Partnerships are at the heart of maintaining high-quality diverse content on screen at mac birmingham, working with (clockwise from top left) London Indian Film Festival (Kush), Afrovibes, Play Poland (In a Bedroom) and Birmingham LGBT Trust (Cloudburst)
Ahead of our 'D Word' Screening Days, we wanted to highlight different approaches to diversity. At the heart of the day is considering different approaches and creating a strategy that works for where you are. Below you'll hear from an established venue with a mature diversity plan, someone who is just starting to consider their diversity offering and an independent curator to give perspective on what diversity means, how they approach it and why it matters to them.
Amy Smart: 'Almost everyone has a relationship with film'
Amy Smart is Cinema Producer at mac birmingham. Here she speaks about how diversity can work in an established venue, and how important it is to reflect the make up of their community.
As an independent mixed arts venue in the heart of the
city diversity is at the core of what we do at mac. With a population of over one million, Birmingham is
home to over 187 different nationalities (the smallest of which is one
itself is located on the boundary of four very different areas: Selly Oak’s
international student base, the affluent Harborne/Edgbaston, bohemian Kings
Heath/Moseley and Balsall Heath/Sparkbrook which is home to a large South Asian
population. Open and accessible, located in one of the city’s most popular
parks, mac is used by all these
communities and more.
Diversity is embedded within our artistic programme and
it’s important to reflect our communities in the work we do, including on
With largely lower ticket prices than other art forms and
a much larger source of reviews and endorsements via popular culture, film is
perhaps the most accessible art form; almost everyone has a relationship with film.
Film has the potential to be the most representative and
diverse art form of our time; it not only reflects changing attitudes, people
and places but also has the ability to transport us back in time, forward into
the future or to foreign lands providing understanding of other cultures as
well teaching us things we might otherwise never learn.
Diversity is at the heart of mac's work in Birmingham; without it, it would be missing large parts of their community
Programming diverse work is as much about equity and
leadership, reflecting the diversity in the people programming as well as the
content, which is why mac is committed
to collaboration and multiple voices. Partnerships ensure diversity in our programme and our audiences. mac’s most recent partnership with the
London Indian Film Festival brought a selection of Hindi, Marathi and Bengali
titles to the city and with over 300 admissions, new audiences with them.
Celebrating Black History Month
last year mac partnered with UK Arts International to host Afrovibes, a
touring festival of contemporary South African Performing Arts. Working
with BFI FAN, Afrika Eye and Africa in Motion, we presented a short film season
to sit alongside the festival, this created an opportunity to ‘piggy back’ onto
other events, increasing the reach and in turn audiences.
Working in partnership with Birmingham LGBT Trust
the festival was particularly popular with female audiences and we saw sold out
screenings of Sing-along Calamity Jane, Tomboy, Cloudburst,
I Am Divine and Pride.
Play Poland has significantly helped develop our
Eastern European audiences and working closely with Birmingham based Polish
ExPats Association we have seen repeat engagements from Birmingham’s local
Polish community and audiences increasing year on year, stand out titles
include Papusza, Ida and In A Bedroom. mac also regularly takes part in the Japan Foundation Touring Programme and more.
Our mission - to make art an important part of people’s lives - is predicated on diversity in our audiences, our artists and the work that we programme.
Despite having the help of Ryan Gosling as Executive Producer, White Shadow deals with an unfamiliar subject in an uncompromising way, so careful curation is needed
Neil Hepburn: 'Anything with unfamiliar terrain requires a leap of faith'
Neil Hepburn is Marketing Manager at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh. Here he talks about a speculative film screening he helped develop, aimed at making diverse programming approachable to a broad spectrum of audiences.
'Season of the Witch’ is the title of a film programme I
created with Tanya Barras-Hill, Siobhan O’Leary (Strategic Development
Co-ordinator at the BFI) and Rosie Taylor (Festival Curator at Afrika Eye), my fellow
participants on the ICO’s Cultural Cinema Exhibition course in April. No prizes
for guessing what the season is about, but our idea was guided by one of the
key themes on the course: diversity.
The season is formed around 2014’s challenging Tanzanian
drama White Shadow, which deals with modern day witchcraft (specifically the
killing of Albinos for the black market trade of their organs). The
environment, characters and subject matter of White Shadow have rarely been
explored in cinema, which creates a challenge in terms of audience engagement.
Anything with such unfamiliar terrain requires a leap of faith on the part of
The season is designed to help audiences make that jump
into the unknown. We wanted to position the film within a broad spectrum of
reference points that would hopefully offer a variety of access routes into the
world of White Shadow. More than that, we wanted the programme to capture
people’s imaginations and get them talking.
Season of the Witch seeks to attract attention to an unconvential film by pairing it with more familiar genres and choices that have broad appeal or work as co-programming on the theme of witches including (clockwise from top left) Suspiria, Kiki's Delivery Service, Maid of Salem and War Witch
So we mixed cult and mainstream favourites with more
demanding arthouse dramas and included a few wild cards, like the strange,
part-fictionalised Swedish/Danish silent documentary Haxan: Witchcraft Through
The Ages. We based the criteria for all the films we included on how well they
interrogated the idea of witchcraft throughout history and cultures.
