Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts by Duncan Carson

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. 

Why Film on Film Matters: Celebrating Celluloid

Posted Tuesday 16 May 2017 by Duncan Carson in General

il cinema

Image: Il Cinema Ritrovato

With the switch to digital cinema now nearly five years in the past in the UK, the true value of the way film was shown for the first hundred years is thrown into relief. Yet, despite the ubiquity of digital cinema prints (DCPs), there is a strong resurgence of screenings on film in independent cinemas, from Eastbourne's Overnight Film Festival to Bradford's Widescreen Weekend. Is this film's own 'vinyl revolution', or is celluloid only for niche audiences? We asked four curators who are passionate supporters of film on film why the format matters and why everyone should get the chance to regularly see celluloid screenings.

Ian Mantgani, Badlands Collective

What is it about screening on film that makes it an essential experience?

When you see a well-produced film print, properly projected, it still feels like a miracle in the lineage of the magic lantern show. One thing film still has over digital is that it feels alive –  because it’s light shining through an emulsion, it’s dimensional –  and because the grain structure is different in each frame, the illusion of movement feels vibrant. Digital cinema now has a decent resolution, yet compared to photochemical cinema, it’s still comparatively flat and static; colder, if you will. The contrast and colour range in decent film prints are also greater than what’s currently available digitally, making the images richer. A projectionist once said to me, “35mm looks like something you can jump into; digital looks like something shined onto something.”

Film is also an essential experience because it was the standard screening format for the first century of cinema; I see it as the people’s birthright to be able to view this medium. Now that digital simulacra have become the norm, and celluloid is treated like some elite delicacy… Well, I understand there are economic imperatives at work, but it still feels to me that everyday people have been robbed of nice things that were once normal.

What screening on celluloid first blew your mind or one that’s meant something to you recently?

One of the first prints we screened as The Badlands Collective still stands out as a special moment, and that was Jonathan Glazer’s showprint of Birth, developed on silver nitrate. It was in perfect condition, and had a real shimmering quality. In terms of new movies, I feel grateful to have seen the beautiful prints of Interstellar, The Hateful Eight and Inherent Vice that did the rounds these past few years; my colleague Craig tells me the 70mm print of Batman vs Superman was very good too. Unfortunately it didn’t play long enough for me to see it!

In London we get lots of great repertory cinema. Some of my highlights from the past few months include when the Prince Charles played a never-before-shown print of Nothing Lasts Forever, when the BFI imported some rarely-seen US prints of John Carpenter films like They Live, and when the Curzon unearthed a print of Andi Engel’s Melancholia. My colleague Phil listed a few recent London 35mm highlights as including Kundun, Millennium Mambo and Lost Highway. All three of us were also lucky enough to attend last year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, where there were a multitude of gems, including the only IB Technicolor print of The Thin Red Line ever made. That’s another special thing about film: prints have their own story and history, which we become a part of when we view them.

To read more about The Badlands Collective and their events, click here.

 Astor 35mm
Image: The Astor Theatre, Melbourne, Australia

Tara Judah, critic and programmer

As a bored teen, stranded in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, I loved melodrama and the tragedy of Shakespeare, but knew little about the movies. Invited by a friend, to a single-screen cinema, to see Kenneth Branagh’s screen adaptation of my favourite Shakespeare play, Hamlet, I ventured out of my two-bit suburb and into an art deco/jazz-moderne cinema building of epic proportions. Inside, behind the glorious gold-curtains, I was treated to a 70mm extravaganza; roaring sound and stunning images that romanced me and so began my deep, profound love affair with film. What made it even more special was that each frame, as it flickered before my eyes, held the love and affection of the projectionist whose hands had laced it up, carefully focused it and made sure it looked and sounded as good as it possibly could, for my enjoyment. I was unsuspecting, on that fateful day, that those very loving hands belonged to someone who would, some fifteen years later, become my mentor, employer and a life-long friend. Film is so much more than just a movie.

And why film is so essential? 

It is easy to fall into the false economy of thinking about cinema as a purely visual exploit: pixels that pass in front of our eyes. But cinema is far more sensory than eyeballing images suggests. The true joy – and romance – of moving images is that they bring multiple senses to life; the touch of the projectionist’s hands; the physical imprint of his/her finger onto the leader and edges of the film strip that itself holds a physical imprint of the image it once captured, IRL; the stories and aesthetics that touch our souls. What we see, when we see film, is photochemically indexed in emulsion, fed through a machine crafted and cared for by human hands and beads of sweat – far more moving than a screen full of 0s and 1s. Each time I hear a xenon lamp spark and the whirr of a film projector kicking in, I know I’m in for a treat, because the show is more than just a movie. Each sprocket hole moves in sync with well-oiled beat of our hearts and, as I take up my seat, so continues the rich tradition of touching images, with human hands, sweat, souls and eyes.

To read more of Tara Judah's writing and more on her curation, click here. She will be leading The State of Things: Film Critics' Day at Watershed's Cinema Rediscovered.

Apocalypse Now
Image: Apocalypse Now, Studiocanal

Rebecca Nicole Williams, curator, The Celluloid Sorceress

What is it about screening on film that makes it an essential experience?

Celluloid is the fundamental basis of cinema. While a modern audience still refers to a long form motion picture as a “film” so few of them are actually shot on that shiny, translucent strip. Let alone the three of original 3 strip Technicolor! In order to understand what cinema was, and still should be, I think it’s important to honour the pioneers and champions of the form. Through this we get an understanding of the technical complexities of making a film, but also, if presented correctly, a good presentation from film will also capture for an audience the pride and showmanship of the early exhibitors. With so many notions of “event” and “spectacle” still evident in today’s Imax and large format presentations we can only truly understand how far cinema has come by examining and appreciating the qualities of film making and exhibition gone by, some of which can not be recreated by today’s technology.

What screening on celluloid first blew your mind or one that’s meant something to you recently?

I’m of an age that all my formative cinema experiences were on 35mm film. I’ll never forget CE3K at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, the biggest screen in the East Midlands. Or Amadeus. Or the double feature of Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Or my first 70mm, Apocalypse Now! In some ways my childhood was a bit “Cinema Paradiso” so I have vivid memories of watching the boys at the local ABC lace up Raiders back on its original release before my 8-year-old-self sat and watched a film that remains a favourite today. More recently 3-Strip Cinerama at Bradford’s Widescreen Weekend is a rare experience. And, of course, my own contributions to 35mm programming and those of my programming contemporaries provide magical cinema experiences every week. Good times!

The Celluloid Sorceress's 35mm Cult Saturday (showing five classic and rare 1980s films on 35mm film) takes place September 23 at The Cinema Museum in London. 

the strange vice of mrs wardh

Image: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

Josh Saco, Cigarette Burns Cinema

There’s an inherent adventure attached to screening films on film. Perhaps more so when you are screening rare prints. You can never be sure of what version you are getting.Sometimes this can be a gift: for instance the Lucio Fulci film One on Top of the Other, which happily was an extended version adding an additional ten minutes of super rare footage.

On the flipside, there are films that are so bogged down in mystery and confusion that the only versions available are heavily bastardised from the film you may be expecting based on its digital counter. However, I argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it’s interesting to watch Next! the US cut of Sergio Martino’s classic The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. Editorial decisions were made to make the film appeal to a US audience. This doesn’t just include excising the “sexy” bits, but altering the introduction of one of the lead characters, re-cutting the story and effectively making it even more nonsensical than it began.

I find these choices interesting.It’s fun to see what people did or didn’t do to a favourite film. These differing versions are unlikely to ever be digitised as we enter into the world of Ultimate Most Complete Edition Blu-rays, and a fan base who are hyper sensitive to perceived “cuts”.

But often times, these films were introduced to their audiences in these ways, these are the versions that won awards, acclaim, fans and ultimately created the legacy that we cherish.

New transfers involve recolouring; 4K remasters where creatives “go back” and “fix problems”.These all effectively change history, alters our relationship with the art in its original form.

Celebrating film on film is complex: it’s not as simple as digital vs. celluloid, but celluloid is our past no matter how you approach it, and that alone makes it worth saving, tending to and caring for.   

Cigarette Burns' Into the Woods programme of folk horror is currently taking place at the Barbican in London. To find out more about the season and future screenings, click here.

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