Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Cinema therapy: screening film in hospitals with Medicinema

Posted Thursday 30 June 2016 by Sarah Rutterford in General

Medicinema
Holly Channing (7, from Barrhead) & parents Garry & June Channing at the opening of the new Medicinema supported by Yorkhill Children's Charity at The Royal Hospital For Children. in Glasgow.    
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A happy audience member with her parents at a screening in Glasgow Yorkhill Children's Hospital's MediCinema

Cinema can have a profoundly restorative power; the ability to lift you out of yourself and change your emotional state as well as entertain you. It's partly the film you're watching and partly the total immersion of the experience - sitting in the dark in an audience, you focus only on the screen. If you’re unlucky enough to be in hospital for months, the escapism of cinema is particularly valuable to you. MediCinema, an organisation that currently runs seven cinemas in NHS hospitals and clinical settings throughout the UK, is based on the principle that hospital cinema provision is therapeutic and should be as widespread as possible. We spoke to their Chief Executive Kat Mason about how their cinemas operate, and the valuable impact of their work.

How did MediCinema start?

MediCinema was founded in 1996 by Christine Hill MBE. She had a background in film, and after volunteering in hospitals realised that if you're in hospital for a long stay - away from family and friends, undergoing potentially unpleasant treatments and worried about your recovery - it's essential that you have activities to occupy your mind. Realising that film screenings could entertain patients, offer them an opportunity for emotional release and give them a sense of social occasion largely missing in hospital, she wanted to bring cinema to patients dealing with complex illness and injuries. The first cinema was opened at St. Thomas's Hospital in London in 1999, sited in a former lecture theatre.

Who comes to screenings?

The aim is to make it as accessible as possible for any patients who want to attend. Screenings are completely free for all patients and their family members and friends, enabling them to share an enjoyable experience together off the ward. MediCinemas have traditional raked seating, but more poorly patients can attend in wheelchairs or hospital beds, and can bring any necessary equipment such as drips, oxygen masks or monitors along with them. Patients are given tickets with their clinical information on, and a proper handover from NHS nurses to MediCinema's nurses, so they're still safe and under excellent medical care even when they're in the screening, at no expense to the NHS. Patients can attend whether they're in for a short or long-term stay.

Medicinema
Patients are still under excellent medical care while watching films in MediCinemas

Where are your cinemas?

The first MediCinema at St. Thomas's in London is still running, with two adults' and one childrens' screening per week. Nine years after St. Thomas's, we got our second site in Glasgow Yorkhill Children's Hospital (now part of Southern General Hospital) and other sites have followed including Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, the Minstry of Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court (serving returning servicemen and women) and the Serennu Children's Centre in Newport, a holistic centre for children and young people with disabilities or developmental difficulties. Suitable rooms are identified in each venue for renovation into a cinema, and we purposefully make them visually distinct from the rest of the hospital - painted either black or dark blue, with colourful chairs - to emphasise that this is a different type of space.

How is MediCinema staffed and run?

We've ten permanent staff members - four full-time in our central office, five part-time out at sites. We hire in nursing staff per screening and per shift and our cinema managers now handle projection as well as overseeing each site. We hire in freelance technical assistants as required and depend on a brilliant freelance Technical Manager, Andy, who goes from site to site as needed. In addition we rely on a dedicated team of volunteers who assist at each screening, primarily helping to deliver patients on and off the wards. All MediCinemas are fully digitised with films screening from DCP, though we're looking forward to more delivery via download, as delivering and collecting DCPs can be tricky in busy hospitals!

Medicinema
MediCinemas are purposefully made as visually distinct from the rest of their host hospital as possible

How do you fund your cinemas?

Funding comes from quite a broad variety of sources including corporate sponsors, charitable trusts and foundations and private individuals. We hold special fundraising events, and every year run a Christmas Appeal. We depend on the support of the distributors, who let us screen films for free. We're also lucky to have a roster of celebrity patrons (including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Daniel Day-Lewis and Helen Mirren) which boosts our visibility and helps us in advocating for funding.

How do you choose your film programme?

Films are chosen centrally by our programmer, but individual sites also feed back to us on requests or titles that may hold a particular appeal for their patients. Distributors often give us films before their public release which is lovely, as it enhances the idea of our screenings as really special events. We tend to choose mainstream titles, usually drama or comedy, because escapism is key. Films with good marketing and lots of obvious star appeal are good draws - this is of course generally true outside hospital as well, but any extra angle is particularly helpful when patients may be feeling very unwell, and need extra persuasion to come along. We sometimes get special visitors along as well - for example Mark Hamill came along to Guy's Hospital for a special screening of Star Wars on May 4th (Star Wars Day!) and met with patients, which was a fantastic event.

