The Independent Cinema Office was established in July 2003. Initially, it was incorporated into South West Screen, one of the 9 Regional Media Agencies set up by the UK Film Council. After 18 months, it became independent of South West Screen and became a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
Some of the activities undertaken by the ICO, principally its programming advice and booking services with some cinemas were previously undertaken by the Programme Unit and Exhibition Development department which were housed within the British Film Institute until 2003.
Historically, the BFI had been central to the establishment of what were once termed ‘Regional Film Theatres’ by funding new builds and giving annual financial assistance. With the advent of the UKFC however, the funding landscape changed as well as priorities in cultural activity. There were many venues which served local communities and promoted independent and world cinema who had no formal relationship with any funding body or public agency.
At the same time, there was no training or professional development available for those working in the cultural cinema exhibition sector, no recognised entry route for individuals, no one information source for areas as diverse as print availability, distributors, rights holders for films or funding sources for projects or capital schemes. There was no agency charged with making cultural cinema available to the widest range of exhibitors nationally through touring material, distributing single titles, artists' moving work or archival material.
The ICO seeks to fill this gap to provide a resource for any independent exhibitor working in the UK.
Since 2003 we have booked 26,000 films, trained over 1000 professionals from 635 organisations, distributed 235 films and achieved audience figures of over 6 million.