Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Taking smart risks with audiences at Lincoln Film Society

Posted Thursday 12 January 2017 by Ellen Reay in General

lincoln film society masthead

We spoke to Richard Hall, John Rossington and Philip Stonehouse, some of the key figures behind Lincoln Film Society, about what it takes to run a thriving and long-lasting film society. Film societies play an important part in championing and celebrating independent film in the UK. If you're interested in starting your own film society, read this for some great tips, then take a look at Cinema For All!  

Lincoln Film Society was established in 1953. How and why it’s lasted 63 years and is not just alive and kicking but arguably in the rudest of health, comes down to 4 factors: circumstance, the willingness to seize an opportunity, remembering that we’re a Society not a business and the films we choose to show.

Circumstance first. Currently, Lincoln has no fewer than 5 venues where films are shown (not so very different from the 1950s, when there were at least 4.) There’s plenty of choice: but none of them offer anything from Europe or the rest of the world. Lincoln’s geographical setting means that to see such films usually involves a trip to Nottingham or Sheffield: but, by specialising in showcasing subtitled and limited release cinema, we found there’s an audience clamouring to see them.

One of the biggest contributors to our success is seizing opportunities. 30 years ago, we screened on 16mm in a draughty canteen to very modest audiences. Now, we’re in a purpose-built performing arts venue, with top-of-the-range projection kit and audiences that currently average 175 per film. How come such a transformation?

Lincoln film society venue

We need to go back to 1987, when we were invited to become the first community tenants of a new theatre on the Bishop Grosseteste campus (then a highly-regarded teacher-training college, now a university). Such a bespoke community venue (with its own projector room!) allowed us to develop. Upgrading to 35mm (with anamorphic lens) and a screen big enough for cinemascope, meant better quality films and projection. We began to attract new members. Within 15 years - and with the city having established a university in the meantime - we had a waiting list to join. Offering these people membership increased our revenue and allowed expansion in the programme. This fed further growth in members.

But by 2012, with digital film becoming the norm and 35mm harder to find, we took the biggest chance of all, pitching to our hosts a proposal to partner with us and install full DCP projection and surround sound in the theatre. They saw the community and business opportunities this offered and took it. This relationship has seen our membership increase to 375 and our programme grow to 26 films per season.

Our status as a Society is crucial. Our members are known to us and are friends and fellow travellers in the world of adventurous film. Most are over 50, but they are not risk-averse. They come along to socialise, have a chat and a glass of wine and watch sometimes very challenging films. It’s friendly, safe and stimulating. It’s also great value for money - a single membership per annum costs £35 with no entry fee, meaning people are watching some of the best films around for as little as £1.30 a time.

So what constitutes a film society film and persuades our audience to keep returning? Understanding this is a critical element of our planning and we consulted our members on what drew them to the Society and keeps them coming back. As you might expect, there were many suggestions: one member recalled the excitement of meeting the power of Chinese cinema for the first time through the films of Zhang Zhimou. Another referred to the delights of French film. Latin American film is another discovery that has thrilled our audience. But when we discussed it further, three films stood out as exemplars of the kind we look for.

Lincoln film society films

One was Rams. This beautifully shot, wryly humorous film brought us our first full house of the current season (and for some time.) This view seemed to sum up the reaction: “It’s a slow-burn film that draws you into the lives of its characters so that you feel you not only get to know and understand them, but you also get to know and understand the culture from which they came.”

A second was Nostalgia For The Light. This elegant documentary was praised on so many levels as the kind of film they want: a visual treat which illuminated the common humanity of us all, above all a documentary that fused together literature, poetry, social history and politics in an entirely original way.

The third film was Compliance. This nomination really surprised and interested us. When we probed deeper into the reasons, the consensus was  that the film completely confounded expectations as it unfolded: what appeared to be a simple story on the surface changed direction to reveal something much deeper, darker and much more thought provoking. 

Using those pointers to help, our programmers regularly attend UK film festivals and the wonderful ICO Screening Days to sample what's coming up in the months and year ahead.  We try to ensure films on the long list have been seen by at least two people, so that no one view, genre or opinion predominates. The meeting to choose the season is always exciting, strong opinions are often voiced and the selection is both democratic and meritocratic.

As a result, we've managed to bring some wonderful titles to Lincoln which would not otherwise be seen, often going that extra mile to get them. We recently screened the stunning documentary, Sherpa. The process was tortuous and ended with us talking directly to the producers in Australia, but it was well worth it, with a huge audience and the highest reaction score of the season.

