Birmingham’s Flatpack Festival to showcase Dorothy Towers Playlist

Catherine Muxworthy April 25, 2023

The Flatpack Festival, Birmingham – which runs from Tuesday, May 16 to Sunday, May 21 – will include a series of events entitled the Dorothy Towers Playlist which celebrates film and TV from the ’80s and ’90s that profiled mavericks, artists, musicians, and writers who dared to live outside pervading norms.

Programmed by artist and writer Sean Burns, the series will screen his film Dorothy Towers, which is the story of the legendary Clydesdale and Cleveland Towers, two residential blocks in the centre of Birmingham. Completed in 1971 as a social housing development and located adjacent to the city’s Gay Village, the towers’ proximity to the community means they have long been a haven for LGBTQ+ people. The film opens a space to reflect on the complex relationship between architecture, community, and memory.

This film will form part of the first event in Sean Burns’ Dorothy Towers Playlist series. House of Ghosts: Dorothy & Arena will be held at the Electric Cinema on Friday, May 19, 6 – 8pm. The event will screen Burns’ film Dorothy Towers, followed by Arena: Chelsea Hotel, a documentary from 1981 exploring the history of the storied New York hotel – expect a candid dinner between William S Burroughs and Andy Warhol in the same room where Arthur C Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.

“Though different,” explains the event’s description, “Dorothy and Chelsea Hotel attempt to engender the atmosphere of the respective buildings, invite us in, and provide a stage for the unique residents, past and present.”

On Saturday, May 20, A Very Discreet Opening will be the next event in Burns’ series. Held at the Mockingbird Cinema – Screen 1 from 7.15pm, this event features two films that capture the energetic 80s club scene.

Andy the Furniture Maker – A Very Discreet Opening

Andy the Furniture Maker is the real-life story of a volatile but charming boy who hustles his way into the high-art circles of Derek Jarman and Norman Rosenthal. He moves from a small fishing port to London, where he works as a rent boy, steals cars, drinks too much, and builds spectacular furniture from railway sleepers and disregarded fence posts. Watch it as a reminder of what good television documentaries were like, but also for the incredible soundtrack and haunting re-enactments in long-gone Earl’s Court gay dives.

Then, DJ and filmmaker Jeffrey Hinton will join Sean Burns to discuss and screen his film Scratch Bowery, a celebration of his life with artist Leigh Bowery. Hinton’s films offer an insight into hidden nightlife worlds with complicated and ongoing histories of queer visibility and liberation. For generations of London’s artists, designers, and club-goers, he continues to be a source of inspiration as well as a confidant, friend and constant.

Finally, the series finishes with Deeply Ordered Chaos, also held at the Mockingbird Cinema, from 1pm on Sunday, May 21.

Deeply Ordered Chaos

The event presents two films that profile the lives of exceptional artists, one nearing the end of his career and one at the beginning, each offering a glimpse into their community and thought processes, intercut with photographs and material related to their influential works.

Organisers say: “Who doesn’t want to watch Francis Bacon drink stiff Melvyn Bragg under the table? This is the most famous episode of The South Bank Show: Bacon ties Bragg in knots as the two reflect on his incredible career, culminating in Soho’s renowned drinking dens, surrounded by the hoi polloi. Watch one of the world’s greatest artists at his eccentric best.”

Homecoming: A Film About Ajamu follows the photographer Ajamu X in and around Brixton in the mid-’90s as he prepares for an exhibition in his hometown of Huddersfield – expect to see activist Michael Cadette and cultural theorist Stuart Hall.

All of the events curated by Sean Burns as part of his Dorothy Towers Playlist series are available to book online now, alongside a vast array of other offers.

The Flatpack Festival – now in its 17th year – will also feature a screening of the cult classic, Little Shop of Horrors, to celebrate Birmingham Botanical Gardens‘ collection of hungry carnivorous plants, and Beth Steventon-CrinksQueer Living: Wanna Get Into My Drawers?, an immersive look at queer living, chosen family and the stories that can be found on a bedside table, and much more.

Visit the website to see the full programme of events, and to book tickets.