A look ahead to the Summer Nights film festival

Calke Abbey Photo: Graham Lucas Commons

Calke Abbey Photo: Graham Lucas Commons - Credit: Archant

A look at this year’s popular summer screenings

Calke Abbey Photo: Graham Lucas Commons

Calke Abbey Photo: Graham Lucas Commons - Credit: Archant

AFTER five years of outdoor film screenings the Summer Nights festival has proved a big hit with audiences in Derbyshire.

Its combination of big screen entertainment and spectacular locations has persuaded thousands of people each year to take to the great outdoors and enjoy a summer treat, whether that has been a spine-tingling chiller at Calke Abbey or a sing-along musical at Kedleston Hall.

Summer Nights, organised by Derby’s QUAD arts centre, has also expanded year-on-year, adding new venues and extra screening dates.

It’s now a national event, spanning the length and breadth of England, but still with Derbyshire at its heart.

The National Trust’s Calke Abbey, Kedleston Hall and Hardwick Hall have been firm favourites all along and for 2016 there is a new Derbyshire location – Eyam Hall.

Over in Nottinghamshire, Wollaton Hall has proven to be one of the biggest Summer Nights success stories and will this year host four consecutive nights of film screenings over the August Bank Holiday long weekend after sell-out performances in previous years.

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But the festival has also spread its wings and this year there will be two teams out on the road over the summer months taking in places as far apart as Nostell in Yorkshire and Sheffield Park in East Sussex.

For QUAD’s Adam Marsh that’s a sign that the Summer Nights festival is delivering what audiences want and that the recipe works in most locations.

He says: ‘When we started we weren’t sure what films would work and what locations were suited to the experience. In the first year it was a trial run and we did a small number of locations in Derbyshire, like Calke Abbey. One or two venues didn’t work – Sudbury Hall for example, where the capacity isn’t massive. They also have a big family customer base and because our screenings are necessarily after dark and quite late, they aren’t always child-friendly.

‘But others have come on board like Wollaton Hall, which sells out every year.

‘Our relationship with the venues and the National Trust is great and this year we are doing screenings at Eyam Hall, which will take Summer Nights to a new audience at the top end of Derbyshire.’

For QUAD, Summer Nights has helped build the venue’s reputation across the county and nationally.

Adam says: ‘When we first started the screenings, it was about getting QUAD’s name into other parts of Derbyshire but now it has grown, Summer Nights is its own brand. But it still does help QUAD’s reputation nationally when people know we are behind these screenings.’

As well as the locations, the choice of film is all important and this year Adam has added what he hopes will be a surefire winner in the latest Star Wars film – The Force Awakens. There is also the most recent James Bond film, Spectre, making its debut at Summer Nights.

Adam says: ‘When a film works, like Dirty Dancing or Mamma Mia! we tend to bring it back in different locations the following summer because the venues we choose are ultimately very similar so we know that what is a hit in one place is likely to be at another venue.

‘When we get these kind of success stories we maximise the opportunities and that gives us room to try other, less obvious titles out.

‘We have a couple this year we are trying out like the new Mad Max movie – which we are putting on at Wollaton. It’s a spectacular visual feast and so I don’t think we could pick a better film for an outdoor screening but we will have to see how audiences react to it.

‘We have added Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at Wollaton as well because of the local connection.

‘Star Wars is less of a gamble, I will be amazed if that doesn’t sell out.’

The atmosphere at the film screenings varies enormously depending on the type of movie.

Adams says: ‘When we did the classic British ghost story The Innocents at Calke Abbey it was very spooky. This year we are taking that film to Sheffield Park, where it was filmed.

‘We do at least two nights at each venue and try to do something different on each evening. People like the party pictures where they can have fun and a sing-along, so one night we might have Mamma Mia! which is more female-friendly and creates a great atmosphere and we then balance that with a screening of something like Top Gun, which pulls in a very different audience.

‘Lady in The Van did ridiculously well for us when we screened it at QUAD. It is a good film and one we have added to Summer Nights as a result. It has been very well received and has Dame Maggie Smith at her best so we are hoping to do well with that at Eyam Hall.’

The only downside to doing anything outdoors in the British summer is the unpredictable nature of the weather but Summer Nights has been largely blessed with sunshine and, as Adam says, ‘We have never cancelled a screening yet’.

He adds: ‘We haven’t had much rain over the years so we have been quite fortunate really. The worst night I remember was at Elvaston Castle where we screened Women in Love and it was -4°C. It was so cold, but people just wrapped up and we got through it. It would have to be real washout weather for us to think of cancelling.’

More than 12,000 people attended the screenings last year but that figure will increase enormously in 2016.

‘With two teams on the ground and twice as many screenings there will be a lot more people going to a Summer Nights screenings in 2016,’ says Adam. ‘We will certainly smash that total this year.

‘We now put the dates on sale before we confirm the films and people start buying tickets. They know the types of film we are likely to put on and they just love the experience. They know we aren’t going to screen a four-hour Hungarian documentary but something that guarantees they have a good time.’

Adam says that the early signs are that Summer Nights will be another big success in 2016 and could expand further still in 2017. ‘We want to get more partners and sponsors on board, which will help us take it to another level. We are offering an interesting experience and people do seem to love it – that’s why they keep coming back and bringing new people with them the next time.’

And if Adam could pick one night to recommend this year from the Summer Nights programme what would it be?

He says: ‘I love Calke Abbey as a venue and seeing Star Wars there will certainly be top of my list. It should be an amazing night.’


The expanding festival includes an additional seven new venues for 2016 – including Eyam Hall in Derbyshire.

The festival also returns to favourite venues such as Wollaton Hall (Nottinghamshire) and the Derbyshire venues of Calke Abbey, Kedleston Hall and Hardwick Hall, where the festival originally started.

Summer Nights runs from Friday 16th July to Saturday 17th September.

Summer Nights Festival venues, dates and films in and around Derbyshire are as follows:

Kedleston Hall: Friday 22nd July The Martian (12A); Saturday 23rd July Pretty Woman (15)

Calke Abbey: Friday 5th August Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A); Saturday 6th August Dirty Dancing (12)

Eyam Hall: Friday 5th August Lady In The Van (12A); Saturday 6th August Mamma Mia! (PG)

Hardwick Hall: Friday 19th August Spectre (12A); Saturday 20th August Ghost (12A)

Wollaton Park, Nottingham: Friday 26th August Mad Max: Fury Road (15); Saturday 27th August Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (12A); Sunday 28th August Dark Knight Rises (12A); Monday 29th August Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A)

Tickets for the screenings are now available to book at a discounted ‘early bird’ rate of £11 (the early bird price is available up to six weeks in advance of any screening). The early bird price is also available at any time for group bookings of four or more people. Early bird tickets are only available through QUAD box office. After the advance early bird period, standard tickets cost £13 per person per screening, and tickets for children aged under five years are free.

For more information, for the full programme across the country and to buy tickets, visit www.summernightsfilm.co.uk or call the QUAD box office on 01332 290606.