun to heal, I have re-entered the brilliant world of arthouse films and international cinema, which is very important to me. However, I will always be grateful for the rabbit hole of cult 90s and 00s teen movies that my curiosity took me down back in 2021, because it helped me to ease myself back into my love for cinema, and in the end provided the inspiration for the film season I had the opportunity to programme for Film Feels Curious. I hope audiences will love these films as much as I do. Ironically, a lot of the work on programming this season took place whilst I actually had Covid myself. Though, of course, it was anxiety inducing to have it, I had the most wonderful week in terms of film. I stayed in my room watching as much as I could, whilst also working on the initial ideas for this project. My journey finally came full circle, and I emerged from the other side with my passion for film burning bright again, ready to take on more opportunities for a future of film programming like this one.
To anyone else who also felt this way in 2020, my advice is to find your unique path for yourself. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy film, and whether you find yourself only wanting to watch anime or nature documentaries or the filmography of Adam Sandler – explore it, because that is where you will find joy, discovery, and treasure!
My Forgotten Favourites runs until 24th July. Explore the full programme here.