Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

5 ways to make your venue more accessible for D/deaf people

Posted Thursday 29 September 2016 by Julie Ryder in General

Power in Our Hands, Bradford
An audience at a recent screening of Power in Our Hands at National Media Museum in Bradford

Experiencing films on the big screen is something that can be enjoyed by everyone, but accessibility can sometimes lag behind demand. How do we make sure the cinema is open to everyone? Julie Ryder is a deaf cochlear implant user. She founded and is Managing Director of award-winning HearFirst Training and Consultancy, which delivers a range of deaf and disability awareness training courses to a wide variety of sectors across the UK with the aim of making real changes for D/deaf and disabled people. In the first of two blog posts focusing on accessibility, Julie gives an overview of facts around the UK's D/deaf community, the current state of provision for D/deaf audiences in independent cinema exhibition and what you can do to maximise your cinema's accessibility for the D/deaf.

10 facts about deaf awareness

  1. At least 1 in 6 people in the UK are affected by deafness.
  2. The degree of deafness is unique to each person.
  3. Communication methods vary widely and include British Sign Language (BSL), lipreading and the use of any residual hearing.
  4. People who use BSL as their first language are often referred to as Deaf (with a capital D) and consider themselves part of a linguistic minority rather than disabled. Deaf people may be bilingual or use English as a second language  - the use of English varies in this group.
  5. Other people with hearing loss may use English as their first language and can be referred to hard of hearing, deafened or deaf (with a lower case d).
  6. Due to language differences, both groups have different needs in terms of cinema access. The term D/deaf is used to include anyone with a hearing loss regardless of communication preference.
  7. Hearing aids and cochlear implants help people to hear better but don’t completely ‘fix’ their hearing.
  8. Hearing loss increases sharply with age.
  9. People may have other disabilities as well as their deafness.
  10. All D/deaf people need you to have patience, acceptance, a flexible approach and offer equality.
  11. Visible Cinema Glasgow
    Visible Cinema at Glasgow Film Theatre show Power in Our Hands with live subtitling

Here’s our five point plan to making your cinema accessible to D/deaf people:

1. Change the perception that D/deaf people can't enjoy the cinema experience

After a few disappointing trips to the cinema in the early 1990s I finally succumbed to my progressive deafness and sadly accepted that the cinema was no place for me. A few years later, I was surprised to read about a one-off subtitled screening, and tentatively stepped back into the auditorium. These days I expect to be able to see whatever film I want, but know I am limited to the set dates and times of subtitled screenings. My knowledge, perceptions and expectations of accessible cinema have changed over time and are still changing. So, what can you do to influence perceptions?

The answer lies in communicating with your potential D/deaf audiences (via your website, third-party websites, social media, advertising, PR etc) and telling us in a way we can access (English or British Sign Language) more about your offering. We want:

  • To know what you offer e.g. subtitles, BSL interpreted films, talks or tours.
  • To know about technology or equipment you have which we might find useful e.g. loop or infrared systems.
  • To be given confidence your staff know what they are doing. If they’ve had deaf awareness training or know some basic British Sign Language, tell us! It demonstrates that you're serious about access and makes us feel reassured.

2. Remove barriers early on

Once we are open to the idea of coming to the cinema, ensure there aren’t any further barriers to stop us.

  • We need you to clearly indicate which individual screenings are accessible and what the accessibility offer is, e.g. subtitles. Information buried deep in your website is hard to access and creates a barrier.
  • Offer a selection of days and times. Keeping the accessible screening on the same day and time can help build a core audience of regulars, but can also exclude new customers.
  • Ensure we have a wide variety of ways to contact you as we might need additional information - e.g. which are the best seats if we are using your loop systems? (D/deaf people have varied contact preferences e.g. email, text, face to face, internet messaging etc.)
  • British Sign Language users may find the English on your website hard to access. Having web content available in BSL is a guaranteed way of saying to a BSL user ‘you are welcome here’. In all cases use plain, clear English.
  • If tickets are being purchased either online or over the phone and you know one of the party is D/deaf, then anticipate needs and be mindful of preferences e.g. be able to explain which seats are the optimum place to read the subtitles from, or ready to tell me where to go on arrival to collect the headset I might have just asked you about.
  • Gulbenkian Power screening
    The Gulbenkian in Canterbury's Power in Our Hands screening