Other than that it depends on the site and its patient focus. At Headley Court for example, a lot of returned servicemen and women have been through severely traumatic experiences, and may be undergoing intensive physical rehabilitation for life-changing injuries, so we offer a mix of films including action and drama; relaxing or inspiring titles, or those that may offer an opportunity for catharsis and emotional release. We also run family films there, so patients can watch them with their families when they visit. For older audiences elsewhere we sometimes programme classic films, which can be comforting for patients with dementia. We tend to hold screenings in the evening, but also run the odd matinee.

Medicinema~
Mark Hamill (plus droids!) at a recent special screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What are the benefits for patients?

We get fantastic feedback. Engagement with patients is the whole point of MediCinema, so we evaluate our screenings constantly. Studies into the benefits of cinema therapy have shown that film screenings make a difference to how patients feel, and MediCinema audience members report that their pain response drops during screenings, as they're so wholly distracted. Various aspects of going to MediCinemas are reported as being beneficial - some people highlight the escapism and absorption in film, some the social interaction and having something to talk about besides the day-to-day of hospital life and their treatment; for others part of the appeal is simply the journey away from and back to the ward.

One of the interesting things to note for other exhibitors is that people who attend in-hospital screenings often say that MediCinema gets them back into the habit of watching films in the cinema, and they may therefore be more likely to go to start going to other local cinemas when back at home. It's also interesting for exhibitors to think about the therapeutic benefits of film - even though they're not based in a clinical environment, there are so many local groups that could benefit from regular film screenings in the community.

What are your future plans?

Firstly, we want to consolidate and expand in our existing sites - increasing the number of screenings and integrating with more external groups keen to access and benefit from our facilities. Secondly, we want to open more MediCinemas in the UK. Ideally we'd have twenty sites by the end of 2020, so we're seeking funding to get this off the ground. We're also looking further afield - our sister organisation, MediCinema Italy opened a facility in University Hospital Agostino Gemelli in Rome last year, and we're keen to expand with similar sites abroad. Essentially, we want to reach the maximum number of people. At the moment, we serve 19,000 people per year, but this would rise to 60,000 if twenty UK MediCinemas were built - and we'd love to spread the benefits of our work further!

For more information about MediCinema or to donate to their work, visit their website.

From streaming to cinemas: careful curation with MUBI

Posted Thursday 23 June 2016 by Duncan Carson in Film Releases, General

MUBI film shelf
An eclectic selection: the film shelf in MUBI headquarters!

MUBI is an online film service, now approaching its ninth year in operation. Originally a home for hardcore cinephiles to separate their Ozu from their Ozon, it now boasts over 100,000 subscribers worldwide. MUBI’s catalogue is not the broad appeal selection of films familiar from other platforms. Instead you’re just as likely to find artists' shorts such as Peter Tscherkassky’s The Exquisite Corpus, classic films such as Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, recent arthouse favourites like Pablo Larrain’s The Club or exclusive new work like Junun by Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s a far cry from Orange is the New Black, but MUBI have courted the affections of the film faithful through a combination of careful curation, true passion, technological smarts and market differentiation.

Now they are entering the theatrical distribution market in a big way. Having worked with New Wave Films earlier this year on an ambitious co-release of Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights trilogy, their slate includes Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room, Cannes Director’s Fortnight prize-winner The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki and controversial Berlinale title I, Olga Hepnarová among others. We spoke to Tania Sutherland (Director of Marketing) and Chiara Marañón (Programming Director) ahead of Screening Days in Sheffield, where venues will get their first chance to see The Blue Room and meet the team from MUBI. 

MUBI films

Some of the key ways in which MUBI connects with its audience will be familiar to cinemas, as curation and a love of cinema are at the heart of everything MUBI does. Almost everyone will be familiar with the ‘thousands of channels but nothing on’ feeling that comes with multiple online subscriptions. MUBI’s advantage is its limitation: there’s only ever thirty films on the platform at a time. A new film gets added each day and the oldest drops off. With these limited options, you’re assured that the films were handpicked, rather than acquired as part of a bulk deal. Much like a cinema’s programming (carefully selecting titles to fill limited screen space from the bulging release calendar) MUBI offers a curated approach. "The model itself is what allows us to curate them. We can spend time with each film," says Chiara. "Having thirty films online at any one time makes it like a festival that everyone can attend. We like to think about it as the biggest digital cinema in the world. In a cinema, films are there for a week or two weeks and that’s the same for MUBI."