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort: a surprisingly controversial pick at Lincoln Film Society

The programming committee is always keen to include a number of "challenging" titles among the 26 films selected each season. We have fought a long battle to get documentaries included but it’s now a well established genre. And we don’t shy away from films with graphic content - providing they merit inclusion!

The programmers’ lot is not always an easy one however! Although theme and content of all our films are clearly flagged in the programme notes, we still occasionally have "walk-outs" (increasingly rare, we're pleased to report). Surprisingly, the film that provoked the most walk-outs recently was not one of the usual suspects: The Piano Teacher or The Duke of Burgundy perhaps (which, for all its flaws, especially its leisurely pacing, was a visual treat) with their sado-masochistic themes?; or Shame, with its sex and nudity? Blue Ruin, with its lashings of blood and gore...?

No, it was none other than that delightful, pastel-hued, classic romantic musical, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort! Well, you can’t win them all.

You can find out more about the Lincoln Film Society on their website. Would your film society benefit from moving from DVD to DCP like Lincoln? Why not come to our free Film Format training in Sheffield? Thinking about starting your own film society? Check out our handy tips. For more advice, get in touch with our pals at Cinema For All, the national support and development organisation for community-led cinema.

Glamour and comfort: Cinemagoing in the 1920s and 1930s

Posted Thursday 5 January 2017 by Ellen Reay in General

Picturegoer 1922

Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

From the first theatres that dared to show pictures at the end of the 19th century to the current networks of competing chains and small independents, cinemas have changed drastically in the course of their lifetime. Alongside the shifts in the cinemas themselves, our relationship with these spaces has changed too. We wanted to delve a little into the history of cinemagoing in the UK, so we asked film academic Lisa Stead about what she's learned about the cinema culture of the past in her research into the cinemagoing of the 1920s and 1930s.

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Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

What’s the biggest change in cinema going from the period you’re researching?

The biggest changes that take place within the period I research – the interwar years -- are about gender, and about class. What those changes produce are different textures of cinema-going. As more women and more middle class folks are targeted by the film industry as everyday cinemagoers, the venues that house cinema change to accommodate and attract them. So into the 1920s and 1930s we get the rise of the Picture Palace and super cinemas in Britain. These are palatial venues that can offer you everything from shopping to crèches to powder rooms and tea rooms, and replace the benches and uncomfortably chairs of the flea pits with red velvet seats and grand balconies. Of course, not all cinemas were super cinemas, and smaller and grottier venues lived on, but there’s a real push to cinema as being a more luxurious and grander affair. If you look at some of the programmes for these venues, you could see how much they foreground the pleasures of the cinema environment, alongside the pleasure of the film programme itself, emphasising their exotic décor and dazzling exteriors and the finery of their uniformed commissionaires. Cinemas were much greater in number at this time: urban and suburban spaces were peppered with theatres presence as cinema building expanded and some of the major early chains – like Odeon and Gaumont – took hold in the 1930s. This made cinema increasingly a major part of everyday life. In contrast, this is one of the biggest changes to cinemagoing now. Cinema is far less embedded in our day-to-day lives: it no longer occupies our everyday spaces so immediately, nor takes up so much of our leisure time. But in the days before competing technologies like television, cinema was one of the primary leisure options for British people, and into the interwar years more and more people went to the pictures.

astoria

Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

What about the people going to the cinema: how have they changed?

Cinemagoing was much cheaper between the wars, and was screened in a quite different ways to cinema today. Films would play as part of a continuous programme, meaning that people had quite a different temporal relationship with cinema spaces and cinema fictions. This emphasis upon flow fits with cinema’s larger presence in everyday life at this time: people could come and go from cinema venues during the day and the evening, drop in after work, attend a children’s cinema club at the weekends, and generally spend more time in these venues.  

Between the wars, women also constituted the majority of the cinemagoing audience, which is quite different to how the film industry thinks about its audience now: there is a great emphasis upon younger male cinemagoers in film content and film marketing.

I think some of the biggest changes are around affordability. One reason we go to the cinema less these days is simply because it costs so much to do so. We are also arguably less likely to be drawn to the cinema for the experience of being in the cinema venue in the same way as earlier cinemagoers.  What cinema gives us now is in some ways a spectacular alternative to home media: the big screen, the immersive sound, the exclusion of distraction in a hypermediated everyday world. Back then, cinema wasn’t competing with smaller screens: it was spectacular, but it was also a place of luxury, a respite from the streets, a ‘dream palace’ – to use the popular term for movie theatres in the 1930s – where, as Dorothy Richardson put it writing in 1927, you could purchase shelter, stimulation and excitement at ‘less than the price of an evening’s light and fire’.

gaumontempire

Images courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

What’s one thing that you wish you could resurrect from cinema going in the past? 