3. Create a welcoming visit

On a recent visit to the cinema, I arrived, purchased the tickets and double-checked with the member of staff that the film would be subtitled as advertised. She looked embarrassed and responded by apologising that there would be subtitles on the screen. I'm not sure if she had had hearing people complain to her about subtitles in the past, but it was a sure way of making me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome within five minutes of arrival.

On another visit to a different cinema, I experienced better customer service. I asked the member of staff what equipment they had which might help me. He immediately gave me a headset and gave me clear user instructions. Ten minutes into the film, he came into the auditorium to check I was OK and gave me an email address in case I needed to contact them in the future or wanted to request a subtitled screening.

To create a welcoming visit:

Train your staff so they feel confident and aware of:

  • The range of D/deaf people’s needs, their communicating preferences including knowing some basic BSL.
  • Any equipment/technology you have, who it might benefit, how it’s used and where it’s kept.
  • The business, legal and moral reasons/benefits to being accessible.
  • How to respond positively to any ‘non disabled’ audience members who complain about your accessible screenings.

Set the environment up so it’s inclusive to D/deaf people, e.g. in areas where staff will be communicating with customers, reduce background noise and keep it well lit so we can see you.

Use BSL and subtitles as well as audio on your foyer AV displays.

4. Keep in touch

After all your hard work changing perceptions, removing barriers and creating welcoming visits, it would be a shame to lose your hard won D/deaf audiences. Keeping in touch with us helps you to grow and develop your D/deaf audiences.

  • Remember to have lots of communication channels available. I prefer email but other D/deaf people prefer text or maybe social media in either English on a BSL video.
  • Tell us what accessible screenings are coming up so we can get dates in our diaries and let friends know so we can make it a night out.
  • Power in Our Hands
    Power in Our Hands proved a valuable opportunity for outreach

5. Continue the journey

Creating accessible cinema isn’t simply a matter of ticking the boxes on a checklist. It’s an ongoing, ever-changing journey.

  • Obtain regular feedback from both audiences and staff. (Think creatively about how to obtain it - filling forms in is ineffective for BSL users.)
  • Have a mechanism to regularly share good practice within your cinema, with your partners, with your audiences, with your sector.
  • Stop what’s not working: it’s unlikely that no D/deaf people want to come to your cinema, so if you’re consistently getting low audience numbers, make a change.
  • Be proactive and positive about implementing changes.
  • Keep staff up to date and refresh awareness training.

The future of cinema technology at IBC in Amsterdam

Posted Thursday 22 September 2016 by Duncan Carson in Training & Conferences

IBC

Last weekend, the annual International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) Conference was held in Amsterdam. This is a chance for technology companies from across the world to showcase their most ground-breaking technologies for sound and screen. The IBC Big Screen gives delegates the chance to get a glimpse of new directions for cinema projection, new kit and how the industry at large is responding to changes in the way we want to view and access content. Eight of our Technical Ambassadors attended and I spoke to some of them to get their feedback on what excited them most and what they think will affect the future for our independent screens.

Jenni Graham, Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast

1) What did you see at IBC that made you think ‘wow!’?

The little cameras from Telstra. These were full 1080 remote wearable cameras which are going to give people a completely new perspective on sports, and indeed are at the minute, you see it in rugby and in baseball (the only sports I watch so I am sure there are more!). I just couldn't get over how small and light they were, it literally fit in the palm of my hand and my phone is probably heavier. They 3D print them for each event so they fit perfectly in whatever they're attached to, be it an umpire's mask, a body harness or a bike handle, and the picture quality from them is incomparable. I just thought they were fandangled.

2) What do you think is the future of the technical side of independent cinema?

