James Wren: film festival director

Estimated reading time:4 minutes, 39 seconds

Everyone has a story. From 23-29 April Islington could perhaps be mistaken for Cannes as the Unrestricted View Film Festival showcases documentaries, comedies and shorts at three local venues. Here film festival director James Wren introduces the 2018 line up. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill.

James Wren, film festival director at the Hen & Chickens pub on Highbury Corner. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

“There are so many artistic people around,” says James Wren in the comfy leather padded seat in the corner of the Hen & Chickens as actors stream out of the pub after a lunchtime drama class in the theatre upstairs. “It means people ‘get you’ and everything is very straightforward. Even the council are supportive, at least that’s what I’ve found,” he adds.

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James, who moved to Islington in 1988, is in some ways typical arts Islington. He’s a filmmaker who runs Unrestricted View Film Festivals, two, week-long, festivals, one in April (Multi-genre) and the other in the autumn (Horror), which he set up back in 2016.

Originally from Southampton, James studied at Mountview Drama school (currently in Wood Green), eventually settling in Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park. Since 1999 he’s run the resident theatre company upstairs at The Hen & Chickens, specialising in theatre and comedy. But in August he decamps to Edinburgh to produce one of those comedy shows that every festival goer talks about, Spank!, which runs from midnight until 3am. “During the festival there’s a different time zone,” he says realising that I’m not familiar with Edinburgh late night rituals…

But it’s films James loves when in Islington, which is why his film festival keeps getting bigger.


James Wren at the Hen & Chickens pub, the base for his Unrestricted View film festival in April and October. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Places James Wren likes in Islington

  • I’ve lived here in Islington since the late 1980s. There are so many good places – lovely bars and restaurants.
  • I go for gin and slimline tonic at the Four Sisters, 25 Canonbury Lane.
  • Gem restaurant, 265 Upper Street, does a fantastic buffet on Sundays. A group of friends do our birthdays there as the kleftico is lovely and there’s an all you can drink deal. It’s a bit dangerous.
  • Maison d’Etre is where I go for Americano. Kim, who runs it, is lovely.
  • We’ve been at the Hen & Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road, since 2016. It’s a great pub and I’m often upstairs or in the bar. The landlady loves dogs and George Orwell once gave a talk here. I also like the Alwyne Castle, 83 St Paul’s Road.


James Wren: “There are so many artistic people around Islington.” (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

2018 film festival
This year Unrestricted View will be showcasing films at the Screen on the Green, including the opening night, and also in a 1960s vintage mobile cinema, which will be parked at The Alwyne Castle. As ever there will also be a full programme, including the awards, at the Hen & Chickens Theatre. James’ recommendations for Islington Faces include Pickups, starring Aidan Gillen; Wander About Me, a narrative feature from Iran and Hippopotamus directed by Edward Palmer and the amazing shorts. I think F**k it, it’s over, a doc by Hardeep Giani focussing on Soho looks good too. Book on line so you can be sure to get tickets, here.

James uses Islington as a backdrop for his own films too. “I’ve done three features which have all had sections filmed here, in the Hen & Chickens,” he says admitting that he’s currently scouring Cannonbury for a perfect alleyway to use in his current production, Noir-Man. And then he tells me the plot, which sounds fabulous.

In the autumn, Unrestricted View runs a special horror film festival too (29 Oct-4 Nov). “There’s a big horror community, with a very specific fan base who are really supportive of each other. They watch each other’s films and help each other out. It’s fantastic,” says a clearly impressed James.

Islington is so often in film – the big film trailers are regularly parked in Clerkenwell and there are spots to be had in Four Weddings & A Funeral, Suffragette, Prick Up Your Ears, The Wee Man, to name a few – so it would be good if today’s Islington film makers entered their films to the Unrestricted View film festival. James kindly humours this idea, promising that next film festival there will be a special category for films with an Islington link and Islington Faces can give the prize. Oh yes! Practically a perfect ending. See you at the movies.

  • Tickets and programme at Unrestrictedview.co.uk (book online)
  • Twitter @UViewFF
  • Unrestricted View film festival 23-29 April 2018
  • Unrestricted View horror film festival 29 October – 4 November 2018. Submissions via Film Freeway, Withoutabox (free for Islington filmmakers) @uvhorror @uviewff and uvff.co.uk

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola