Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

5 tips on how to build your own community cinema from Star & Shadow, Newcastle

Posted Thursday 27 October 2016 by Ellen Reay in General

Star and Shadow Halloween
(Image credit: Joseph de Haan)

The Star & Shadow is a cooperative cinema made and run by the people of Newcastle upon Tyne. After 9 years of providing an invaluable creative community resource at their venue on Stepney Bank, they have bought their own building and are working on its complete refurbishment. You can support them through their crowdfunding campaign here. Iris Priest, part of the collective behind The Star & Shadow, shares the vision behind their work and her 5 tips on building a community cinema.

For the last 10 years our volunteers have run a diverse, independent programme of films, music, art and events, from month-long film seasons and weekend-long music festivals to one-off performances and workshops. Unlike other venues in the area we do not rely on any single curatorial vision but are run by consensus decision-making. We are a not-for-profit organisation. We exist to provide a platform for experimentation, creativity and learning to flourish outside the mundane mainstream of film and music and to create safe spaces for coming together, thinking and testing ideas. The Star & Shadow has been built through collective knowledge sharing (inspired by open source culture) and, in this spirit, we would like to share with you a few tips about how to build and grow your own community cinema.

1. Involve everyone

‘…the idea was that if we all build the space together collectively, physically build it, then we will all want to use it. So gradually the audience becomes more and more involved in participating… It’s very important that the Star & Shadow be part of this active engagement: that if you go to a gig, a meeting or see a film there that you’re actually an active agent in that… ‘

Christo Wallers (Artist Filmmaker & Co-Founder of The Star & Shadow Cinema)

The Star & Shadow is open to anyone who wants to become involved in any and all aspects of the cinema, from working on the bar at gigs to programming or hosting films and events. We don’t always expect people to come fully prepared or knowing precisely what they want to do. We like to offer opportunities for volunteers to learn as they go and to follow their interests whether they be scriptwriting, acting, running a bar, film editing or any number of the other activities involved in running a cinema and art space.

It is our volunteers who are, at present, literally rebuilding the cinema from scratch on the new Warwick Street site and pioneering the fundraising for the new venue. We hold weekly general meetings on a Monday evening which anyone - regardless of experience, skills or background - is welcome to attend as well as regular site inductions for people wishing to get involved with the rebuild. At the heart of what we do is the belief in cultural agency: of engaging people in film and the arts not just as consumers but as active participants, an approach which we believe is much deeper and more vital than a profit-driven commercial cinema.

2. Allow room to manoeuvre when the unexpected occurs

‘…In the two or so years since it’s been shut, things have gone right down, there’s this huge gaping hole… that’s both from a punter’s perspective and a performing perspective. Star & Shadow’s really like a musical home, for me certainly…it’s very much a base for many writers, performers round here and all of the most magic shows happen there…’

Richard Dawson (Musician)

In 2015, after almost ten years of amazing creative activity on our Stepney Bank site, we were told that our building was being taken back by the owners for redevelopment. This was a real blow to the cinema, our volunteers, artists and larger communities of participants. But we weren’t just going to lie down and accept this would be the end, an emergency meeting was held to discuss what to do next:

‘…and as organisation that’s been running for 9 years we were all feeling pretty tired and like ‘Maybe we should just sack it off’ but everyone agreed, ‘No, we’re going to do this. We’re not going to find anywhere that we’re going to rent, we’re going to buy somewhere and be in control of our future’ and so there’s been this surprising but wonderful additional burst of positive energy.’

Rachel Bollen (Artist, The Star & Shadow Volunteer)

star and shadow wall
(Image credit: Joseph de Haan)

3. Nurture good relationships

The Star & Shadow has maintained a good relationship with Newcastle City Council and it has been through this that we have managed to secure our new premises. Essentially, the council had this empty building (a former carpet warehouse) on their books and rather than simply rent it to us, they have helped us buy the building.

Despite operating in an ‘unconventional’ way (in comparison to other cultural institutions in the area), it is by nurturing a good, ongoing relationship with the council that they have been able to understand and recognise our role in community empowerment and our contributions to social, cultural and economic activity in the area.

But it is not just the relationships with civic institutions that matter. Being part of the cultural and social fabric of Newcastle means that we exist within, and depend upon, a large ecology of individuals: other art spaces; studios; venues; festivals; charities; and community organisations. We exist through our reciprocal relationships with these groups and work hard to ensure they can use The Star & Shadow to promote their own social causes via film, music, discussions and working groups. We all benefit from a strong creative community of local and international networks. As such, we do everything we can to support both locally made or inspired films, musicians, artists and storytellers but also play host to events, discussions, lectures and festivals of international scope such as TUSK music festival; AV Festival; Language Café Newcastle; ¡VAMOS! Festival and Wunderbar Festival (amongst others).