I would love that have that experience of grandeur – to put on a cloche hat and wear a marcel wave and dress up for a night at the picture palace! I would want, in essence, to resurrect that sense of place and purpose and light and colour that I don’t feel when I step into a multiplex.  I’d also want to connect to the kinds of relationship cinema-goers had with stars in this period. In a social media age we’re so very saturated with their personal and private lives; in the 1920s and 1930s, cinemagoers had access to the ‘real lives’ of screen personalities through things like fan magazines and tabloids, but there was much more mystery and romance about their personas, and the big screen was the place to see them embodied. If picture palaces were akin to cathedrals of the movies, stars were the idols worshipped in those velvet seats. I’d love to connect with that sense of glamour and romance. 

Lisa Stead is the author of Off to the Pictures: Cinemagoing, Women's Writing and Movie Culture in Interwar Britain, published by Edinburgh University Press and is a lecturer in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia.

Our biggest and best blog posts of 2016

Posted Thursday 29 December 2016 by Duncan Carson in News Round-up

San Marco Theatre, Florida

Every Thursday, we aim to bring you all the cinema news that's fit to print. While you're trying to think of creative uses for leftover Turkey and polishing off the last Quality Street, we thought we'd give you some quality reading material. Here's our most read and most recommended blog posts from 2016.

Remember, if you have an idea you want to share or a project you want to highlight, you can always send us an email to pitch a story. See you in 2017 with more inspiring, instructional and thought-provoking takes on the independent film scene.

Top blog posts of 2016

How your film festival can build sponsorship and funding: Festivals are always keen to bolster these areas, so no wonder that expert advice from Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals proved our year's biggest hit.

Five things to avoid if you want your LGBTQ film screening to reach the queer community (and how to do it right!): We spoke to the team behind Wotever! DIY Film Festival about how they reach a large, impassioned audience of LGBTQI people and how you can too. 

How cinema can help people with dementia live a life more ordinary: the Dukes Lancaster: Cinema can have a transformative effect on the lives of people with dementia. Direct, easy-to-follow advice in this excellent blog post.

Dreamland Cinema: Programming in focus: We loved the work of this Brighton-based programming duo in 2016. We spoke to them about how badges, dolls' houses and balloons made their programming stand out. 

Cinema therapy: screening film in hospitals with Medicinema: NHS hospitals with cinemas? Medicinema is an absolute life-line to people in need of healing. Find out about their great work. 

5 pieces of data your cinema needs to grow your audience: Marketing shouldn't be about guesswork. Sarah Boiling gave us this guide to how you can get more bums on seats via clever use of data you already hold and what you should be capturing about people coming through your door or on your site. 

The unseen history of women's filmmaking in Britain: So called 'amateur' filmmakers are a treasure trove of the suppressed history of films made by women. We spoke to the East Anglian Film Archive about what they've uncovered and how your cinema can share it.

5 reasons why you should go to an independent cinema right now!: Not that you need convincing, but director and programmer Julia Marchese gave us this heart-warming reminder of why what we do counts.

Five tips for building strong rural audiences: If you think Tarkovsky doesn't play outside the cities, this blog post from top film festival Borderlines should set you right. 

The Lexi & The Nomad: Exhibitor of the Month: We loved talking to the team at the Lexi in North London about how their cinema is doing good for their own community and far beyond.

5 ways to make your venue more accessible for D/deaf people: We've got a LOT more planned in 2017 to help improve things for Deaf audiences, but this is a good place to start.

The future of cinema technology at IBC in Amsterdam: High-frame rate, high-dynamic range, laser projection... Team Tech Skills look at the retina-blazing future at one of the world's largest technology shows. 

Abbas Kiarostami: Saint of Cinema: We lost many greats this year, but one of the saddest losses was Iran's master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Our own David Sin speaks about how his films influenced cinema and his role in sharing the filmmaker's work in the UK.

5 tips on how to build your own community cinema from Star & Shadow, Newcastle: Perhaps 2017 is the year when you rally your local community and start something special. The Star & Shadow have been bringing people together for over a decade and give you their tips on the eve of their new cinema space opening. 

FEDS 2016: Naomi's experience with Film Africa: One of our big inspirations in the office is the FEDS scheme. Naomi, who took on a placement at Film Africa, runs us through how she made a big contribution to the festival. 

From streaming to cinemas: careful curation with MUBI: MUBI does something online that'll be familiar to all cinema programmers: careful, audience-drive curation that pushes people's taste forward. We talked to them as they began distributing films in cinema as well as online.

