Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts by Duncan Carson

Cinemas, community and culture in Northern Ireland: Allen's role at #filmFEDS

Posted Thursday 5 October 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme, Training & Conferences

FEDS Allen Maria Anthony
Allen (centre) debates with his fellow FEDS Maria (left) and Anthony (right) 

We're currently looking for the next generation of talent on our FEDS scheme, which offers eight months of paid training with a major film festival or cinema. But what's it like being a FED? Here, one of our current trainees Allen Loyola tells us about his role at Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast.

When I applied for the FEDS traineeship I’ve never had any experience in film distribution. I had some experience in film production by helping friends on their short films, etc but never in the exhibition or distribution side. My background is in science, I remember applying to the scheme just a few weeks after I finished three very long years of studying Physics in the same university that would be my host venue: Queen's Film Theatre in Queen’s University Belfast.

I knew I loved films and I loved going to QFT so when I read about the FEDS scheme I had to apply. It was a marketing position, so I thought, worst comes to worst, I’ll get to see films before anyone else!

It’s now been seven months since I started as a trainee for Queen’s Film Theatre (QFT), a cinema that’s part of Queen’s University Belfast. It’s origins can be tracked back all the way to the 1930s when a number of university societies decided they wanted to show films that weren’t in commercial cinemas. Eventually, this led to the QFT being officially founded in 1968.

QFT today
QFT today

As I mentioned above, the placement is based in the cinema’s marketing department so what exactly have I been doing for the last seven months? Well, a lot of social media “stuff” and a lot of time on Photoshop designing posters, banners etc. It may sound like a normal placement in an office, but in reality working in an independent cinema is always different. Working with a small team, you can expect to be involved in a lot of things: the programming, the website, community outreach and lots more. In my seven months here at QFT, it’s become very clear that a lot of work has gone into making QFT a haven for all film lovers in the city.

Recently QFT celebrated Cinema Day, a country wide initiative, presented by Film Hub Northern Ireland, that celebrates the diversity of film exhibition in Northern Ireland. As QFT is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary next year, we decided to invite the very loyal QFT audience and past employees to get to know what they’d like to see in the future and discuss what QFT means to them. One of the things that stood out to me was something that the former head of QFT Michael Open said during the discussion. He said that during the time of “The Troubles”, QFT was one of the few places that people could gather to socialise, feel welcome and not feel in danger. In fact very recently a few people have commented that QFT was one of the “few shining lights during a dark period”. These things have made me slightly re-think what I view an independent cinema should be.

QFT Cinema Day
Cinema Day 2016 was a national celebration of films and move going in Northern Ireland

Of course, the most important thing that an independent cinema should focus on is the programme. Being separated from mainland UK and also by a border in the south, a diverse cultural programme is arguably the most important quality of an independent cinema like QFT, even more so in a city that’s been through so much political conflict. There is always a sense of duty to show films that are of local interest. Not just movies that were made in Northern Ireland/Ireland but also films that would challenge the divide in the Northern Irish community. Of course, being an independent cinema there is the need to show films that wouldn’t be picked up by the big chain cinemas in Northern Ireland, which is a huge problem. Northern Ireland has the most screens per head in the whole of the UK, yet you’ll find that QFT is one of the few places that would show foreign language films like Borg McEnroe or After the Storm. As much as I love watching the yearly release of a Transformers or Marvel film, I’d always prefer something original, especially in an era of remakes and sequels.

QFT vintage
QFT back in the glory days: the cinema has always proved a safe haven at times of strife

If you ask a regular visitor why they like QFT you’ll hear the phrase, “I feel at home here” a lot. I remember the first time I walked into QFT and feeling a little intimidated but after going to the box office, buying a ticket and having an in-depth conversation with the person behind the glass about the film I was about to see that I felt rather silly about being intimidated. Independent cinemas always strive to try and welcome all communities. For instance, there is a desire to improve the cinema experience for people who suffer from autism or dementia. Making the cinema a friendlier environment for people with these conditions is a great way to make people “feel at home” and “welcomed”. In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in training sessions that made me see what it’s really like to be in a situation that would impair my day to day life. For example in my first month most of the QFT staff took part in the ICO’s Deaf Awareness training. A great exercise where I learnt about the community, the correct etiquette and even some simple sign language to gain valuable insight on how we can improve the cinema experience for the Deaf. More recently, we had some vision awareness training which, as you might expect, gave the same valuable knowledge as the Deaf awareness training, but for the visually impaired community.