I think we're going to have a lot of catching up to do. Independents are going to be nowhere near the front of the queue for taking up these Premium Large Format screen offerings, as a fair amount of the content we show just won't need them. But in five years if they won't be making xenon projectors any more, we'll have to convert to laser. Hopefully by then the cost will have come down enough that we can afford to upgrade our projectors because the content will be being produced to a higher standard than we'll be able to show, and people will notice the difference.

The equipment to make films now is already beyond what we can show, e.g. cameras are going to be HDR and televisions will have the potential to show a better picture than cinemas. 4K HDR TVs will be all over the market at Christmas and 65" is becoming the norm with 32" TVs now considered small. How can independent cinemas keep up? People expect high quality and content on demand and that was pretty evident from IBC; people want to view content everywhere, instantly and in high quality. But that is not cinema. With content being released day on date and people having these super television sets, why should they come to the cinema? 

A lot of this stuff is gimmicky at the moment, and yes people will travel to see something presented in Atmos with laser projection in High Frame Rate and High Dynamic Range, but not for every film. Eventually that will be the norm and independent cinema will have to keep up. There won't be the same nostalgia for xenon 2K digital as there is for 35mm; people won't be forgiving of a lesser picture quality once these things are established. In the meantime, independent cinemas are going to have to work out how best to improve: whether we jump on the bandwagon and go full gimmick or whether we end up with 'just' a new projector. Most of it will probably come down to cost, but when you have a projectionist running your theatre, you have someone who cares about what they're putting out there and they will want the best. For now, we have a lot of new phrases to learn.

I mention projection, but of course content delivery is changing; there are an every increasing number of 'boxes' in a booth now that just do stuff, and whilst this may decrease, more boxes are going to be needed to cope with what is coming, and that means that technical teams are going to have a lot of learning to do. Also, the profusion of new ideas means there are many new ways we can do things, many new options for our educational programmes for example. We don't need to bring pupils to the cinema, we can bring the cinema to them, streaming talks and discussions to them and screening films on portable equipment. We can have more events that aren't actually limited by physical location. Q&As can be sent via satellite to multiple destinations, but that is mightily expensive. How about we broadcast it on a streaming service instead? The tech is getting better to allow these things without the headaches and nerves that come with them failing. We are still limited by conventional thinking when we should embrace the possibilities open to us, collaborating to distinguish us from the multiplexes. They may have the shiny new things sooner than us, but our aim is to engage with our audience, not to have people check out when they come to us - and there are plenty of shiny new ways to do that as well.

3) What’s one thing that anyone can do that makes a big difference to the experience of watching a film?

Care. Care about your presentation and do the little things that will make it better. 

We have to compete with content everywhere on every improving television screen; even on people's tablets and phones. So make sure our picture quality is the best it can be, make sure your sound is properly aligned and your atmosphere is just right. Make people want to put down their devices and experience the film, whether it's to escape for a while or to learn. Cinema is magical, make it feel that way.

IBC Conference

Symon Culpan, National Media Museum, Bradford

1) What did you see at IBC that made you think ‘wow!’?

Quite a lot. I've never laid eyes on a 50ft Technocrane before and it certainly lived up to expectation! I also fell in love with the new Steenbeck that allows you to digitise as you go. However, limiting my response ONLY to the field of cinema exhibition, the biggest "Wow!" was High Dynamic Range (HDR). The Revenant looked extremely good but it was the black test before the screening that really impressed me. It's also a genuine improvement in imaging standards and not just a marketing gimmick or a fad; it will genuinely make the images on the screen better. However, I remain somewhat sceptical about the panel debate around return on investment on High Dynamic Range. I think the guy from Barco was right when he said people are willing to pay a premium for things they can immediately see a benefit in. I've heard audiences feed back that they would welcome more comfortable seating, more leg room, better wine etc, but I've never heard of anyone demanding better black levels (or a laser light source for that matter). It just isn't something your average cinema-goer is aware of, and as such I doubt they would willingly part with £2 extra for it.

2) What do you think is the future of the technical side of independent cinema?