FEDS 2016: Krushil's experience with Glasgow Film Theatre

Posted Wednesday 21 December 2016 by Ellen Reay in FEDS scheme, Training & Conferences

krushil

We spoke to Krushil Patel, one of 2016's FEDS trainees, about what he learned during his time with Glasgow Film Theatre and what advice he'd give to those wanting to get started in film exhibition. Krushil is now a full time member of staff, having been hired by his host company straight out of the scheme. To find out more about FEDS and to apply click here. The deadline is 3 January!

My placement was at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), an independent cinema at the centre of Glasgow. As a Programme Assistant, I was able to get an excellent overview of the nuts and bolts of programming at an independent cinema.  As part of my placement, I was able to assist with ideas and selection advice to the wider programming team; research rights and print sources; write copy and proof read; and assist with planning and execution of specialised events. After the placement, I was offered the position Programme & Events Assistant with the Glasgow Film Festival.

What are the experiences you most enjoyed while working at GFT?

Working at the GFT, firstly as part of the programming team and now as part of the film festival, has been a very insightful and rewarding experience. The first few months started off a little slow as Glasgow Film Festival 2016 had just finished, and so it was a massive drop off period for the staff. At the time it was a little frustrating as I was itching to get stuck in, but in hindsight it was probably a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to get used to a new city, accommodate to my new surroundings and settle into a new working environment. By May, things began to pick up and I was into the full swing of things. My placement occurred at an interesting time, with the biggest screen (around 400 seats) being closed due to refurbishments in the cinema and the GFT launching its new website over the summer.    

Over this period, being able to work across different areas of programming and seeing how the various elements combined to put together a monthly programme was, in itself, a thoroughly valuable and enjoyable experience, one that reinforced my desire to work in film programming.

But if I had to go with one particular highlight, it was attending Gdynia Film Festival in September to identify potential films for Glasgow Film Festival. It was the first time I had gone to a film festival as a guest, wearing my work hat, and it was a fabulous experience. Through this I was able to learn a little about Polish cinema and to use the knowledge and understanding I had developed about GFT audiences to identify quality and interesting films that would work for Glasgow Film Festival. I always thought there would be nothing better than getting to watch films for work, and although viewing four films a day with little breaks was quite tiring, it's still something I would love to do again.

Image result for it's a wonderful life
It's a Wonderful Life is one of GFT's annual bestsellers.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to break into working in exhibition?

Getting your foot in the door

One of the key things I learnt from my placement was that the film industry is a small world and everyone seems to know everyone. To some extent, from the outside it had always seemed like this, but having spent a good stretch of time in the industry, it was reinforced and this always felt like a barrier, especially coming from a non-film background. When roles need to be filled quickly it’s easier to opt for someone who’s recommended to you. 

So how can you make your way and get your name out there? Unfortunately there aren’t enough schemes like FEDS, especially ones that pay and allow you to support yourself, so you may have to look into other options. My first steps into the film industry came through volunteering at a small film festival. This was an invaluable experience that allowed me to see the inner workings of a film festival, while keeping a part-time job. Volunteering at a smaller film festival can allow you to do more than just ushering duties, so you can get to grips with the nitty-gritty side of film festivals, which can be useful for the future.

Building relationships is essential

Once you’re in, building and maintaining relationships is paramount. With the film world being so small, you’re bound to bump into familiar faces. Often you will be dealing with many of the same people, whether it’s distributors, other venues, programmers or individual organisations. Contracts are usually temporary and job-hopping may be the only way early on, so maintaining these relationships will allow you to discover opportunities earlier and make you more likely to be recommended for openings elsewhere. However, beyond the opportunities it can afford you in the future, it will make your life easier in the workplace.

Trying to be Flexible

I moved from London to Glasgow for the FEDS placement. This was a big move but one that I definitely feel has paid off. Only after moving did I realise that being able to move around, especially when starting out, is key, affording you more opportunities to work throughout the UK and abroad. Of course, this is not something everyone can do, but it has been a huge benefit to get away from the London bubble and realise that there are good opportunities outside of London!

Opportunities a-plenty

There are various aspects to working at an independent cinema. If programming is not your thing, then there is finance, marketing, front of house, projection or events and all the departments that exist within a cinema environment. My biggest take-away from the placement was how close together all these departments work to allow for the smooth running of a cinema.   

If you're a talented person of colour or someone who considers themselves disabled, we are looking for people like you to apply for FEDS. Click here to find out more and apply.

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