As much as MUBI takes cues from the cinema experience, they aren’t keen to replace the big screen. "The dark room and the big screen; those very physical elements are key to me. The level of commitment you have with a film when you are in a cinema is completely different," says Chiara. "We release films theatrically because we believe in the cinema fundamentally. But not everyone lives in London or Paris, so if these films are on MUBI they’re able to access them."

MUBI

The platform has changed a lot since its inception under the banner of The Auteurs. Originally, the company’s film listings segregated films into ‘MUBI’ and ‘Not a MUBI’: true auteur cinema… and material that fell a little short of that. Today, although they’re a broader church, they are still partial. "We’re an opinionated brand and we want to be perceived as such, because we’re here to propose some films to you." That said, they’re not the kind of people to look askance at your interest in Magic Mike XXL. "The context is what we’re good at building: any film in the right context can be open for analysis," says Tania. "You can be serious about not serious films. We want to be very inclusive and present an eclectic branch of film and create unexpected links between them."

That eclecticism extends to broadening the availability of titles available in the UK. Film fans who look enviously at festival reports, praying for a screening on our shores, often get their chance via MUBI. Isiah Medina’s 88:88 is a good example: lauded at Toronto and Locarno, this highly experimental debut feature would be a risky proposition for theatrical distribution. MUBI took up the opportunity to release the film worldwide exclusively, only a few short months after its festival debut. "It’s an opportunity for young filmmakers to get their film out: one push of a button and it’s online," says Tania. "Relatively soon, the theatrical dream for films, which I completely understand, is going to mutate. Films like 88:88, the whole life of the film is digital. Lots of films can have a different life: a year in festivals and then online."

MUBI film

MUBI sees a future with many filmmakers electing this model as the best choice for their project. Unlike a cinema, which must rely on capturing audiences on a film-by-film basis, MUBI’s job is to maintain audiences and subscribers. Novelty and risk play a bigger part in this environment. "There are new ways of making films that we definitely want to support. We are a home for new projects and new distribution models. There’s a new audience for that," says Tania. One such partner was Paul Thomas Anderson, who, as a subscriber and a fan of the service, directly approached MUBI to be the home for his unconventional medium-length music documentary Junun.

When asked for the secret of their success at gaining regular subscribers for material that isn’t surefire box office gold, MUBI refer to their partnerships, especially with organisations outside film. It’s people who are generally interested in culture – music, museums, literature – that appreciate MUBI: people with limited time to browse who want assurance that they will see something compelling. Besides that, it’s passionate, considered curation that is its USP. I wanted to know what comes first when selecting films: rights availability, balancing the titles available on the platform, things that have proven track record or simply personal preference? "Curation is at the absolute core of our model. Curation comes first, but it inherently implies balance, and the will of establishing a dialogue with our audience, and a desire of growing that audience every day with every new film," Chiara tells me. "It also involves dealing with rights availability, but even if we are ultimately limited to the confines of what is possible, we really try to push boundaries and think out of the box."

MUBI’s mission seems to be to help you find the next film you love that you’ve never heard of so I was keen to ask the team which films they’ve discovered while working on the platform. "I was finally able to watch Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, which I absolutely recommend to any film noir fan," says Tania. "And one of my recent favourites is the newly restored version of Masculin Féminin by Jean-Luc Godard, which is a pure gem." Of the hundreds of titles Chiara has watched for the service, she picks out "O Futebol (On Football), a film about football without football in it, which is now playing on MUBI in synch with the Euro 2016. A very small movie that truly deserves an audience. A moving father-son relationship that reflects at the same time on the possibilities of cinema; a little big film." 

Overnight Film Festival: Programming in focus

Posted Thursday 16 June 2016 by Duncan Carson in Festival Reports, General, Training & Conferences

Overnight hotel and guests
Attendees of the inaugural Overnight Film Festival in front of its location, the incredible Queens Hotel Eastbourne

Our inaugural Practical Programming course, supported by Creative Skillset and BFI's Film Audience Network was designed to help independent exhibitors create innovative, well-structured and (crucially!) well-attended film programmes. Here Isabel Moir talks about her experience selecting films for the first ever Overnight Film Festival.

Overnight Film Festival is a residential film festival which took place in a grand hotel on the seafront of my home town, Eastbourne. The idea was to create a weekend event where people could stay overnight to watch and discuss films, eating breakfast together in the mornings. By choosing to hold the festival overnight, it provided our filmgoers with a unique chance to discuss the programme and reflect upon it with fellow audience members.

I think the biggest challenge for the festival team was that we didn’t know who our audience was going to be. It’s extremely difficult to programme for an audience that doesn't yet exist. We had an idea of the type of audience we wanted to reach, which also included trying to attract local film fans from Eastbourne. 