In the short term I don't anticipate much change. Traditionally the independents are less concerned with 'bells and whistles' (partly because their audience demographic isn't) and are traditionally late adopters. It's important to consider how much of the agenda at IBC is set by big industry players who are more interested in the bottom line and reaching the 18-25 demographic. Most of the exhibitors I've met on the scheme are more concerned about showing quality product at an affordable price than they are about exhibition standards. That said, I do think that if the larger chains and 'plexes are updating and retrofitting then it could well mean some really good, fairly new, second hand equipment up for grabs if exhibitors play their cards right. When the industry switched to digital, the larger companies traditionally just junked their 35mm equipment en masse as opposed to selling it on, but I think they're less likely to do the same with outgoing digital kit as it's much more valuable, and the executives who recently shelled out for the original digital equipment will want to see some return on their investment, so selling off their old kit will offset the cost of the new. 

Also I think in the independent exhibition sector there is some definite advantage to sitting on the fence a while. Right now we're being sold various technological developments (HFR, HDR, 3D, Atmos, Escape, Auro, Laser projection) as the next big thing, but if the history of our industry tells us anything, it's that most competing formats will eventually cede to a clear winner. For example, it echoes the widescreen race in the '50s-'60s when a slew of high profile novelty formats came on the market as a means to lure audiences back into the cinema after the advent of television. Ten years later, most were already on their way to becoming technological curios (only Cinemascope and 6 channel surround sound cemented any real place as industry standards). History also suggests that any period of rapid technological development within our industry will plateau. Exhibitors tire of constant upgrades and retrofits and forever being sold the "next big thing", and even some new technologies that really could transform the industry will fail to do so. Throughout 100 years of the cinema industry, almost every decade of strong technological advancement has been followed by two decades of little change. 

More worryingly, I suspect that if the proposed advancements in "premium" experiences in the 'plexes really does take off, independent film could be pushed out of the cinema exhibition sector even more than it has been already. If a tentpole release has 120 fps 2D/3D versions, normal 24 fps versions, premium large format versions, HDR versions, boutique cinema screenings and cheaper "normal" screenings (in any combination of the above), then the only logical result is that the title will open on more screens, at more sites, at different price bands. If tentpoles are dominating the 'plexes more and more then smaller releases are pushed further toward online and VoD platforms (the internet is already becoming the best place to discover interesting and alternative forms of cinema). If tentpoles are to be made in 120 fps 3D then the cost of making them will increase, causing everrisk averse studios to take even fewer risks and the disparity of budget between independent and studio productions only likely to increase. That said (and to end on a more upbeat note), we might all start to tire of the fifth-or-sixth Avatar sequel in 120 fps 3D IMAX and find appetites for low-budget 2D honest-to-goodness storytelling increase again! After all, the era of big, colourful MGM musicals and Hollywood excesses of the '50s and '60s eventually gave way to the new wave of American independents (with Hello Dolly released the same year as Easy Rider - hard to believe but it's true!). So there is still hope.

3) What’s one thing that anyone can do that makes a big difference to the experience of watching a film?

As an audience member: turn your phone off, keep your mouth shut and don't eat noisy food. Or in other words, be respectful of the fact that cinema is a shared experience and just because you paid £10 for your ticket it doesn't give you the right to spoil the experience for others around you; they paid £10 too. I'll sound like an old curmudgeon (I'm 32!) but I never cease to be amazed by the selfish and rude behaviour of cinema-goers and it seems to be getting worse.

As an exhibitor: have a standard, be proud of who you are and passionate about what you're doing. Measure yourself against that standard. Be aware of the occasions when you fail to meet it and strive to do better. Never settle for second best just because your audience isn't complaining. You can make all manner of excuses but you know when you're not giving enough. If you don't, call the ICO and book a visit from a TA!

IBC

Simon Nichols, Borderlines Film Festival

1) What did you see at IBC that made you think ‘wow!’?

Ang Lee's demo was incredible double WOW but also the 3D Jungle Book with laser projection had an additional WOW factor. I'm not a big fan of 3D but with the correct brightness levels I can see how this is more engaging.

2) What do you think is the future of the technical side of independent cinema?

