Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Ask a #DYFFexpert with Wendy Mitchell

Posted Thursday 23 March 2017 by Ellen Reay in General, Training & Conferences


Last week we were joined by Wendy Mitchell, Contributing Editor at Screen International, for a live Twitter Q&A on how you can ensure your film festival is as press-friendly as possible to really boost its reputation. In case you missed it, we've gathered together all her great insights from the session below. Wendy will be joining us again as a speaker at this year's Developing Your Film Festival, our intensive training programme for film festival professionals, taking place in Edinburgh from 19 - 24 June 2017 alongside this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Applications for DYFF are open until 24 April 2017.

For Young People, By Young People: Barbican Young Programmers

Posted Thursday 16 March 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers

Swagger Barbican YP
Swagger has its UK premiere at Chronic Youth 2017, programmed by the Barbican Young Programmers group

Different young programmers initiatives are popping up in cinemas around the country. They're an opportunity for cinemas to learn from young people, and young people to learn about cinemas, for everyone's benefit. Over the weekend of 18/19 March, the Barbican in London will be presenting Chronic Youth 2017, a season of six screenings produced by the Barbican Young Programmers group. Here, two of its twelve members give us their take on the process of programming and marketing.  

Ross McDonnell

Among the busy culture of film clubs and collectives exists Barbican’s Young Programmers, a group of fifteen who are entrusted to curate an annual film festival. The group has existed since 2012 with different members joining each year. The title “Chronic Youth” carries over from last year's programme. Coming-of-age films can be a difficult genre: so popular and so familiar, but regularly producing films too schematic or sterile.

The Young Programmers’ initiative is a great opportunity for us and the Barbican: the cinema team here gets first-hand insight into how we engage with cinema and receive film. In particular the challenges of dwindling nationwide average occupancy rate, multiple means of viewing, the huge number of films released theatrically per week and the incredible competition there is for young people’s attention.

For us, we get the opportunity to meet experienced curators, distributors and producers and are free to programme what we think people would want to watch — to perhaps project things we’ve only ever seen broadcast on TV or bootlegged on a laptop, or, now, on the other side of that eye-opening loss-of innocence, try and do something small toward changing how much important filmmaking sadly still goes without distribution. Our programme is finalised, we have successfully curated a film festival, and after six months what have we learned?

Our job was not to type “coming-of-age” into Wikipedia, and copy and paste what we found, but to create more inspired choices that renders the programmer not just paper-pusher or rule-follower. Instead, ideally, we hoped to pick films and filmmakers that refuse formula.

Barbican Young Programmers 2017
The Barbican Young Programmers Group 2017

Programming could be pure idealism, an impulse to turn fantasy into reality. But in reality an idea can create challenge upon challenge as it gets closer to materialising, and only eventually might it ever amount to anything. Practical realities and unavoidable logistics threaten you at every corner newly turned, hope is always commensurate with disappointment, the magical with the miserable. Why volunteer for this dangerous idea that encourages delusion and daydream? You are not going to chase your favourite filmmaker to the airport and beg them to stay, and they are not going to give you their jacket as a souvenir to remember them by. Some very worthy films had to be set aside.

In our rookie attempt at putting together a programme, we learned about the machine of International Sales and Distribution; about strange-sounding things like “Scalarama?” and “Pascale Ramonda?”; about the difference between championing a film and feeling dangerously kindred with one, a semi-selfish one-to-one connection that binds you with invisible and inextricable heartstrings.

Through the ego-threatening process of pitching our programming suggestions to the group, with space to deal with rejection and a time window to move on or bounce back, we recognised our true diversity of taste. It toughened up this group of burgeoning young professionals.

In our programming, we were ultimately (soberly) at the mercy of what is available, what is still out there in circulation, within reach, preserved. Following a “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” approach, this is what we decided on:

Something Better to Come
Something Better to Come

The programme

French film Swagger (making its UK premiere) and the Danish-Polish Something Better to Come are two most different documentaries: the former candy-coloured and kinetic, capturing the energy of its subject with a titular swagger; the latter a 14-year chronicle of the children living on Russia’s biggest garbage dump, a community struggling to survive in such adverse conditions.