My interest has always been focused on female directors and the representation of women in film. I was also aware of the discussions and screenings happening around the visibility of female directors with various screenings, venues introducing ‘The F Rating’ and publications dedicating issues to celebrating female directors. Therefore it felt natural for me to continue to explore this theme within my own film choices.

Overnight audience

We decided to ask three guest curators to contribute to the festival programme and present their choices. We contacted women from different disciplines in film whose work we admired and also felt would help create a diverse programme. Our three curators were actor Ariane Labed, writer and broadcaster Emma Dabiri and filmmaker Jenn Nkiru. It was important to us that the guest curators did not already have a programming platform.

We asked the curators to send us a selection of potential titles for their two given slots, so that we would have back up titles if we were unable to secure the screening rights and materials. There were a few titles we were not able to play because the screening fees were too expensive, although a few distributors did kindly offer us a ‘first time festival’ discount. One disappointing omission from the final program was Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, which sadly couldn’t be used as the film was receiving a restoration.

It was decided that I would programme Opening and Closing Night, as well as the ‘Sunday Hangover’ screening. The Opening Night was particularly important, as I knew that the first screening could inevitably set the tone for all the whole weekend, so I worked hard to carefully choose an appropriate film, one that would also be uplifting enough to encourage people to dance, drink and party after.

Overnight projector

In the end, I chose  Miloš Forman's Loves of a Blonde, as it’s a really fun and charming film, with the added benefit of being short (only 82 minutes). I was very aware of the location we were in and I wanted to reflect this in my film choices; all the screenings took place in the hotel’s ballroom, which was reflected in the setting of the first half of Loves of a Blonde.

Eastbourne is very much a seaside town which comes to life during the summer months and I wanted to find something that explored this lifestyle and particularly, the memories made during many teens’ adolescent years. Whilst reading Sight & Sound’s issue titled ‘The Female Gaze’, I came across the documentary Wildwood, NJ which sounded perfect for the festival. As a fellow seaside girl, I fell in love with the women who were given a voice in this documentary and strongly felt audiences would connect to them to.

Wildwood, NJ had also not been played in the UK before and knowing that we would be the first to premiere the film at our festival was really exciting. As the film is only an hour long, I decided to pair it with Million Miles Away, directed by Jennifer Reeder, which I thought explored similar themes and also fitted into my ‘teenage girl’ morning screening. I would've loved to have played more short films before the features, but it was not financially feasible to do so in our first year.

It has been a dream of mine for some time to screen Wanda, directed by Barbara Loden, and Closing Night felt like the perfect opportunity for this. I’m aware that this film is rarely screened and that it is extremely hard to find a copy in UK so this was a real draw.

Obtaining the rights was a little tricky, but I soon discovered that they belonged to Barbara Loden’s son. There aren’t any digital copies of the film available in the UK, so we wanted to screen it on 35mm, however this proved a difficult task. As we were a new festival, we found it difficult to hire archive prints, such as the restored copy from UCLA. We heard of two copies floating about, one at the Austrian Film Museum and the other at BFI, but both came with a warning that they were blown up from a 16mm print.

Overnight Meshes
Meshes of the Afternoon, which screened on celluloid at the festival

This came as disappointing news at first, but we didn’t give up and so decided to book a viewing slot on a Steenbeck at BFI. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised with the print, which was a little pink, but we felt that only added to its charm and really suited our pop-up festival DIY vibe.

As the majority of the team are format nerds, we really wanted to screen films from analogue film, so out of the nine features and two shorts we used, six were shown on film. We wanted to add something special to the audience’s screening experience and we had the projector on display (although the fan on the projector was a little too loud during the non-subtitled films).

The majority of our prints came from the BFI Archive which was really helpful as it kept transport costs down and meant that the quality of the prints was excellent. One of the guest curators, Jenn, had worked with Kasi Lemmons so we were extremely lucky to be able to borrow Kasi Lemmons’ personal 35mm copy of Eve’s Bayou, which was vividly beautiful.

Wildwood NJ
Wildwood, NJ received its UK premiere at Overnight Film Festival and is now set to tour the UK

A main highlight of the festival, for me, was screening Wildwood,NJ, directed by Ruth Leitman & Carol Weaks Cassidy, because it received a great response from the audience. The film was originally released in 1994 and has received a cult status in recent years on the internet. It was an amazing opportunity to bring the film to a new audience, while also bringing it back into a cinema setting. After Overnight finished, this film really stayed with me and I thought it deserved more screenings and I had also really enjoyed working with the Director Ruth.