With the traineeship being based in marketing, these are things I didn’t expect I’d be involved in. Things that I’m glad I got the chance to take part in and learn from. It’s refreshing, not only to see the work that happens behind the scenes but also being involved in it. With only a few weeks left, some big changes in QFT, Halloween and Christmas just around the corner, it’s going to be a busy few weeks and I look forward to it!

PS. Yes, I absolutely did get to watch films early before they officially came out...

If you would like to apply for FEDS yourself, you have until 18 October to do so. You don't need past experience, only passion, so get your application in.

Film programming needs YOU (and why you should get started)

Posted Thursday 24 August 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, General

Ahead of this September's Scalarama - the annual, month-long celebration of cinema across the UK - our Marketing and Communications Manager Duncan Carson (who got his start programming a Scalarama event five years ago) reflects on why you should get involved. He'll be presenting three British film noirs at The Horse Hospital in London for this year's edition under his programming banner Nobody Ordered Wolves.

If you're alive today and reading this, take solace in two things: despite the astronomical odds, you have known life while Prince was alive and since digital projection was made possible. If I were born not many decades ago, every time I watched a film that moved me, that made me want to take it from my sweaty palms and thrust it into yours, it would have stayed as a frustrated wish. That life-changing experience would stay as a gift offered, that I was unable to reciprocate. But now, things have changed.
hausu haxan
Posters for previously Nobody Ordered Wolves screenings by Charlotte Procter

One of the things that I like most about Scalarama is the number of people who show their first film as a result of the energy around the event (and the great workshops they've put on over the years). I screened my first film in public as a result – a double bill of Hausu and Häxan in a Victorian asylum – and I now work here at the Independent Cinema Office, daily fielding calls from people doing just the same. Behind all of the questions about film licensing and projectors, there’s that same larkiness I had: ‘Surely they’re not going to let me do it?!’

If you have sat in a screening or seen a film you desperately want to watch not coming anywhere near where you live, I want to say to you: there is literally no reason why it couldn’t be you. At the ICO we have tonnes of resources on the how of showing films in public for beginners (and you can always give us a call in the office if you want to talk it through), but here’s my thoughts on the why...  

hausu haxan screening
Hausu and Haxan, shown at the Caroline Gardens Asylum, Peckham

Think clearly about why you want to show films in front of an audience

Cinema is only two things: films and people. Maybe it’s some ineffable magnetism between souls, or perhaps it’s simply that it’s one of the few times when your attention is (hopefully) lured from your phone for five minutes, but being part of an audience is the thing that sets the cinematic experience apart. So think about why you want other people to engage in what you’re doing. Firstly, be aware that passion and enthusiasm are absolutely key. Even when I’ve been frustrated or perplexed by other people’s film choices, there’s an assurance about the best events that makes you wrestle with your response; that says, ‘If they care this much, there must be more to it.’ So find ways to assure people that there’s a reason you’ve gathered them all there, either as the face of the screening or by being an incredible unseen hand.

No one is saying you need to be P.T. Barnum. Some of my favourite programmers are natural introverts. But you should think about the fact that this is an outward thing to do. You need to be able to put energy into finding ways to connect with people, both in advance through marketing and in person at the event. If you just want to see your favourite film on the big screen, consider hiring a cinema for your birthday. Programming is about having an overwhelming belief that other people will connect with what you have gathered them there to watch.