Hopefully once technology costs reduce it should be very promising for the future. If I was running an independent cinema now I would be keen to explore the potential to re-launch 3D with laser technology. Otherwise, I'm not sure I'd want to invest in anything additional at present, as screen size is quite small and the quality with current equipment is pretty good.

3) What’s one thing that anyone can do that makes a big difference to the experience of watching a film?

For me the one thing that makes a difference is (and always has been) showmanship. Lighting, music, the opportunity to watch credits without being cleaned up around...! Etc).

Robbie Duncan, Glasgow Film Theatre

1) What did you see at IBC that made you think ‘wow!’?

Obviously the Ang Lee thing, but that was less 'wow!' and more AARRRRGGHHHHoh actually that's quite interesting.  Beyond that, I'd have to say that both NHK's 8K OLED technology and some of the ultrafine pitch LED screen's were full of 'wow!'. The roll away OLED screen was incredibly impressive and has the potential to really change small film screenings by doing away with the projector completely. Never in the cinema environment itself, but in terms of events it's a really interesting step.

2) What do you think is the future of the technical side of independent cinema?

How long do you have?  Mostly I think it's about staying relevant and investing in the right technology that keeps the cinema's on par with the PLF screens but with a more interesting catalogue of programming.  Many will continue to attend events at independent cinema's purely because of the content, fully aware that they don't have the budgets to compete, but it would be a mistake to lay down or think about investing much later into current trends of High Brightness and HDR.  Kind of related to the first question, I went to the EYE Film Museum and Pathé Tuchinsky and asked to see the booths, I was extremely impressed with the Netherlands ability to have independent cinemas that still had access to extremely high quality equipment, I think Amsterdam was a real proof of concept (as is Scandanavia) that it's possible.

3) What’s one thing that anyone can do that makes a big difference to the experience of watching a film?

Showmanship.  It's not sitting down and watching a film the way you do in the house, always try and inject a bit of theatre to the event and try to make the screen a magic experience again.

IBC

Leigh Heathcote, Broadway, Nottingham

1) What did you see at IBC that made you think ‘wow!’?

A few things for me, easily the extended look at The Martian in 4K/HDR via the Dolby Vision projector was simply the best thing I have ever seen projected. Certainly for an image the size of a large format screen. It looked absolutely stunning. A "wow" moment simply from a technical point of view.

One of the other things being discussed, while not currently a reality and perhaps a good few years off was the concept of 'Laser Farms'. The idea that a multiplex could use a singular large laser light source to then feed all of the projectors on a particular site is remarkable, and 'Laser Farming' is quite possibly the most inherently futuristic idea I've come across in a while.

Not really discussed at any of the keynotes was LED panel technology but the SONY CLEDIS 4K Crystal LED display on the show-floor was really impressive. The practicability and affordability of technology like this in the cinema rather than the advertising sector is something I'd like to hear more about. It could have an amazing impact for outdoor and premium small format cinema, I guess pricing/set-up might affect the chances of that happening.     

2) What do you think is the future of the technical side of independent cinema?

Laser technology as a light source for projection is very much on the horizon and looks like the future for indie and mainstream cinema. Although it will co-exist with xenon for a long time, once the market is split and perhaps more competitive it might provide an opportunity for smaller cinemas to upgrade series one digital machines at a more affordable price. Laser phosphor technology must be appealing to independent cinemas looking to upgrade in the next 2-3 years.

The idea of a Central Distribution Network (CDN) could allow independent programmers to take advantage of the new distribution technology available to them, allowing them to almost crowdsource screenings from an extensive library of archive/indie titles with a direct connection to distributors to deliver content and KDMs, and offering almost instant bookings on audience demand. Although this could be a tech solution for an idea that doesn't have universal support, I thought the idea of a group of people getting together on an evening to then "vote" for what they wanted to see at the cinema is pretty neat.   

3) What’s one thing that anyone can do that makes a big difference to the experience of watching a film?

