A festival that appeals to both cineastes and food-lovers may strike some as rather unusual.

However, that is the purpose of the Screen Bites Food Film Festival which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary and runs from a gala opening at St Giles House on October 2 to the finale at Sturminster Newton’s Exchange on November 1.

The unique premise of Screen Bites is to combine tastings of local food with the screenings of food-themed feature films. The initial idea was to support local food producers and provide an affordable addition to Dorset Food Week.

As Screen Bites co-founder and administrator Gay Pirrie-Weir explains: “Dorset Food Week had plenty of affordable or free events during the day – walks, talks, markets, etc – but the evening events were mainly menu-based in restaurants and pubs and quite expensive. We felt there needed to be affordable events in the villages.”

The festival founders, journalist Gay Pirrie-Weir, film-maker Robert Golden, his opera singer wife Tina and journalist Fanny Charles, shared a love of cinema – and so Screen Bites was born, with 12 food producers and screening by rural film organisation Moviola in ten village halls across Dorset.

The format of a Screen Bites evening is straightforward: doors open at 7pm for a mini-farmers’ market, which usually includes a farm shop stand.

After a short talk or film, followed by an ice cream break, the main film begins around 8pm. At the end of the film, there is a draw for the Festival Feasts meal for two at one of the area’s finest restaurants or pubs specialising in local and seasonal sourcing.

As well as the simplicity of the food-plus-film format, chairman, Fanny Charles, says the festival’s appeal is that it is unique: “Screen Bites is the only film festival that links locally produced food, with producers actually there at events, with food themed feature films from around the world.”

Screen Bites is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit community organisation. Food producers enjoy free promotion of their businesses and the opportunity to meet potential customers and network with others from the industry.

Gay Pirrie-Weir says: “We have played a part in promoting Dorset’s food to a wider audience, not only through the festival events and appearances on national television and radio, but by introducing new start-up businesses and artisan producers to audiences.” Screen Bites has been on BBC’s Ready, Steady Cook, with Lesley Waters, who lives in Dorset, and James Tanner, and on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme.

Dorset’s association with cinema has been steadily increasing, due to its popularity as a shooting location, and film production courses at Bournemouth University and Arts University, Bournemouth.

Screen Bites has also played a part, says Fanny Charles: “We have had a joint screening with Purbeck Film Festival every year since 2009 and we would like to work with Purbeck to establish a competition for food-themed short films.”

From the start, the festival aimed to inform the public about food and nutrition, and where their food comes from. Arts and educational projects have included the Edible Playground, an EU grant-funded scheme to encourage children to grow their own food, which inspired Dorset Cereals to commission show gardens which won awards at the Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows.

Memorable evenings over the decade included visits by actress Dame Harriet Walter, who has a home in Dorset. In 2008 she visited Child Okeford to talk about the Louis Malle film Milou en Mai, in which she starred. The following year, Dame Harriet attended a sell-out screening of Morris: A Life With Bells On, directed by Lucy Akhurst, at Tarrant Keyneston, one of three villages to have taken part in the festival every year (the others are Winfrith Newburgh and Stourton Caundle).

Gay Pirrie-Weir adds: “Tarrant Keyneston was also the venue for our first and very successful children’s matinee Hallowe’en event, which is being repeated this year.”

Another highlight was Bite the Lighthouse at Poole’s Lighthouse to celebrate Screen Bites’ fifth anniversary, with guest opener Lesley Waters, a day of local food, chef demonstrations, films and cabaret, which attracted more than 3,000 visitors.

The 2014 festival begins with a tenth anniversary gala on October 2 at St Giles House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Shaftesbury at Wimborne St Giles, with food by local chef Lisa Osman.

The film will be Vatel, directed by Roland Joffé with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, based on the true story of a 17th century French chef. Guests are welcome to dress in period costume if they wish.

The original food producers will have stands, including the principal sponsor throughout the ten years, Olives et Al of Sturminster Newton. Booking is essential.

Other highlights this year include Chef, Dinner for One, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Romantics Anonymous and The Lunchbox.

  • For more information and bookings ring 01963 32525, email screenbites@thanksgiving.demon.co.uk or visit screenbites.co.uk.