Tin Tabernacle Kilburn
The Tin Tabernacle, Kilburn, a former church turned scout hut-cum-boat, where Nobody Ordered Wolves showed Finis Terrae

Don’t get bogged down in presentation

Look, we all wish we could be showing everything we’re screening from an archival print with a brand new Xenon bulb in Cinerama. Going to the cinema is about presentation. But presentation can mean more than having a spanking 4K DCP. If all that's available to you is a pub back room or a classroom data projector, then that's what you need to do! It’s down to you to demonstrate care in other ways: a handmade zine, elaborate programme notes, pre-show playlist, extended introduction, themed cocktails… Even if your screen isn’t much bigger than most people’s TVs, they will remember this feeling and that’s what counts.

So maybe there’s no 4K DCP of your favourite film. But increasing the number of screenings of certain films improves their visibility and encourages rights holders, distributors and archives to prioritise restoring these titles. Gathering an enthusiastic audience that cares about the films you show (more than the way you project them) is also a fast track for an independent cinema to want to work with you, if that’s the route you want to go. All that said, take time to know your equipment and look closely at what you can do maximise the viewing experience.

blitz
Poster for Nobody Ordered Wolves Blitzed series by Daniella Shrier of Another Gaze

Do something ambitious

There’s no reason to exist if you’re not providing something more than your average cinema. Regular programming is about delivering the current releases; it’s the Gregg’s sandwich of experiences: great when you need it in the middle of the day. Make your event is the ridiculous feast that no one can make day in day out. Delight in the fact that you can spend a disproportionate amount of time on your programming, outside of a commercial need. If you want to spend five years searching for the rights to Point Break, you can do it (and win). If you’re already heading off the beaten track, why not go further? Being niche focuses you and will make your event a beacon for others. Is it about the audience you’re targeting, the films you’re focusing on, or the experience you’re providing beyond the film itself? Do something that no one else can do and then no one can take it away from you.

Duncan Carson programmes under the name Nobody Ordered Wolves. He is bringing three films about British men, masculinity and the 1950s to London’s The Horse Hospital for Scalarama this year. To find out more, click here.

What do young people really want from your cinema?

Posted Thursday 20 July 2017 by Duncan Carson in FEDS scheme

Daphne
Daphne, one of two titles selected for the new youth-focused BFI FAN New Release Strategy

Guest post by Alice Quigley, Marketing Manager, Film Hub South West & West Midlands

On a fairly frequent basis - at events, during workshops, in articles - I’ve heard people say that young people aren’t that interested in the cinema anymore. Which would be a huge cause for concern if it were true. However, in her excellent recent article for Sight & Sound, Screening it for themselves: young DIY British film programmers, Simran Hans points out that 15-to-24 year olds are in fact the largest sector of the cinema-going audience and last year accounted for 29% of the UK cinema audience and goes on to spotlight some of the many interesting events young programmers across the UK are working on. Admittedly a decent swathe of this percentage are watching blockbusters at the multiplex, but that isn’t the full story. Loads of independent venues are doing great work already to welcome this age range, but there is plenty more we as the independent exhibition sector can do to make sure our doors are truly open to people this age.

Since BFI announced a focus on developing young audiences, specifically aged 16-30 in their recent BFI2022 strategy, there has been a flurry of activity to come up with the answers to get this age group through cinema doors. While 16-30s are frequently cited as ‘hard to reach’, from what I’ve seen, heard and experienced via various projects, the key to reaching them is relatively simple and can be boiled down to one piece of advice: talk to them. 

It’s something I’m conscious of trying to do more of, especially now that the BFI Film Audience Network’s New Release Strategy (NRS) is also focussing on the 16-30 age (more on that at the end of this article). So, while hosting a Young Creatives Focus Group at ICO’s recent Screening Days in Leicester to get their thoughts on the NRS shortlisted films, I thought it would be a good idea to start off by asking them what they thought we could do to get more people their age watching independent films at the cinema. The dos and don’ts that they came up with are disarmingly straightforward and form the beginnings of a solid roadmap for anyone interested in reaching out more to young audiences.

