Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Five new ideas that are changing cinemas across Europe

Posted Thursday 22 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in General

Over the last two years, Agnès Salson and Mikael Arnal travelled across Europe looking for innovative practices in independent cinema exhibition. Starting in France, they eventually crossed twenty countries, meeting more than 200 cinemas. At the end of the French Tour they published Rêver les cinemas, demain (Dream the cinemas, tomorrow) a book detailing their journey, and following the European journey they published “The emerging practices of cinema exhibition in Europe” report for the CNC (National Centre for Cinema - France). When they started this project, they wanted to find inspiration and advice to create their own cinema but they also wanted to answer a question: What will the independent cinema of tomorrow be like? Here are five ideas they brought back from their journey that are changing cinemas across Europe.

1. Putting the audience at the heart of cinema

Image: Postmodernissimo, Perugia

Digital tools allow a new proximity between audiences and cinemas, which now, more than ever, involve their audiences in the life of the venue, forming an active community around the cinema. The audience can leave their mark on the venue, both through using it and feeling that they are part of it by enriching it with their own contributions. From taking a financial stake in supporting the place to a collaboration in its programming or atmosphere, the public are playing an ever more active role in the life of their local cinemas.

  • At the Numax in Santiago de Compostela (Spain), which opened in March 2015, people helped to finance the cinema by guaranteeing the loan needed for its construction.
  • The Postmodernissimo in Perugia (Italy) and the Wolf in Berlin (Germany) managed to raise €20,000 and €50,000 respectively through crowdfunding campaigns, building a community in the process.
  • On the island of Mallorca, the cinema Cineciutat was taken over by the citizens when it was shut down. Its members now manage the cinema and it has become a pioneering experiment of a self-management model.
  • Deptford Cinema, a community cinema created in South-East London in 2014, was built completely by volunteers during so-called 'Building Weeks', where volunteers would work together to offer their skills and knowledge to the project, whether this was to build a wall or to set up sound insulation in the auditorium. There are now more than 700 people who volunteer their time for the cinema and anybody who wants to organise a screening or an event is free to do so.

2. To be more than a cinema

Image: Numax, Santiago of Compostela

Cinemas today are more than screening spaces. Besides the screening room as a space for showing films, the auxiliary spaces play a fundamental role in the venue's identity. The audience member must have a desire to come before the session and stay after the credits roll, and social spaces play a key role in this. Adding catering, shops, co-working and post-production spaces to a cinema offers additional financial benefits but also presents an opportunity to capture new visitors by offering them these new services. The varied sources of income offer unprecedented flexibility to places previously entirely dependent on ticket sales.

  • In Amsterdam, entry to most independent cinemas is through their own bar, which is the venue's social hub. Each café or restaurant has its own identity: Kriterion and Studio K, two student-run cinemas, have dynamic cafés, mainly attended by young people; De Balie, which specialises in documentaries and debates, has a vast restaurant; The Movies has its own pub; the Het Ketelhuis and Rialto have café/restaurants, etc.
  • The Close Up Film Centre in London has a library with a catalogue of 20,000 films and books, making it the most comprehensive independent film resource in London for film enthusiasts and students and the bookstores of the Numax (Spain) and the Kinodvor (Slovenia) have everything a cinema lover could want: a fine selection of books, magazines and films.

3. The cinema as an active participant in creative production

Image: Wolf, Berlin

While the cinema is undeniably part of cinematographic culture, it is traditionally one of the last links in the creative process. The emergence of cinemas – or cinema projects – incorporating the content production demonstrates a desire for cinemas to play a greater role in the audiovisual landscape that goes beyond screening work. From this desire there are new ecosystems for supporting emerging talents appearing. The cinema’s position in the community already makes it a natural place for decentralised talent scouting, and the democratisation of filmmaking tools allows for a greater exploration of the potential of cinemas to support creative production.

  • The Kino in Rotterdam (Netherlands), which opened in 2016, is a real cinema hub housing several screens and a bistro on the ground floor and co-working spaces on the upper level, allowing anyone working in the audiovisual sector to work together in the same space.
  • The Wolf in Berlin (Germany), which launched in 2017, offers post-production spaces inviting filmmakers to finish their films on its premises.
  • The Watershed in Bristol created the Pervasive Media Studio, a space where a community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics work together.
  • The Dokukino in Zagreb (Croatia), which has a programme entirely dedicated to documentary films, produces documentary films and has even set up a school to train young documentary filmmakers.
  • Open Screenings are organized in cinemas like the Sputnik in Berlin (Germany), the Nova in Brussels (Belgium) and the Deptford Cinema in London (UK). These are opportunities for filmmakers to present their work to an audience without relying on old modes of exhibition through festivals. Often free, these screenings enable directors to get feedback from an audience and from other filmmakers.

4. Bringing new forms of content to the big screen

Image: Toldi Mozi, Budapest

Since the transition to digital, alternative content (concerts, opera performances, museum visits etc) has been an area of major development. But such event cinema was only the beginning. TV series, video clips, virtual reality, video games, radio podcasts and collective listening sessions are now finding their way to the big screen in numerous cinemas, highlighting their role as trailblazers in expanding the communal aspects of old and new forms of media.

  • Il Kino in Berlin broadcasted Heimat from Edgar Reitz every Sunday during eleven weeks for the opening of their cinema.
  • In Amsterdam, the VR Cinema, entirely dedicated to virtual reality, opened in 2016.
  • The Toldi Mozi in Budapest, which has a concert venue, organises music video screenings to complement their concerts and programming.
  • The Gloria in Copenhagen hosts the Copenhagen Radio Cinema (Københavns Radiobiograf) which organizes a monthly radio listening sessions with compilations of recorded programmes worldwide.
  • The Cinema Bellevaux in Lausanne in Switzerland organises CD listening sessions in partnership with music labels for the release of new albums.

5. Cooperation as a central philosophy

Image : Cineville, Amsterdam

Whether it be setting up formal knowledge sharing networks or informal co-operation between cinemas in the same region, we have found a common desire to work together outside of territorial competition and to exploit potential mutual benefits. Sharing experiences between cinemas is crucial to enabling feedback and adapting quickly to new uses of cinemas and new models of film exhibition.

  • The Cineville Pass, an unlimited pass for independent cinemas in Netherlands, was created in 2009 by two young students working in Kriterion cinema. Cineville is not just a model of unlimited pass but also a website that promotes a new image of arthouse movies and cinemas through a team of young editors.
  • Kino za Rogiem ("Cinema at the corner of the street") is an organization in Poland that supports the creation of "small" cinemas in existing infrastructure such as a libraries, cultural centres, fire stations and cafés. They want to grow a network of small cinema rooms, with reduced costs to operate and maintain, but of undeniable quality, providing an alternative offer to meet new cultural needs.
  • Initiated by Cineciutat in Palma de Mallorca, Cinearte is an arthouse cinema network uniting more than 30 cinemas in Spain thus far, promoting arthouse film through educational and promotional programmes. The network aims to improve the process by promoting initiatives and practices that have contributed to the emergence of the new generation of cinemas but also to create a viable ecosystem of production and diffusion of independent cinema on Spanish territory.

To read the full report with hundreds more ideas from across European independent exhibition click here.

Cannes 2017: Catharine's blog

Posted Friday 16 June 2017 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports, General

Geu Hu

Hong Sang-soo's latest Geu-Hu

Sadly, we're nearing the end of our Cannes reports and will soon have to start day dreaming about future film festivals. After accounts from Jo, Kenny, Jonny and Duncan, here's a whistle stop tour of what a trip to Cannes means for the Director of the ICO, Catharine Des Forges.

I arrived in Cannes at around 9.30 on Sunday morning having got a flight at 6am so it’s always a triumph of hope over experience if you make it to midnight without falling asleep. I’ve got 3 days though, so I always want to make the most of the time! There’s something special always about coming into Cannes, seeing the sea sparkle and watching people in heels and evening dress saunter down the croisette in the mid-day sun. My first date of the festival is a meeting with the Creative Europe desk from Italy about some possible training and it’s in the EU pavilion which has its own hand-crafted macaroons so I decide that this is probably a very nice place to conduct your professional business. cinema ritrovato

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna

I catch up with Briony from the British Council on another pavilion beach and manage to dip my toes in the water…! The British Council are great partners in our DYFF course which is taking place in June in Edinburgh and this year we are hosting a session with them on inclusion and access focussing on deaf filmmakers and audiences. My next appointment is at the Hotel Carlton for the Europa Cinemas Network meeting. This is a great opportunity to see programmers and colleagues from the UK but also to catch up with alumni and speakers from our courses and European colleagues from a number of different projects. The Carlton Grand Salon has opulent chandeliers and looks like a film set so I feel straight away that I’m experiencing the magic of Cannes. We receive reminders of some of the great opportunities offered by Europa –  the 28 Times Cinema Project which will see aspiring young journalists from around Europe attend the Venice Film Festival and the upcoming lab at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bolgona – certainly a course which could lay claim to the best food on any training course ever.

The evening sees the arrival of my colleagues and we go out to dinner – our flat is in the middle of a lively restaurant quarter which is a good and bad thing….obviously not so great at 3am…and then onto a screening of The Square - on show at Summer Screening Days - which unbeknownst to me (and which I didn’t predict) will go on to win the Palme d’Or.

happy end

Michael Haneke's Happy End

Monday and Tuesday are for screenings – I see the new Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Geu-Hu by Hong Sang-soo, Naomi Kawase’s Hikari and 24 Frames by Abbas Kiarostami. There’s a lot of competition favourites in there and all have merit although for some - Hong Sang-soo, Haneke -  we’re definitely treading familiar ground. Of these, the strongest is probably The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Colin Farrell once again stars, this time with Nicole Kidman, and fans of The Lobster will not be disappointed although this seems to be forming part of an oeuvre rather than, as Dogtooth, heralding an arresting new voice. It has a very eerie quality to it, with unsettling performances and a shocking climax and it’s interesting to see such an original, left-field voice working with mainstream stars in this way but I personally would like to have seen a more economic use of narrative. There’s still time for the Nordic party, a festival institution with its festival DJ dance-off, inspired moves and wonderful waterside location, always slightly crazy and completely unmissable. It’s a short but productive stay and testament to the fact that you don’t need to have a long stay to get some business done.

Nine Tips for Surviving a Film Festival

Posted Thursday 15 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in FEDS scheme, General

Rico

We caught up with Rico Johnson-Sinclair, one of the trainees currently taking part in our FEDS scheme, to mine him for tips for surviving a film festival. Less than a month into his placement, Flatpack Film Festival kicked off. Here's what he learned from his baptism of fire.

I was ridiculously secure in my own skills before starting work at Flatpack Film Festival. Some might say I was even arrogant. Having volunteered at most of the festivals in Birmingham and having been praised for my production prowess and work ethic, I was sure I'd make it through the festival unscathed.

Cut to me, in bed, with my foot elevated to alleviate the pain.

I think my one downfall was assuming because I'd worked as a volunteer, I had an understanding of what actually goes into a festival production. I can promise you that working as a core member of the team is an entirely different experience and at least ten times as exhausting.

I barely escaped festival life with my pride intact. But I survived it all the same.

I guess that makes me qualified to tell you all how to do the same. Here are nine tips to prevent you from losing any of your lives.

flatpack 2017

Following images courtesy of Flatpack Film Festival

Learn to understand different personality types if you have people working for you

During the festival, I was in charge of my own group of volunteers. Let me start by saying how difficult it is to be in charge of other people when you are snowed under yourself, your patience isn’t what it was and all you can hear is the sound of each passing minute bringing you closer to opening time. The last thing you want is abrasive volunteers rubbing you the wrong way because of your own lack of understanding. Some people’s personalities do not match, and it’s your job as the superior to accommodate their personalities. I wish it was something I had considered before crunch time.

Never let the general public see you sweat

The last thing the paying public need to see is the literal sweat running down your face as you attempt to carry a chaise lounge down two flights of stairs in a listed building with a number of priceless artworks. A great way to avoid this is to choose the right times to move furniture. Also, there’s the non-literal interpretation. Practise smiling in the mirror every morning because you’ll be doing a lot of it. And DO NOT LET THAT SMILE FALTER. In all honesty, this was probably the easiest aspect of the festival as I’m always pretty ‘smiley’ anyway, but there was a measurable improvement in communication when there was a smile on my face.

flatpack 2017 2

Always have emergency snacks and water on your person

This one is so important. The festival production period will leave you without a minute to spare. Thankfully Flatpack runs mostly in and around Birmingham city centre, meaning I could easily grab a burrito, whilst carrying venue boxes and flyers to various venues. In our temporary office sat a plethora of sweet treats, water and coffee and, of course, tea thanks to Abbe, our Ops Manager. But at certain stages that becomes unfeasible, I clearly remember being tasked with the get-in at a venue that was slightly further away from the city centre. It was 7pm and I was particularly up against it. I hadn’t eaten since about midday, and I had been running (and I do mean running) around all day, and I could have killed my best friend to have one bite of a petrol station sandwich. It was not a good look, I was not en vogue.

Everyone will piss you off at some point. It’s not them, it’s the pressure

I spent around 20% of the festival period in an undetectable strop. I got annoyed with everyone at least once, but I knew from previous production experiences that this happens when you’ve gone three hours without a cigarette, five hours without nourishment, simply because you forgot to eat, and have ten people feeling the same way as you in close confines. I think that knowledge prevented me from losing my cool. Or what little of it I have.

flatpack 2017 4

When entertaining guests, always drink water between alcoholic drinks, if you have to drink for the sake of being polite. Don’t mix drinks and eat before bed.

My day started at around 7.30am, and before I knew it, it was around 2am on a Thursday, Degenerates Social at Centrala as part of Flatpack Film Festival was winding down.

After a brisk walk home and an 8am start, I’d all but accepted that this would be how my life ended. Until I realised I had to be at the Kino Train at 9am and quickly showered off my querulous mood.

That was a terrible day, unsurprisingly.

Do not attempt to take care of things in your personal life during production.

Of course, payday for me was mid-festival and having just moved into my new home, I was keen to make a start in filling it with home comforts, as well as the essentials. I ordered from Amazon Prime and ended up having my packages delivered at 7pm while I was still in a midday festival flurry. The delivery guy left them outside my door and they were stolen. I had to get the items delivered the following day, delivered directly to me at work, but when the festival came to an end, I was stuck with carrying a cutlery set, plates, pans and glasses home. My birthday also took place during the festival which got ignored for a couple of weeks by myself. The team got me a cake which I was too busy to eat. Oh and, whatever you do, don’t try and make it to the gym after a production day. You’ll regret it.

flatpack 2017 3

This is England: dress/pack for all weather types

The first days of Flatpack were dull and grey. By the weekend it was swelteringly hot and clear with highs of 23 degrees celsius. On Monday the sun was out but it was deceptively cold, I left my house in shorts and would have been late if I turned back. I got the flu almost immediately after the get-out.

Never overestimate yourself

I assumed that all the running, dancing, jumping, standing and walking I did during the festival production period wouldn’t catch up with a fit, 27-year-old like me. On the last day, I could barely walk and ended up curling up into a small ball for an hour to sleep and rest my leg. It didn’t help, but it was my own damn fault. Can’t resist a good dance to LCD Soundsystem though.

flatpack 2017 5

No one can really give you specific advice about working production

Your experience of working in production is completely different from mine. There are so many variables. All I know is that it’s all worth it because what you end up with is a labour of love you are willing to put your heart and soul into - so make sure it gets the recognition that it deserves and pleases the people who really matter, the audience. It makes me immensely proud that I could be a part of this year's festival in such an instrumental way. That also did wonders for my ego.

It’s a shame perspective like this doesn’t come to visit until it’s all over. You just do your best and hold on tight.