4. Be patient

‘One of the things about the way the Star & Shadow works, which is different from most organisations that I’ve been involved with, is that decision making is by consensus… the idea being that people really think deeply about the issues…‘

Diane Jones (Activist)

Because we are run on community engagement and consensus decision-making, things don’t always happen quickly. Like any relationship, there are rough patches and disagreements but with the investment of time and patience the hard work pays off in the long run.

Star & Shadow building
(Image credit: Arto Polus)

5. Never stop learning

‘…a couple of years after I started volunteering I started programming films which I was really nervous about but quickly I came to love it… I programmed about 100 films in five years… and it was just absolutely, totally amazing… Programming films at the Star & Shadow really changed my life around completely because it helped me to see that it was possible to work in film and it helped me to meet people who worked in that field…  I eventually quit my day job and I got the confidence to start working freelance in film, photography and art.’

Stephanie Oswald (Film Programmer & Photographer)

Both as individuals and as an organisation we are always learning. Many of our volunteers who are working on the current rebuild are learning about site management, building regulations and health and safety. As we have evolved we have constantly been learning from our mistakes, successes and the shared knowledge and wisdom of others. But it is the constant learning which keeps us ever-evolving, questioning and excited.

To help Star & Shadow with the amazing work they're doing contribute to their crowdfunding campaign for their new cinema (which ends 7 November) click here.

To find out more about the work the Star & Shadow do and to follow the progress of their refurbishment, you can visit their website

The future of independent exhibition: Screen Exhibitors' Forum

Posted Friday 21 October 2016 by Duncan Carson in Training & Conferences

Screen on the Green Exhibitors Day

On 20 October, we headed to Everyman's Screen on the Green for a day debating the hot topics in independent exhibition in partnership with Screen International. The Screen Exhibitors' Forum hosted three packed panels and two keynotes, so there was lots to take in, so we've compiled this guide to some of the key points. Click through to read it on Storify.

News round up... October 2016

Posted Thursday 13 October 2016 by Mike Tang in General, News Round-up

 Screening Days October 2016 new titles montage

ICO news

The final few passes are available for our next Screening Days event at Broadway, Nottingham (some clues to the films featured in the image above). The film line-up is now complete and as ever, encompasses some of the most exciting titles set for release in the months to come including La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, The Handmaiden, Elle, Toni Erdmann... and more! Get the edge on your programming and marketing and book your pass before we run out.

We’re delighted to be partnering with the BFI on their Black Star season. This is the biggest ever celebration of black on-screen talent, and we have a fabulous selection of ten films from the 1940s through to the modern day, bookable at unbeatable prices. To book or enquire, email

On that note, bookings have been steaming in for Britain on Film: Railways, the first programme in our new archive tour, Britain on Film on Tour. This title is available to book now for screenings from 11 November. If you want to evoke the romance and history of Britain's railways at your venue, email The trailer is a great place to start

Do you want to improve your cinema's technical set up? Our Digital Projection and Cinema Audio event at Exeter Phoenix is your chance to get those key questions answered in person by an expert. Oh and it's free! Great to partner with Film Hub South West and West Midlands on this event. Get your pass now as they're going quickly.

In more news from ICO training, we're delighted to announce our new cohort of Women's Leadership participants. Just in case you need a run down on who'll be running the world very shortly...

And we’re delighted to welcome two new members to the ICO team: Daniel Horseman and Ellen Reay, our new Administration Assistant and Marketing Intern respectively. We wish them a warm welcome and the best of luck!

Opportunities and calls for submissions

We're delighted to partner with Screen International to bring you The Future of Independent Cinema, a day of debates on the challenges facing independent exhibition. We'll be speaking with industry experts about the future of cinema post-Brexit, how to balance commerce and curation in your programming and the technological shifts that will matter to our sector. To register for your free pass, click here.

Setting up a young programmers' group is an effective way for young people to have a voice in your venue. Film Hub Scotland are running this ace workshop, Working with Young Programmers at Discovery Film Festival in Dundee to get you started. Click here to find out more (and remember there are bursaries available from your Hub to help you get there).

79% of people in the film industry said that caring for their child has had a negative impact on their role. Raising Films is a really fantastic new initiative to help make the relations between filmmaking and person-making a lot more happy. They're running three sessions across the country to help you whatever stage of childcare you're at and they're looking for people in exhibition to take part.

Read more

One of the key events in the exhibition calendar, This Way Up 2016 has now announced its keynote speakers and themes. A two-day conference taking place this year at Glasgow Film Theatre over 29-30 November, This Way Up will give you the opportunity to explore and discuss new ideas, emerging audience trends and the future of cinema.

Why is BFI’s Black Star season an essential addition to the exhibition calendar? This Screen Daily article will give you an idea: nearly 60% of British films over the last 10 years featured no black actors in any named role.