Attention to detail, good lens set-up, a nicely framed image. Close attention to audio levels and good calibration of audio equipment is key. And I think as demonstrated during the the Dolby Vision show-reel, the less light the better! A darker auditorium is great for contrast levels and can really make an image pop, the lowest light levels you can allow will provide you with the best results from your equipment whatever it is.  

Ian Brown, Film Mobile, Scotland

1) What did you see at IBC that made you think ‘wow!’?

For me it was the 35mm print scanners and content delivery systems. If independent cinemas are going to move forward, we need to make use of new technologies to show more archive and rare film, and also need to be push harder for better means of content delivery to remote and rural locations.

2) What do you think is the future of the technical side of independent cinema?

Digital projection has opened up much more content for cinemas (e.g. alternative content/event cinema) and has allowed them to offer a more varied programme. But this can be pushed further still with independent cinemas streaming or showing live Q&As from major film festivals, or other events giving added value to customers no matter where they are in the country. The technology is there, we just need to work with festivals and larger cinemas to support the smaller ones.

3) What’s one thing that anyone can do that makes a big difference to the experience of watching a film?

For me it's all about the details. Take time and get the support you need to offer the best calibrated sound, perfect picture and use the best format you have access to. If you can do that, the right film will make the audience forget where they are and be transported into the film itself. It doesn’t need to be HFR, 3D, 4K or luxury seating; it just needs to be the right programme for your audience and the most professional presentation within your budget. The support that the ICO offer via its Technical Ambassador scheme I feel is an invaluable tool for community cinemas.

FEDS 2016: Yasmeen's experience working at the East End Film Festival

Posted Thursday 8 September 2016 by Kenny Bradley in FEDS scheme, Festival Reports, Training & Conferences

Yasmeen Genesis Exterior

As our FEDS trainee scheme (funded by Creative Skillset) passes the halfway mark for the current cohort, one of our trainees, Yasmeen Ismail, who is based at London's Genesis Cinema, provided us with an insight into working on the 15th East End Film Festival, which ran between 23 June - 3 July across 15 venues and included 20 world premieres.

This year, I worked on East End Film Festival 2016, which ran between 23 June – 3 July, in what was the festival’s 15th year anniversary. Working at the Genesis Cinema, one of the hosts of the festival, meant that I was right in the midst of the production, from initial meetings through to seeing the red carpet roll out on the opening night, all of which opened my eyes to just what it takes to be a host venue for a film festival.

Here are the five main things I’ve taken away from this experience.

1. It's a real collective effort

As the East End Film Festival is hosted in multiple venues around London, it’s really important to acknowledge how much of a collaborative effort it is to put a festival together. From programming to marketing, sponsorship and events, it takes a huge amount of communication and effort to organise something as complex as a film festival in a large city.

This year, the East End Film Festival had a huge 15 venues playing host to their programme, including the Genesis Cinema, Hackney Picturehouse, Rio Cinema and Rich Mix. One major plus side of Genesis being a co-founder and host venue of the festival, was that there was the freedom to offer and be part of a team which programmed individual screenings and 3 of the festival strands, 40 Years of Punk, Crime Scene and Day of Refuge, all of which were held at the venue. These included films such as Angela Boatwright’s Los Punks: We Are All We Have and new releases like Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea.

A highlight was also seeing The Hard Stop, a film that I initially suggested and was likely to gain a lot of publicity ending up being shaped by the EEFF team into a Q&A hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, featuring members of the cast and director George Amponsah, which led into a discussion on police brutality in the UK, which was amazing to see unfold.    

.Yasmeen EEFF The Hard Stop 

Panel discussion chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, following EEFFs screening of The Hard Stop on 30 June 2016

2. Outreach is everything

Along with the programming being a real collective effort, the marketing also required a great deal of collaboration; it was a priority for all involved to ensure that screenings met their potential and were a success.

Throughout the marketing process I was heavily involved in the social media side of things, which involved writing copy for Tweets, creating Facebook events for each EEFF event, and updating Instagram.

With my previous social media marketing background, I assumed this type of marketing would be the most effective in getting the word across. I soon realised that this was just one part of a bigger whole, and that when it comes to events based marketing, reaching out to other brands and people was just as important.