Cannes 2017: Duncan's blog

Posted Wednesday 14 June 2017 by Duncan Carson in Festival Reports, General

It may seem like many moons ago, but we still have lots of thoughts about Cannes 2017. Following on from Jo, Jonny and Kenny's takes on this year's festival, our Marketing & Communications Manager, Duncan Carson, shares his experience of the festival and his top 3 films.

This was my first time attending Cannes in its second week, leaving the hefting of promotional bags to my esteemed colleagues. The first week – all anticipation, glamour and jostling to be the one to anoint the first masterpiece of the festival – lapses into something altogether different in the latter half of the fortnight. You collide with friends who have been there since the outset, bewildered that you have just arrived, that any time or place exists outside the routine of five screenings a day and a harried baguette between them. Anything that happened prior to the previous screening is now a remote memory, wiped clean each day like the Croisette pavement.

This year especially there is a definite fatigue in the air: those titles that reignite one’s passion and attenuate the relentless succession of screenings have yet to arrive. It has not been A Good Year, and as much as watching films and talking about them for a living is a professional dream and privilege, it has begun to curdle by day nine. I arrive on the saddest of winds from the UK, with any bridling against Cannes’ ever tightening security silenced by the horrific bombing in Manchester the night before. While nothing can remove the feeling of triviality of being in these surroundings given the circumstances, the Cannes team capture the spirit of why we continue in the face of this tragedy: ‘Yet another attack on culture, youth and joyfulness, on our freedom, generosity and tolerance, all things that the Festival and those who make it possible – the artists, professionals and spectators – hold dear.’

Having been thinking a good deal about what makes a festival succeed while working on our Developing Your Film Festival course, this year only highlighted the unique aspects of Cannes among other festivals. Both succeeding beyond other festivals' wildest dreams, and also dropping clangers that would tarnish any other festival’s reputation, Cannes sits alone on its own shelf. However many obdurate and infuriating interviews Thierry Fremaux gives, this is still the beginning of the film year, where careers are made and destroyed. Does that mean it is beyond question? Absolutely, positively not and there’s been some great writing and talking this year that highlights Cannes' many blind spots. All that said, it’s still a great place to see new films. Here’s my rundown of my three favourites.

Jeune femme
Image: Jeune Femme

Jeune Femme

After a run of bad screenings, I slouch into Un Certain Regard contender Jeune Femme (its ungainly English-language title Montparnasse – Bienvenue will hopefully be shed by Curzon Artificial Eye when they bring it to UK audiences). A debut film with a title that promises exactly the kind of May-September romance that is excruciatingly overfamiliar on the Croisette, I have to say I’m not expecting much. Yet what follows is a hilarious, humane and scabrous picture of just the kind of ‘difficult’ woman that cinema is begging for (the type of character men have been given licence to for decades). Laetitia Dosch’s Paula is first seen shouting through her estranged lover’s door before knocking herself unconscious trying to headbutt her way through it. This proves to be an apt metaphor for the ensuing narrative, as we watch Paula variously flit between the obsessive stalking of her partner and absolute diffidence. Our first real introduction to the character is watching Paula's unnerving, direct to camera monologue denouncing her lover in a highly digressive manner, before destroying a generic portrait meant to generate tranquillity in patients. The story rolls along in freeform fashion, but never feels shapeless or self-indulgent. Instead, we’re at the mercy of Paula’s whims as she rehomes her cat, becomes an au pair, takes a job selling lingerie and mangles opportunities thrown her way. Without Dosch’s unflinchingly honest performance this would be an excruciating watch, but instead it’s a delight to cringe along to  it's a genuinely unflattering portrait, though also painfully relatable.

Fans of Lena Dunham’s Girls, Todd Solondz’s early work, Drew Godard’s See You Next Tuesday among other tales of girls gone wilfully wild will find this a real treat. It also has one of the great cat performances in cinema if that tips the scales...

