Interview with our patron, Ben Batt

When Leigh Film Society patron Ben Batt appears on screen he is bringing to bear on his performances a lifelong love of film.

The Wigan actor has a string of TV and cinema credits and says the magic of movies is something that has been with him since childhood. He spoke of his education in film, starting with going to see movies aimed at children and then later exploring highlights of Hollywood with his dad.

Ben said: "I've always loved films. My earliest memories of cinema are going to see Disney films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King. I went with my mum and my little sister or with my auntie and my cousin.

"I remember we went to America, I think we had gone to Disneyland, and Jurassic Park had been released in the USA before it was out over here. It seemed like such a big deal at the time as it was released early. It was an amazing experience and my first idea of what cinema could do and its visual impact.

"I think it's a shame that now with Amazon and Netflix it's so easy to stay at home and watch films.

"I do try and go to the cinema when I can. There isn't a feeling like it, going into that room and then the lights going down and then the adverts and the trailers for films you didn't know were coming out and are brand new. When I was a bit older I then remember watching films with my dad.

He loved actors like Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro so when I was old enough we watched things like The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 and Goodfellas. He also introduced me to The Shawshank Redemption and Once Upon A Time In America."

Ben says many of those films, especially the 1970s classics, are still on his list of favourites today. However, over the years they have been joined by a diverse range of other gems, some appreciated by Ben for the filming style and others because they have fine performances from actors he particularly admires.

He said: "A film that comes to mind is Home Alone. I love watching it at Christmas. The music is brilliant, Macauley Culkin's performance is amazing as a boy and I've really fond memories of it.

"I also really like Sam Rockwell, he's always very honest. I really love The Way Way Back. If you're looking for a film for a sunny day then choose this. I also really enjoyed him in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. His performance was brilliant.

"I also still like the classics my dad showed me. What I like about the '70s films is they're not in a rush and don't mind not being a blockbuster. They're going to take the time to tell a good story properly and if it takes three hours then that's what they do."

As his dad introduced him to film so Ben is hoping to pass on his love of cinema in the future to his own son, who is now two. He said: "I love Pixar films, they're just so lovely, and I'm looking forward to the point where my son and I can sit down together and watch things like the first Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo."

As well as enjoying the glitz, glamour and grit of the best American cinema Ben is also keen on British works and in particular ensuring that the diversity of experiences today are faithfully recorded on screen. He says things are getting better but, if asked for what about the industry he would like to change, says there is still more to do to ensure anyone who might potentially have a talent cinema is able to explore it.

He said: "We are making small steps and we are now having those conversations about making cinema more accessible, but I think more has to be done.

"There are certain jobs, like being an astronaut, which some groups of people, particularly minorities, would feel there are too many obstacles in their path for them to pursue it.

"Thanks to things like the Leigh Film Society, people are seeing backgrounds don't mean you can't begin this journey.

"We live in a world now where you can pick up a camera, write a short story and go and film it.

"There are so many jobs in the film industry there's no reason for it feel like it's something anyone can't pursue. More of the walls need to be broken down."

Unsurprisingly, it's the possibility of attracting new people into film, and especially younger residents keen to develop their interests in cinema, that is one of the most exciting things about the Leigh Film Society for Ben, he spoke of his delight at being a patron and commended the volunteers' work.

He said: "I don't think there's anything more valuable than getting young people to experience different kinds of cinema, to allow access to it and to share it with like-minded people.

"I also think the work with the classic cinema club for older people is amazing. There are certain things in life that create conversations and community.

"Older people and young people can go and watch a film together and afterwards talk about it and get inspired. It brings us closer together.

"I couldn't be prouder to be involved and play even a small part in it."

Ben was speaking exclusively to Andrew Nowell for Leigh Film Society © 21st July 2018.

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