Award of Excellence – “1814 Frost Fair” (UK)

Title: 1814 Frost Fair
Runtime: 4 min
Country: UK
Director: Julia Fullerton-Batten
Placement: Award of Excellence
Competition: March 31, 2020

Synopsis: During the Little Ice Age of the 17th to early 19th centuries the River Thames completely froze over on eight occasions and London witnessed a series of historic spectacles – The Frost Fairs.

In 1814, thousands flocked onto the thick ice to witness and enjoy an impromptu mix of festival, circus, and street show. Tents were erected and makeshift markets quickly emerged as innkeepers and tradespeople eagerly made the most of this temporary frozen wonder.

A new bridge replaced the narrow arched Old London Bridge in 1831 and the faster water flow stopped the Thames ever freezing over again. The 1814 Frost Fair was the last of its kind.

FILMMAKER Q&A – Julia Fullerton-Batten – Director

GS: What was the inspiration for your film?

JF: I wanted to recreate history and sense the atmosphere of what it must of been like on the frozen river Thames….

Temperatures plunged across the western world in the 17th and 19th centuries: the Little Ice Age. In London during the coldest winters the Thames would freeze solid, and on seven occasions between 1608 and 1814 the city witnessed the historic spectacle of the Frost Fairs.

All London flowed out onto the unflowing river in 1814. 

Tents were erected and makeshift markets quickly emerged, as innkeepers and tradespeople eagerly made the most out of this temporary wonder. Thousands ventured onto the ice to witness the event and be part of this impromptu festival. Rich mixed with poor, people gorged themselves on meat roasted on open fires and whilst the pickpockets and prostitutes made what they could in the shadows the crowds were mesmerised by this mix of festival, circus, street show & brothel. They soaked it all up and were dumbfounded when an African elephant was led across the ice.

Frost Fair 1814 is a guided tour through the last and greatest of the Frost Fairs. The Thames is deeper now,  and no longer slowed by the many arches of the old London Bridge: it will not freeze again. This is a vivid glimpse of a spectacular London moment otherwise lost to the past.

GS: When did you conceive the idea for your film and how long did it take before it was realized?

JF: I am mainly a photographer and have been working on recreating historical histories along the River Thames over the last 3 years. I always wanted to create the last festival on the frozen ice in 1814.

As it is a self funded project it took me months to put it all together. We hired a huge drive in studio and erected the tents, many props had to be brought in as well as the correct style of vintage clothing. We had about 50 actors on set, 5 hair and make up people, 4 prop stylists and many people setting up lights, etc.

GS: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a short film format?

JF: The most challenging aspect was that I never directed a film at all. I learnt a lot about story boarding and it was only in the last minute decided to record sound, which I am so glad I did. 

GS: What was the most challenging aspect of your production?

JF: Everything. It was a huge set up with 95 people on set.

GS: Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?

JF: Go for it but preparation is everything!