Our shorts programme New Voices of Girlhood showcases five emerging female filmmakers, national and international, while 1916 silent film Shoes — the social issues it depicts still relevant today — is from one of the first women filmmakers: the pioneer Lois Weber.

Romy + Michele’s High School Reunion is a comedy both beloved and underrated, something even ahead-of-its-time when we consider how female friendships and platonic relationships are still too-rarely represented on-screen. Millennium Mambo then, is both a film by Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien and a film that can be — excitingly — contextualised and programmed outside of a Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective. With an ambivalent chronology and minimal plot, Millennium Mambo could be film at its most existential, transferring instead a feeling of loneliness and alienation, its hedonism and melancholy just code for drug use and depression. In its twin existence - both material and immaterial - it neatly reflects the work and weight of programming and projection — the shipping of prints, the assembling of reels — all done for the sake of 105 minutes of flickering light. Millennium Mambo will be preceded by two short films (never shown before in the UK) by one of the most acclaimed working filmmakers: Mia Hansen-Løve. As well as the apparent similarities between Hou and Hansen-Løve’s work, and Hansen-Løve’s own radical approach to the coming-of-age genre, these debut shorts — made in the filmmaker’s early twenties — highlight a brilliant filmmaker’s more modest, experimental beginning.

With some films moved to larger screens and some nearly sold out, we’re very happy with what the group has achieved.

Millennium Mambo
Millennium Mambo

Will Webb

Throughout the weeks, we’ve been lucky to have heard from a selection of guest speakers who have various skills and knowledge in the many points in the film programming process - distributors, exhibitors, cinema and festival programmers, marketers and even several filmmakers. With members of our group itself having our own diverse set of interests, and different routes into programming, having different experts providing their advice and input reflected our own different interests nicely.

One insight that stands out for me has been into the marketing of festivals. Although some of us have run screenings before, this festival is a massive logistical step-up, and we’ve had great support from the Barbican marketing team. The diversity of our programme brings its own challenges, as we’re showing six very different programmes that each appeal to different slices of the Barbican audience, so we’ve been working hard to make sure we reach each respective audience through standard channels like print flyers and social media. Of course, as the final deadlines for marketing have been approaching, we’ve also been having the standard last minute shuffles and near-misses with confirming our screenings, so it’s been very hectic. This has been one part of the process where being in such a large and diverse group of programmers has really helped — with many different people involved, we’ve been able to spread the work and move at a fast pace in the final weeks before the festival.

See the full line up of the Chronic Youth Film Festival programme here. If you would like to find out how to become a Barbican Young Programmer visit: applications will open in June.  For other opportunities for young people at the Barbican see you are interested in setting up your own young programmers initiative, the BFI Film Audience Network is running a scheme to develop them. Sign up to hear more by emailing

News Round Up February 2017

Posted Thursday 2 March 2017 by Ellen Reay in General, News Round-up

screening days march

ICO News

It's a busy time in the ICO office, with new training programmes, distribution titles and research keeping us on our toes. Here's a taste of what we've got going on:

  • After receiving our highest ever number of applications for our flagship Cultural Cinema Exhibition training course, we've now confirmed the list of lucky delegates following a (very) tough selection process. Thank you to all who applied!
  • Screening Days is drawing ever closer, with only a few passes left for Monday. Our final line-up boasts 24 of the best upcoming independent and world cinema releases, as well as award-winning shorts and a range of capacity-building sessions to get you thinking about your programme and organisational identity. If you missed out on the full three-day pass, there's still the chance to see some of our great titles - The Other Side of Hope, Their Finest, I Am Not Your Negro, to name a few - on Monday, but passes are running low!
  • Our third Britain on Film on Tour programme is now available to book! Britain on Film: Black Britain gathers archive films from 1901 to 1985 to form a rare and valuable exploration of previously little-seen depictions of black British life on screen, from scenes in the Edwardian collieries of the early 19th century to partying on the streets of London during Carnival. Previous Britain on Film programmes - Railways and Rural Life - are still available to book.
  • With more speakers confirming by the day, our international Developing Your Film Festival training course - this year running in Edinburgh alongside EIFF - is shaping up to be one of our best. If you want to learn from the minds behind the world's best film festivals this is your chance! Find out more and how to apply here.
  • It is happening excitement builds for new Twin Peaks, we're whetting your Lynchian appetites with a re-release of his journey through the city of dreams in Mulholland Drive. The 'best film of the 21st century' is back in cinemas 14 April in a new 4K restoration approved by David Lynch himself.
  • Amidst all the drama of Sunday's Academy Awards® you might have spotted a clip of another classic we're re-releasing this year. The first recipient of the Academy Award® for Best Foreign-Language Film, Federico Fellini's La Strada, will be back on the big screen this May. A favourite of filmmakers including Martin Scorsese and Jane Campion, La Strada is a treat for cinephiles old and new.
  • While most of our Deaf Awareness Training days are over now, with just a few spaces left for next week's session at the QFT in Belfast, our commitment to improve cinema provision for the D/deaf and hard of hearing is ongoing. We're asking film exhibitors to tell us what they do to welcome D/deaf and hard of hearing audiences into their venues, and what obstacles are standing in the way of truly great provision. If you have a spare 5 minutes, we'd really appreciate it if you could fill in our short survey on this topic.

Opportunities and Calls for Submissions

  • Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival is now open for entries! Entries are welcome from any genre, and in any format and on any subject. All single screen works under 60 minutes in length will automatically be eligible for selection in the Festival's New Cinema Competition. For details and to submit your film, visit
  • Submissions are now open for London Short Film Festival 15th anniversary in 2018. LSFF accepts both UK and International submissions, presenting a diverse and confrontational programme that holds up a mirror to our rapidly changing world. Find out more and how to submit:
  • Are you aged 18-25 and not in full-time education, training or employment? Do you have a brilliant idea for a short film? Would you like training, mentorship, funding and a professional crew to help you make it? Creative England have teamed up with Sky Arts for SHORTFLIX to provide that very opportunity. Find out more about the scheme and how to apply: Deadline 5pm on Wednesday 8 March 2017.
  • Are you a film academic in the early stages of your career? Kings College London are seeking a scholar with a commitment to interdisciplinary research and education and a special interest in Film Studies for their Liberal Arts Fellowship. Find out more here.
  • There are a whole host of great opportunities listed on our Jobs page, including several positions at the brand new depot cinema in Lewes. If you're an experienced marketing, finance or front of house manager, you can really make your mark on this exciting new endeavour.
  • Read more

10 ways data can change the way you run your cinema

Posted Thursday 26 January 2017 by Ellen Reay in General, Training & Conferences

data dashboards

Last week we had the pleasure of working with independent cultural consultant Sarah Boiling, on our Data-driven Marketing course up in Leeds. After four days of talking engagement and analytics, we've some up some of the key learnings with ten tips to get you started using data to drive your marketing strategy.

1. Is your data useful or just interesting?

There is no shortage of data – download any analytics report and you’ll see just how many Excel columns it can occupy – but not all this data is useful; in fact a lot of it isn’t. When analysing your current data or thinking about the data you want to collect, it’s important to remember this and ask yourself: will this data lead to a practical insight? All of our speakers spoke of the centrality of this idea in their own data-driven marketing strategy.

data ladder

2. Context is key

Getting your own useful data is only part of the picture. What does an open rate figure mean if you’ve got nothing to compare it to? Before you start a campaign set aside some time for desk research as well as analysing your own data. There’s a wealth of secondary data available to help you understand your context, from free resources such as the BFI’s weekly box office figures and Statistical Yearbook or statistics on your region from the Office of National Statistics to paid insights about arts engagement in your local area such as an Area Profile Report from the Audience Agency.