Since then, I’ve organised a tour which will take place at seven different venues across the UK, from June to August. Since completing the ICO Practical Programming course, I have become more aware of and excited about cinema programming outside of London and I was really keen to work with some inspiring venues. The majority of venues will be teaming Wildwood, NJ with another film; it’s been really fun seeing how different venues have chosen to present Wildwood, NJ and the events which will be built around the screening.  

More from Practical Programming

How did Blackpool's Winter Garden become the home of a black and white film extravaganza?

To read about how a venue in the Outer Hebrides succeeded with younger audiences, click here 

To read Dreamland Cinema's experience of setting up their first programming strand after attending Practical Programming, click here.

Cannes 2016: Catharine's blog

Posted Tuesday 14 June 2016 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports, General

Loving Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols' Loving was a festival highlight for ICO director Catharine

This year’s Cannes was a revelation – for the first time in 20 years I actually got all the tickets I asked for which made for a very relaxing time! I wondered if something strange had happened to the computer system but it was rumoured that the festival had 8,000 fewer guests due to fears of terrorist attacks. It didn’t seem any quieter to me, especially not when taking twenty minutes to exit the Palais! Anyway, I went for three days and managed to see a lot of Cannes favourites, including Jarmusch, Arnold and Almodóvar. My favourite of these was Julieta, by Almodóvar which I loved and felt to me a hark back to the heyday of All About My Mother. It is a film that everyone should perhaps see with their mother (!) and deeply resonant of '40s Hollywood melodrama, particularly Douglas Sirk. Best of all though, it shows a director at the height of his powers, assured and reflective, and delivers fantastic storytelling which keeps you gripped to the end of the film. It also sees the return of Rossy de Palma, still as sharp and quirky as ever.  

Julieta
The glorious return of Rossy de Palma (right) in Julieta

I made some new friends as we extend our European festival relationships in support of Developing Your Film Festival and found myself on a beach in the early hours, witnessing competing DJs from international festivals from Sundance to Gothenberg, and being amazed at the accuracy with which the ICO training team recalled the lyrics to ‘No Limits’

I saw quite a few of the most eagerly awaited Cannes films from some of the festival's favoured directors. First up was American Honey, the first US-set feature from Andrea Arnold. This seemed to divide viewers in the sense that  some absolutely loved it, whilst others felt detached. I personally found it admirable rather than transformative. Arnold shoots in Academy ratio which is arresting on first sight, but otherwise she has chosen a very broad canvas and in lots of ways this is the quintessential American road movie. She tracks the fortunes of an itinerant group of youngsters, traveling on a bus across the mid-West attempting to sell magazine subscriptions door to door. Our way in is through new recruit Star, escaping poverty and exploitation at home and in search of a new life. She is tempted to join them by an encounter with lead salesman Jake, played by Shia Labeouf. This has some familiar tropes for Arnold: life on the margins, a resilient female heroine seeking a way out from a grim destiny, a naturalistic approach to sex and sexuality on screen and a contemporary music soundtrack which acts as a counterpoint in narrative terms to the script on screen. I think it may divide audiences and is unlikely to find its way to the mainstream, but will doubtless find its way into 'best of the year' lists for those who loved it. It's meandering, and its focus on a closed world means that you need to empathise with this cast of characters to find complete immersion but the cinematography is fabulous and reminiscent (to me at least) of Days of Heaven.

American Honey
Magazines and mad dreams in American Honey

We've featured Paterson elsewhere in the blog. It was nice to see Jarmusch and new Star Wars baddie Adam Driver at the screening but essentially I felt that I’d seen this one before. So as always, well-crafted and well-made but for me, it seemed largely skewed to a middle-aged male audience (I found the girlfriend very annoying!). Commercially I think it will do less well at the box office than Broken Flowers (lacking the star power of Bill Murray) but should do solid business with an art-house audience.

I was very moved by Loving, a new film from Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) who I've always loved since Shotgun Stories. This is a period drama that addresses the laws against miscegenation, prevalent in some states of the US until the early '60s and finally overturned by the lawsuit of an ordinary couple Richard and Mildred Loving. They want to live together after their marriage, in their home county in Virginia. For this they are sentenced to jail and are forced to move out of the state in order to stay together and out of custody. This is all the more powerful for being a true story, of a couple who from a working-class background with no connections, but who love each other and were determined to change their circumstances. It's a very quiet film with some powerful performances from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as the Lovings, but all the more effective for this. The film charts their journey, through children, struggle, setbacks and finally wider public recognition when Life magazine records their domestic harmony in all its transcendent simplicity. Bound to be acquired for the UK and an important film which delivers many rewards for its audience about a shocking period of history which is still relatively recent. 

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