God's Own Country
God's Own Country, one of two titles selected for the new youth-focused BFI FAN New Release Strategy

Do: Add Value

Competition for time and hard-earned money is stiff, and young people expect more from their entertainment activities. They don’t want just a film - they can get this from the comfort of their own home - they want a night out. Think about how you can make a screening a more social experience with post-show conversations, party nights and themed food and drinks. (My favourite example was one young programmer who served up Chicken Kievs at their Eurovision night held this year in Kiev, Ukraine.)

Do: Work with young people

Why waste time second guessing what will get a younger audience into your cinema when you can work with young people to programme, promote and run events? Yes it does take time to support them through the process, and it does mean handing over control to an extent, but if you empower young programmers and producers to create, promote and manage events the rewards are plentiful: new energy and ideas, a surprising amount of fun and potentially lots of new, younger faces in the audience.

Do: Price your tickets to suit

Harking back to young people are skint - they really, really are - this was a unanimous point by all the young creatives at the Focus Group and is backed up by various pieces of research citing price as a key barrier to entry for young people.  Having a clear, simple, consistent and well-communicated youth ticket offer does pay off.

Young Audiences focus group
The assembled young audiences focus group at Screening Days in July, including some of our FEDS trainees!

Do: Go to where young people are

Think about taking events to where young people hang out. If that’s not an option, then make the effort to go and talk to them (or get other young people to go and talk to them) where they hang out. Find out what they’re passionate about and what they want to see in the cinema. Listen to them and, most importantly, respond to what they say. It can be pretty disheartening if you don’t pay heed to their ideas, which will naturally be different to yours.

Do: Get on board with GIFs

A cute cat GIF can go a long way. Love it or hate it you’ve got to embrace it. This generation are visual animals so leave the lengthy copy behind and get on board with good quality social assets. If you’re not a natural social media user then get someone that enjoys it to take the reins. 

Don’t assume

Think that young people are only interested in super-hero franchises? Think back to your late teens and early twenties. This is a time of cultural awakening and young people are more interested in the experimental and avant-garde than a lot of older people (who can get tired and just want to watch First Dates and drink wine, no blame here). There is a world of amazing cinema to discover, both new and old, and many of the people I spoke to were fed up with the risk-averse nature of youth programming.

Don’t make nominal gestures

The young people I talked to were well aware when venues made nominal gestures - suddenly programming one or two youth events and getting disheartened when not a lot of people turn up. Maybe you didn’t get it quite right this time but stick with it. If you don’t believe you are building a relationship (which takes time) then it’s never going to work. Talk to people, make changes, see what works, build trust and sustain a consistent offer for young people in your area.

Graffiti
Sadly, it's going to take more than emojis and graffiti fonts to get young people interested in your cinema or film festival (Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash)

Don’t use youth speak

Overcome with a desire to speak in emojis? Think that jazzy graffiti-style font is going to attract a youth audience? They are going to smell your over-30-year-old-self a mile off. By all means work with young people to write copy and come up with promotional ideas, but if that’s not possible at least keep your tone and marketing simple and authentic.

The BFI Film Audience Network have announced the next two titles to receive New Release Strategy support:God’s Own Country (1 Sept, Picturehouse) and Daphne (29 Sept, Altitude). These films were presented at ICO Screening Days and discussed in detail with the Young Creative Focus Group. Surprise surprise, the Focus Group had lots of different ideas about the two films, underlining that young people are not a homogenous group who all think the same thing. Their campaign ideas will form a key part of our approach to these films, so you can expect to hear lots of opportunities and ideas for engaging with audiences aged 16-30 in the coming weeks. As with all NRS films, you will receive an expanded marketing pack containing everything you need to successfully promote the films including top quality social assets, engaging copy and great event ideas. Both films are now available to book via the distributors.

If you show NRS films and are interested in additional event or marketing activity, you can also access support from your local Film Hub: get in touch with them to register your interest and for more information. 

The young creatives who attended the Focus Group were reached via BFI Young FAN (previously Young Programmers Network), a source of advice and opportunities for people working with young programming groups. If you’re interested in finding out more, please visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BFIYoungFAN/.

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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