Good Time
Image: Good Time

Good Time

Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time attaches the authenticity of their last outing (acclaimed heroin drama Heaven Knows What) to an aching, propulsive crime story. Seeking a pastoral idyll, brothers Nick (Benny Safdie) and Connie (Robert Pattinson) rob a bank wearing black-face masks. The robbery goes awry, with the majority of the film dedicated to Pattinson retrieving his brother and pursuing nefarious and bungling means to return to the financial starting line.

Pattinson is impressive, skilfully scaling his performance to match the rest of the mainly street-cast actors. His film star looks add needed believability to the character’s improbable journey, enabling him to sociopathically charm any person who proves an obstacle. The happenstance madness of New York is a great fit for Pattinson, whether he’s defrauding his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, sadly underused), charming an underage girl, facing off against another petty hood or impersonating a security guard.

The film is not without tonal issues: at times it urges us to view the brothers' criminal downfall with caper-esque delight, at other times as the epitome of white privilege. Yet there is something propulsive, honest and unsettling about the film that is irresistible. Its drive is partly generated by the fantastic score by electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never and the sickly, neon and washed out 35mm visuals by US indie wunderkind cinematographer Sean Price Williams.

It isn’t a straightforward entertainment, but should win considerable attention. Like his Twilight co-star Kirsten Stewart, Pattinson has sought out projects that his star cachet can bring attention to (The Lost City of Z, Cosmopolis). This is the first time that fronting an auteur-driven project has proved a winning formula for the actor, and the combination of a crime thriller with this kind of grit and pace - along with his star performance - should ensure success on its UK release.

you were never really here
Image: You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay’s film arrives on the final day of competition like a balm, winning exhausted critics over with its rigorous 85 minute run time. Although produced for the festival absolutely down to the wire (the version that debuts at the festival does so without credits), the time has clearly been spent honing it to its absolute leanest.

The core of the story is almost laughably familiar to genre fans: Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a contract killer damaged by his past, carrying out a series of cold-blooded killings in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a politician. But Ramsay’s execution justifies retreading ground covered by Scorsese (Taxi Driver), Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai), Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional) and many more.

You Were Never Really Here is a major achievement for the Scottish-born director, but one that audiences will need to steel themselves to commit to. Having a critically-acclaimed star like Phoenix in an awards-contender performance, as well as moving into more established narrative modes, will serve the film when it comes to release. That said, it is a painful watch, for exactly the reasons that also make it worthwhile: it reinvigorates familiar tropes with a morality and reality that standard treatments gloss over or aestheticise; it’s also unflinchingly about its lead character’s desire for suicide, and about the child sex trade. As a killer, Joe’s specialism is in murdering the abusers of children (watching this film following the debut of Roman Polanski’s Based on a True Story proved a queasy counterpoint), and it’s a credit that this sensational subject matter never feels contrived (perhaps fuelled by Joaquin Phoenix’s research into a real life equivalent of his character).

Hitman stories mostly offer character background as a justification for the violence that provides their true raison d’etre. The formula is reversed here, with Phoenix’s past showing that his present brutality is a mere echo of past trauma and the film seeking to negate the present, just as Phoenix himself is engaged in a regime of self-harm. The editing, which conceals moments of anticipated violence, hints at Joe’s process of hiding from himself and also creates a lingering feeling of hiatus, of irresolution that makes it distinctly memorable. Jonny Greenwood’s score does much of the heavy lifting here, continuing his run of superlative scores.

Elsewhere in the festival there is a procession of unearned images of violence, injected either to sustain narrative interest or to assure the viewer of the sobriety of the subject matter. Ramsay’s skill is in braiding her remarkable images (a jellybean crushed between fingers, teeth vacuumed against a suffocating plastic bag, dinner eaten with bloodstained hands) into a scheme that entirely justifies them, rather than retroactively seeking for an excuse to thread provocative imagery into a narrative arc.

It’s a shame that Ramsay’s film only manages a (very deserved) acting prize for Joaquin Phoenix rather than any of larger gongs, but there’s every chance that this film will be drawing major attention from audiences and awards when STUDIOCANAL release it in the UK. 

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