We've been thinking a lot about what makes a cinema truly Deaf-friendly recently and we love this video from Glasgow Film Theatre's Visible Cinema that's a great example of just that.

Do film critics matter when it comes to a film’s success? Here’s an interesting blog that breaks down review scores and profitability. Find out the genres where film critics matter the most!

"[Diversity's] got to be baked into the foundation of where the ideas flow from.” The BFI Black Star Symposium had some great takeaways from David Oyelowo (whose passionate keynote offered a galvanising call to action), Noel Clarke and more. Check out The Guardian's report here.

It’s an argument that has long been in the making: are UK cinema ticket prices sustainable? The variation in ticket prices across the country may shock you.

Here's a headscratcher for you: who are all these faces in Curzon Artificial Eye's 40th anniversary celebration poster? Our office combined score was around 30 - see if you can go the whole hog!

We spoke to Mickey Fellowes from HearFirst on how cinemas can do more to consider the needs of people suffering with mental health issues - essential reading not just for exhibition, but for our society as a whole.

A couple of paracetamol OR a quick watch of Hard to Be a God? Science now proves (*irrefutably*) that they're basically the same when it comes to pain relief.

Want to know whether films are going to be streamed directly into your brain in just a few short months? Then make sure you read our future of cinema technology blog post from Holland!

Finally, a word from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: “Movie theaters are strangling the movie business.” What happens across the pond has echoes over here. This is one that will run and run. 

5 ways your venue can do more for mental health

Posted Thursday 6 October 2016 by Duncan Carson

Oslo Augusts 31
Oslo August 31st

The cinema can be a place to find escapism and solace when struggling with mental health. Mental health is sometimes harder to be aware of for venues than physical disability, but there are still ways to be considerate, welcoming and sensitive. To coincide with World Mental Health Day on 10 October, we spoke to Mickey Fellowes from HearFirst about how your venue can do more to consider the needs for people suffering with mental health issues, both audiences and staff members.

Mental health impacts on everybody. Mind say one in four will experience a mental health problem each year. One in four is not just our customers. This is us, our partners, our families, our friends and our colleagues.

It gets interesting… this is not just a quarter of us. Because of course our mental health will also impact on our children, partners, friends and colleagues. A friend K told me he was the original ‘germ free adolescent’ (reverence to punk band X-Ray Spex). He could never get the smell of bleach from his hands and his clothes from his mum’s OCD.

It’s not just about mental illness. Our delight in the beauty and value of life – our mental wellbeing – will vary throughout our lives. Grief or relationship breakdown can leave us struggling to live our lives and do our jobs. Poor mental wellbeing, festering, may lead to mental illness.

Cinema is for everyone. So how do we make our screens and organisations more welcoming for people with mental health issues? How do we promote mental wellbeing?

Top five tips:

1. Are you prepared? Have you got a plan? Do you and your staff know what to do if a customer has a panic attack? Do you know what to do to support a staff member with depression or developing agoraphobia? Do you consult with experienced staff members and local mental health user groups?

2. Reduce stigma. We are frightened by what we do not understand. Awareness training and talking about it allows people to ‘come out’ with a mental health issue. This reduces the stress and anxiety of living with a condition.

3. Respect that you don’t know. We have other jobs and lives. We may not have the lived experience of years with a mental health condition or spent thirteen years training as a psychiatrist. We are not required to be experts. Approach the situation with an open mind and open questions.

“How can we help?” 

“How can we make it easier for you?”

Woman Under the Influence
A Woman Under the Influence

4. Be observant. Do you see changes in people you know? Changes in manner, mood and appearance? Don’t be afraid to ask them how they are feeling. Make time, in our often hectic working lives, to listen non-judgmentally. Often they will have spent hours criticising and castigating themselves.

I’ve got a great job and a supportive family – I’ve no reason to feel depressed.”

They don’t need us to add to it.

5. Seek professional help. We are not experts. If you are supporting someone encourage them to seek professional help. Be softly persistent and aware that in certain mental states they may not see the value of professional help. Encourage self-help, wellbeing strategies such as reducing alcohol and drugs. Healthy eating, exercise and community engagement.

Mickey Fellowes is a senior tutor at the UK’s leading deaf/disability training organisation HearFirst Training and Consultancy. He has recently lead a highly successful programme of awareness training on behalf of the Independent Cinema Office and the British Deaf Association.

Mickey is an approved Instructor for Mental Health First Aid England and will be leading the internationally recognised two day Mental Health First Aid course on 28-29 November 2016 in Manchester. The course is ideal for anyone who is serious about making their screens and organisation more welcoming for people with mental health issues and promoting mental wellbeing. Further details of the course and how to book a place are here.


This is the official blog for the Independent Cinema Office, the national organisation for the development and support of independent film exhibition in the UK.


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