How She Ever Got Here: 10 years of Girls On Film

Hattie Pearson expounds on the roots, and future, of her ego-free party with 80s soundtrack, glitter and "a lot of nudity" ahead of its tenth birthday celebrations.

By Martin Guttridge Hewitt | August 16th '22

Mark our words — the UK’s spiralling economic crisis is likely to become a cultural catastrophe. Venues, from theatres to warehouse clubs, are still struggling to balance books following fraught years navigating lockdowns and pandemic fears, and now face another existential threat in the cost-of-living nightmare. An insidious force with the power to significantly impact already-unpredictable audience numbers.

But it’s not all bad news out there. Some parties are thriving in this confusing new age. Hattie Pearson’s brainchild, Girls On Film, is one case in point. Born amid Manchester’s Fresher’s Week in 2012 as a student night with 1980s soundtrack, it held things down in the Deaf Institute for years, and emerged from lockdown with a new home, Freight Island.

 

Girls On Film is a theatrical throw down focused on immersive fun

The address has seen things scale up, with more drag, go-go dancers, and theatrics, drafting acts such as Barbs and TikTok sensation Bailey J Mills. In July, Girls On Film made its long-awaited festival debut at Kendal Calling, with plans underway for many more next summer.

For now, though, the focus is on its biggest ever date, seizing the iconic Albert Hall for Halloween and the tenth birthday late-October. Highlights likely to include Katrina Leskanich, of Katrina and the Waves, Five Star’s Denise Pearson, a Glitterfication Station, and lip sync battles.

“It was a very flippant idea, really, starting out as a weekly student party, then it went to monthly,” Pearson explains. “Maybe that’s often the way with business ideas. You don’t really think them through, they just kind of happen. Next thing, it’s ten years old.

“There have been some mad moments over the years. We had Win Butler from Arcade Fire come down and play. The band were in town in 2018 for a show,” Pearson recalls. “The manager, or agent, emailed Deaf asking if there was any opportunity for a DJ slot. The promoter messaged me: ‘Do you mind if Win Butler comes and plays for an hour?’ I was like: ‘No, not at all!'”

Cue 150 or so dancers — a relatively quiet night for Girls On Film — being treated to an impromptu, unannounced set from a global star, during which he dropped a white label remix of The Human League’s classic, ‘Don’t You Want Me’. The track has since become one of Pearson’s unofficial anthems, regularly featuring in her mixes.

Ego-free and inclusive, Girls On Film welcomes all

A combination of pride and nostalgia are audible in Pearson’s voice as she continues with the memories. Whether that’s welcoming beloved Manchester bands to the booth — Lottery Winners, Slow Reader’s Club; giving Blossoms, pre-international success, guest list on a near-monthly basis, or booking the likes of Tim Burgess and All Saints’ Melanie Blatt.

“It’s amazing how the party has built over time. Now it’s at Freight it feels like there’s this new lease of life, bigger options… Having more budget to play with helps, I’m able to have more props, make it more of a show, more interactive,” says Pearson. “It’s never going to make me a millionaire, it’s a labour of love. And I’d be gutted to put it on the shelf – oh my god, I might actually start getting emotional thinking about that.”

Even in the best of times, anyone who understands nightlife can grasp the phenomenal accomplishment of keeping a party going for a decade. Not least when you’re running the show almost-solo. According to Pearson, success comes from creating an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. And establishing good connections with everyone from venue managers to bar staff, their support in turn helping stave off promoter fatigue.

Girls On Film founder Hattie Pearson with Arcade Fire's Win Butler

“Kat Warburton is the promoter for club nights at Albert Hall. When she started, she was at Deaf Institute, and we became friends and have known each other about seven years now,” Pearson says of how autumn’s grand birthday plans were hatched. “It was always a pipe dream to put Girls On Film in the Albert Hall. I spoke to her this year and was just like: ‘It’s our tenth birthday, let’s just fucking do it’.

“I mean, it’s going to be the biggest and best Girls On Film of all time,” she continues. “Halloween is always our biggest night. I’m not sure if it’s the crowd we have or what, but they go to town dressing up. And it’s anything goes — there’s always a lot of nudity at Girls On Film… We’ve had previous birthdays with cake handed out from the stage. Basically it’s just fun, so people know we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and they don’t have to take themselves too seriously. It’s a good place for good vibes. Everyone is welcome.”

Girls On Film celebrates its 10th Birthday with an 80s throwback horror party at Albert Hall on Friday 28th October. Advance tickets are available.