The programme was also designed to be accessible to a
diverse audience across a wide range of ages. For example, for younger viewers
we included Kiki’s Delivery Service, which director Hayao Miyazaki says is
about Japanese women’s experience of independence. There’s also The Craft,
which, in its representation of empowered teenage girls, goes against the grain
of much of its contemporary '90s teen movie fodder. We aimed to lure genre fans
with tent-pole horror classics like Suspiria and Rosemary’s Baby, but hoped
that would lead them towards exploring something different, like War Witch, a
Congolese drama dealing with difficult subject matter.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list of films relating to
the subject of Witchcraft. But we think it does offer a sideways look at the subject.
We would hope that the programme would serve as a more accessible route into
the less familiar terrain of African cinema.
The season in full
Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922); Maid
of Salem (1937); The
Blair Witch Project (1999); War
Witch (2012); The
Crucible (1996); Rosemary’s
Craft (1996); Kiki’s
Delivery Service (1989); White
Shadow (2015); Witchfinder
General (1968); Black
Sunday (1960); Suspiria
The Spook who Sat by the Door inspired frank discussion and drew together an audience that were otherwise invisible to an established venue
Lynn Nwokorie: 'All were there to have an experience - the experience of seeing themselves on screen'
Lynn Nwokorie has been part of the African Odysseys steering committee at the BFI, which led her to freelance curating work with projects including Film Africa. Having recently joined the ICO as programmer, Lynn reflects on a single screening that made a big difference to her and showed her why sensitive programming matters.
I was introduced to the power of
diversity programming when I began working at the BFI. A well-intentioned but
wildly uncomfortable conversation led me to a
diversity-orientated film strand held at the BFI called African Odysseys. The
strand was recommended to purely by the fact that I was black. I’ll be honest,
I was affronted by the idea that the colour of my skin somehow took precedence
in determining what must be my film taste and knowledge, over the demonstrable
film knowledge that got me the job in the first place. Regardless, I was
intrigued and my viewing at African Odysseys of The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973) was
a revelation. Before the film had even started, the audience’s energy was
something else. It was as if I were at the opening night of a much anticipated
blockbuster such was the palpable expectancy that filled NFT1. How could a
40-something year-old film create so much excitement?
The make-up of the audience was
the first clue to this. The age-old adage that continues to keep diverse
programming out of the mainstream, of there not being any ethnic minority
audiences to cater to, was completely demolished at this screening. London’s
black population came out in force - young and old - alongside sizeable
representations of other ethnic groups, with a combination of traditional
arthouse types alongside multiplex enthusiasts. All were there to have an
experience - the experience of seeing themselves on screen. I don’t mean this
in an actual sense, as I am well aware that I and my fellow audience members
are not CIA-trained spies. At least I don’t think so. It was the thrust of the
story that held resonance with the audience; something that I observed closely.
A satire about the civil rights movement in 1960s USA and one of the first
films to seriously consider black militancy, this entertaining Blaxploitation-influenced drama had a great impact on me and, more importantly, sparked an
interest in programming.
Njinga, Queen of Angola proved that audiences, when carefully targeted, would turn out in numbers for diverse content that highlighted black talent on screen
There followed an equally
interesting documentary about the making of the film, which in itself would
make a spectacular story, but it was the Q&A that was the true highlight.
Despite sitting in a theatre for over three hours at this point, the audience
seemed ready to stay for more. Willing and able to have a brilliantly heated
and honest discussion about what the film meant to them, I heard all the
various reasons why people had come. For the cineastes, it was all about the
opportunity to see a banned underground classic in all its glory. For others
they had been dragged by older relatives to see the adaptation of the book they
had coveted since they were their grandson’s age. For people like me it was
simple intrigue, to watch a familiar story from a different perspective. What
everyone took away from this afternoon of filmic delight was the hunger for
this kind of programming was very evident, from all groups and ethnicities.
It came to me on that afternoon
– diversity programming is the greatest way for film to flourish. Whether from
a financial perspective or for the love of the art, audience is key. It
is my fundamental belief that it benefits everyone when film is screened from a
stance of inclusion. Everyone should have access to film and should have the
opportunity to relate on a personal level to what they’re watching. The
diversity we get from literature should be the same for film.
There is still the battle
for diversity in programming as people still hang on to the idea that it’s fine
to solely show what you know for people you know because you can’t/won’t
understand any other way. This in itself creates a cyclical problem. Working on
the basis of exclusion limits the capabilities of a film potential, doing a
disservice to the filmmakers and audiences alike. The recent popularity of
films like Dear White People and repeated sold out screenings of Njinga,
Queen of Angola (which will play the Phoenix in East Finchley shortly), not only proves that there exists an audience but that
diversifying your programme, unifies your audience. We’re all here to be
entertained; to experience something more, such as a new perspective, a
different way of thinking, or just to spark discussion is all just a fantastic