This instantly helped to create word-of-mouth and showed that the more diverse and far-reaching the marketing strategy was, the more people listened, which also applies to day-to-day marketing; getting a wide range of people involved usually helps to boost figures.

3. It isn't the final programme until screens are filled

When the festival got underway, it quickly became apparent that attending a festival and working behind the scenes of a festival are two very different things. I had always assumed that film festival programmes were finalised long before screens were filled. Instead, one of the most surprising things I discovered was that during the festival, and in the lead up to it, the amount of changes to the programme seemed innumerable. 

This was mainly due to the finer details that are often overlooked from the audience’s perspective, including securing last minute talent for Q&As to boost publicity and ticket sales, screen availability and additions or cancellations, for example, adding a short film into a programme or even swapping a film for a themed screening, e.g. Parent & Baby screenings.

In order to keep on top of things, I learnt how important it was to accept both the excitement and unpredictability of new programming choices, in an industry that’s as exciting and unpredictable.

4. Everyone really does know everyone

I’d always heard people say that ‘everyone knows everyone in the film industry’, and during my time working in the industry and in festival seasons, it’s clear that this is definitely true.

The ‘who you know’ and freelance/fixed term element of the industry means that you are almost guaranteed to bump into someone you’ve met before, or discover that you have mutual contacts with someone you’ve just met, which is why it’s important to be friendly and kind to everyone you meet. I feel like this is sort of a given anyway, but applies much more to the film industry than to others.

Yasmeen EEFF Poster

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5. It's important to relax and just enjoy it

Finally, when the festival is underway and the fast pace of the festival takes over – particularly during the early mornings and late nights – I realised how important it is to put everything into perspective and to remember that everyone involved in the festival has one thing in common: a genuine passion and love for film.

Working day-to-day on the actual events, with tasks such as setting up events lists, prepping mics and greeting guests for film after film, is also really addictive, and one of the reasons there’s a strange feeling just after a festival ends.

Ultimately I would say that it’s really important to take it all in and just enjoy it, particularly on opening and closing nights, when there’s an excitement and atmosphere you can’t really re-create elsewhere. 

To read Rebekah's experience working at the Errol Flynn Filmhouse as a FEDS trainee click here.

Abbas Kiarostami: Saint of Cinema

Posted Thursday 1 September 2016 by David Sin in General

The Wind Will Carry Us
Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)

Iranian director, screenwriter, photographer and producer Abbas Kiarostami sadly died earlier this year aged 76. One of world cinema's most vital, sophisticated and mysterious voices, his work channelled Persian culture and spearheaded the Iranian New Wave. Here our Head of Cinemas David Sin remembers his encounters both with Kiarostami himself, and with his illuminating and transcendent cinema.

It’s the end of the 1990s, the end of the century and somewhere near the beginnings of Digital Cinema when I find myself chaperoning a kind of cultural blind date (or was it supposed to be a boxing match?) between the film directors Atom Egoyan and John Maybury at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts.

They meet for the first time when we walk into a packed auditorium. Egoyan, already well established as an auteur on the international scene, is quickly into his stride and characteristically cerebral when talking about the state of cinema; Maybury, fresh from the acclaim at Cannes for his first dramatic feature Love is the Devil, is more reticent at first but soon waxing lyrical about the wider potential of cinema. They both stand up to salute, ironically, the rules and disciplines of the Dogme 95 movement. They mostly agree, discuss facets of cinema at length with elaborate gestures and fascinating insights. I listen but have to do little else. The audience is invited to ask questions and they do, lots. The evening ends, and whilst it would be too much to say that it represented anything other another talk event at the ICA, it is an example of the heightened cinephilia which existed at the turn of the decade.