3. Get your data upfront

You may be hesitant to ask for too much data too quickly, but people are at their most willing to engage when they sign up, so ask then as it’s much harder to do it later! If you’re wondering how to ask your existing audience, maybe there’s a membership scheme or film club model that could work for your organisation. Try signing up with other cinemas and arts organisations to see what data they’re collecting and whether any of that could work for you. If you really can’t ask much, then, as Sarah Leuthwaite from Movio (and Mark from Bristol Museums and JP from Picturehouses) says, the best bit of data you can get from your customer is their postcode. The rest you can build from there, with a combination of desk research on the area and the knowledge you gain from their transactions.

4. Get acquainted with Google Analytics

It’s tempting on any analytics programme to look straight to the commonly used metrics they lay out, citing numbers without gaining any real insight. Google Analytics is no different, offering metrics such as Bounce rate, Time on Site and Site-wide Averages, but there are much greater insights on offer if you dig a little deeper. From event and campaign tracking to setting goals, Google Analytics can provide the data you need to back up your hunch or challenge the ways you’ve been thinking your audience engages with your site. There are a number of great free resources to help you get to grips with Google Analytics: Analytics Academy’s Digital FundamentalsAnnielytics’s Guide to Campaign Tagging and Koozai’s Event tracking guide.

5. Put the time in: segmentation is your friend

It can take some time to segment your audience, but it pays off. JP from Picturehouses explained demonstrated how their goal of sending more targetted email campaigns and less blanket emails, led to a drastic increase in open rates and click throughs.

There are four broad ways in which you can segment your audience: demographically, geographically, behaviourally and attitudinally. Each of these can be useful, but behaviour and attitude give the most away about how, when and with what method your audience likes to be contacted.There are a number of models of segmentation. Dan Cowley from The Audience Agency talked us through their model, the Audience Spectrum, in which the UK’s population is divided into ten segments reflecting their habits and preferences. You can find out more about the Audience Spectrum here.

6. Don’t fear a data cleanse

It can be daunting to see your subscriber list drop so drastically in numbers, but it’s worth checking in on those people who’ve stopped opening your emails. Beyond being good practice and keeping down the number of unhappy subscribers, a data cleanse helps you truly see what’s working for your audience when you try a new slant or message through A/B testing.

7. Automate where you can

There are simple ways to maintain non-invasive contact with your audiences. Set up automated messages of thanks for bookings, or celebrate their loyalty by recognising membership anniversaries.

8. Data doesn’t always mean digital

It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of e-newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, e-newsletter… but data can help you take informed risks in other styles of marketing. Faith Taylor from eOne spoke to us of their approach to marketing I, Daniel Blake. Given the lack of similar films, they started cold, analysing who interacted with the trailer through Facebook and how, which led to investing in grassroots marketing in areas of high engagement and a campaign that celebrated the thought-provoking content of the film.

data discussion

9. Communicate!

One of the biggest takeaways from this course was the need for better communication, internally and externally, and the role data can play in fostering it. Four key areas where data could help:

  • Between your organisation and your audience: it goes without saying that data lets you know how, when and with what content your audience likes to be contacted.

  • Within your organisation: dashboards can help create easy visuals around your data to show your colleagues what’s working and what’s not.

  • Between exhibitors: take a leaf from the theatrical world and start sharing your findings with other independent exhibitors, learn about shared problems and triumphs so you can recognise your own

  • Between exhibitors and distributors: we share the same goal; get people to see more independent film!

10. Start small and learn as you go

The data maturity levels - we’re all aiming for Level 3 but it takes time!

It’s tempting to believe ‘We don’t have the resources for a proper data strategy’ and it’s often true that you’re already pressed for time, but it’s not the case of a complete overhaul and heavy financial investment. Start small, do some A/B testing on your next social campaign and e-newsletters, or follow one campaign through on Google Analytics. Little by little you’ll work out what data and platforms work for you.

Looking for more insights around data? There are a number of great newsletters you can sign up to, here’s a handful we’d recommend: Katie Moffatt’s Digital Snapshot, Stephen Follows, Chris Unitt's Cultural Digital.


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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