Taste of Cherry
Taste of Cherry (1997)

Six or seven years earlier, I’m trying to put together some public screenings for the Birmingham International Film Festival, briefed to look for important new films from what had been until then considered ‘Third Cinema’. I flick through the catalogue of that year’s Hong Kong Film Festival and find the blurbs for their presentation of a complete retrospective by Abbas Kiarostami. Despite considering myself well versed in World Cinema, I’ve never seen any of the films, not one, dating back to the early 1970s, for the simple reason that  none of them had yet been released in the UK, and this was in the age before the internet made everything available to everyone. Despite this I cannot tear myself away from the write-ups and their accompanying thumbnail images, four or five pages that I read and read over and over again, to make sure that I’m well prepared, know the context, if ever I get the opportunity to see the films. I find even the blurbs about the films, translated from Cantonese into English, fairly hypnotic and wonder why they’ve never been released in the UK, and how I can access them.

The Traveller
The Traveller (1974)

Forward a few years and Kiarostami has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes with Taste of Cherry which has also been released in the UK, along with some of the director’s earlier films Through the Olive Trees, Where is the Friend’s Home?, Life, and Nothing More... and Close-Up. I’m now Director of Cinema at the ICA, the distributor of a couple of these titles and at that time, one of the few cinemas in the UK which regularly exhibited a wider range of films from the Iranian ‘New Wave’. Without a zillion pounds to invest in the release of films, my colleagues and I strike some deals to bring to the UK for a few months earlier films by some of the major filmmakers of the time: it’s a classic curator’s strategy, to enable audiences to understand the creative development of an artist. One of the first choices is Kiarostami’s The Traveller, his first feature length film, made in pre-Revolution Iran but such a blueprint for so many of the films that later emerged from the New Wave. The film proves to be a small hit, like some many of Kiarostami’s films, with both critics and the viewing audience. For those few thousand people who saw it in its run at the ICA or on its short tour, I’m sure it felt like a formative experience, like seeing a film for the first time.

Close-up
Close-Up (1990): "a dazzling drama which indirectly puts cinema itself on trial"

During this period, as more of the director’s films became available, the experience of seeing each ‘new’ Kiarostami film was like rediscovering cinema each time, even when viewing them out of chronological order. His films, like cinema, completely blur the lines between reality and fiction, documentary and drama. They appeared fresh and original (even when released years after they were made); they are experimental and formalist, but also funny and full of feeling and compassion for the characters. Each film captures an authenticity in its subjects, themes and settings, providing a vivid view of life in Iran in the 80s and 90s whilst also slyly revealing the mechanics of storytelling and acknowledging the illusory nature of cinema. Anyone new to Kiarostami’s films released in this period would do well to seek out Close-Up, a dazzling drama which indirectly puts cinema itself on trial.

By the end of the millennium, Kiarostami’s films had achieved a kind of global pre-eminence in the film culture, even if he was less well recognised in Iran, and it was the very nature of the films which made them so important to the cinephilia of that era and the development of a World Cinema. His films raised the bar, and developed a whole set of new discourses in cinema which gradually played out at events like the Egoyan/Maybury head to head at the ICA.

Where is the friend's home
Where is the Friend's Home? (1987)

Fast forward a few months, and I find myself alongside 50 or so other international guests at the Fajr Film Festival in a wintry Tehran. The majority of the new Iranian films that we’re all obliged to watch are those deemed exportable by the Republic’s film agency – mostly very culturally-specific genre films, with the occasional gem of experimentation from Abolfazl Jallili or classically honed melodrama from Majid Majidi. After the first couple of days, viewing one after another in the basement of the city’s art museum, we’re all shepherded back to the main hotel where, that evening, many of the participating filmmakers are gathered. After engaging in polite small talk and trying to work out the best way to tell various filmmakers that their titles won’t find an audience in the UK, I’m introduced to Abbas Kiarostami, who’s attending without a film but keen to make connections with curators and industry figures outside Iran. For a superstar of World Cinema, he’s modest, self-effacing, and completely approachable. We talk about his forthcoming project and his photography which had never been exhibited in the UK, and he offers to send a copy of his latest treatment which became The Wind Will Carry Us.

Last month, Abbas Kiarostami died in Paris. He leaves behind a magnificent set of films which demand repeated viewing and have the power to turn any regular cinemagoer into a determined cinephile.

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