Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts by Duncan Carson

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.

Club des Femmes' decade of queer feminist film programming

Posted Friday 12 May 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, General

Club des Femmes blog montage
Films screened by Club des Femmes (L-R): Sepideh; De Cierta Manera; Carry Greenham Home 

Club des Femmes is a queer feminist collective that has now been showing films, running events and changing the shape of programming and culture for ten years. Founded in 2007 by programmer Selina Robertson and filmmaker Sarah Wood, then joined in 2009 by writer, curator and academic Sophie Mayer, it has proved an enduring and essential presence in the UK’s independent curation scene. With Sarah and Selina’s bond having been forged when they were both working at the Independent Cinema Office, we’re very happy to pay tribute to this programming force at this milestone.

This decade anniversary is marked by one of their most ambitious projects to date: a tribute and celebration of queer cinema royalty B. Ruby Rich at the Barbican in London. For those yet to be initiated into Club des Femmes’ modus operandi, the season is a strong indication: committed to showing work that has been underexposed, with a close eye both to the past and to the future, and with concerns that stretch way beyond the confines of film and cinema. Club des Femmes’ events have encompassed a powerful excavation of the Greenham Common Wimmin's Peace Camp, a highly oversubscribed night of feminist porn, a collective action on Wikipedia and much more. I spoke with Club des Femmes three core members and got their take on what is at the heart of the way they programme.

Programming is about sharing

CdF dykesploitation

The core of Club des Femmes work is to offer access to queer feminist film work and thought, bring a rich tapestry of new and neglected voices into the light, so they can be enjoyed, discussed and contextualised. 

Selina Robertson (SR): We are always generating new programming ideas between us. Sometimes we are invited to curate a season (as in the Barbican's Being Ruch Rich) or we decide to revisit a filmmaker whose body of work has been overlooked like Annette Kennerley's 16mm films - as with everything we do it's about showing films that have a critically and a feminist consciousness and rebel aesthetics (as B. Ruby Rich calls it).

Sarah Wood (SW): It's been central to what we do – to revive work, place it in a new context and see what resonances work for a contemporary audience. Women's work has often been marginalised. It takes a bit of extra work to find that work and put it back on screen but it’s always valuable when we do.

Sophie Mayer (SM): That's part of the impulse behind Being Ruby Rich: I certainly connected to feminist film through reading her accounts of films I thought I would never ever be able to see… Like The Gold Diggers not being on DVD or video until 2009! So there's something about translating the cultural and critical histories back ONTO the screen, with an audience – and panellists. It's never just a screening.

Sometimes it's even a bit like a seance: you need people present to create a presence. Of course zines and magazines do that too (and we make print artefacts), but screening a film that hasn't been screened for a decade or more – there's a frisson of presence to that.

Make sure everyone is included

One of the hallmarks of a Club des Femmes event is the collapsing of hierarchies between audiences and curators, experts and neophytes. Avoiding the typical relation between spectator and curator, a wide range of voices feel empowered to offer their perspective. If a great deal of the history of women’s movements has yet to be written, a Club des Femmes creates a space of active participation where that can happen. This helps avoid a digested, determined view of the work and open dialogues that have a lasting impact.

SW: There are many ways to think of cinema. For us it’s always been a space for ideas. It has to be. Our programming is a move away from questions of defining a single canon or authorship and towards a growing understanding of what women have brought to the screen in terms of politics, thought and aesthetics.

SM: Something that I've really noticed is that the CdF community/audience is very horizontal: someone who is an audience member at one screening might be a filmmaker we present later on; a panellist might give us a lead to our next project; a shy and nerdy viewer like me might become part of the team – so it is very much community-building around shared interests. A continuous flow of actions and conversations that don't assume anyone in the room has a fixed role.

Make the cinema a space for discussion

Carry Greenham Home

The cinema itself is often a harsh environment for honest and productive discussion amongst equals, especially given the ‘master and pupil’ dynamic of the traditional Q&A session. Showing radical work is inherently about opening up a space for new ideas, and so creating a space in which these ideas can circulate is something that Club des Femmes have taken care over (to the extent that their Carry Greenham Home event at the Rio in East London exploded into spontaneous song!).

SR: Our practice of collaboration is all that we have, and the queer feminist space that we actively create every time we come together...

SW: I agree. Because so much of culture is now mediated through screens, and viewing is so isolated there's nothing more exciting than humanising a screening event and enabling it to become properly about dialogue.

SM: I've learnt so much from audiences over the years. We've had great conversations because as a group we're not that interested in our own authority but what is possible through dialogue. We try to programme films that also have a welcoming stance (and to show that experimental and alternative cinema has its own forms of welcome and invitation), and to work with panellists who bring that off the screen.

Think practically and sustainably

Of course, there is a strong practical, as well as theoretical, element to producing an event. I was interested in how Club des Femmes have managed to stay sustainable and active across the ten years.

SW: Our projects have rarely been publicly funded but we have just about always managed to break even through box office splits with the venues we've worked with. The one good thing about this is that when you know you're relying only on the money you'll generate through ticket sales it keeps you on your toes about how you programme, how inclusive you can make it and how well you can communicate what you're doing to the widest possible audience. It's telling that we've taken risks with the films we've shown, risks that commercial cinemas would be wary to take but have proved that it's possible to screen unfamiliar work and still make a financial success of it. In a world where everything boils down to economics this is one of our quiet triumphs!

SM: We also try to keep ticket prices affordable, and (at the same time) to pay our guest speakers and filmmakers fairly, so that's always part of the consideration when we're budgeting an event and talking to a venue.

Club des femmes first event
Poster for Club des Femmes' inaugural season at Curzon Soho

SR: There's a lot of attention to detail, especially working with multiple formats and harder-to-find films!

For our first event at the Curzon, we were partly funded by them and supported the event through box office. We have been working like that ever since: covering our costs sometimes paying ourselves a little bit. Now we are being properly funded through Film Hub London, it's very exciting to be able to pay ourselves properly but it's still a VERY precarious job especially in London and we all work on a millions other projects to make it all work.

Celebrate history...

b ruby rich

Image source: IndieWire

With the Being Ruby Rich season, Club des Femmes are paying tribute to a figure who has proved emblematic of their project, celebrating not just ten years of their history but also twenty five years since Rich coined the term ‘New Queer Cinema’ in the pages of Sight & Sound.

SW: It symbolically honours all the women critics who shape film theory but often go unacknowledged. There's a wonderful legacy of thinking film and feminism. We are so lucky in this country to have Laura Mulvey and Elizabeth Cowie (just to name two of the amazing long list of women) helping us understand what cinema can be. I think this season and the acknowledgement of B. Ruby Rich's contribution to thought is genius. Club des Femmes has honoured women behind the camera, women experimenting with film, women on screen and now we honour the contribution made by women theorising cinema. It's going to be great.

SM: Ruby has been so connected to feminism and film in the UK since the 1970s, through Edinburgh Film Festival, Sight & Sound and New Queer Cinema that our intent is to tie those feminist history circles back together again for new audiences to appreciate and enjoy…

Thinking about ideas and moments often leads us to new films and filmmakers as well – there's often a sense of how much we need to learn to fill in gaps, or how excited we are when a new film like Wanuri Kahiu's Pumzi appears and we can programme it!

I've learned so much about how films actually travel through culture and memory by researching our events and putting things together.

...And look to the future

If one were looking for signs that Club des Femmes’ advocacy has made a difference over the last decade, it doesn’t take much to see.

SR: The margins/mainstream switch up all the time.... I guess the filmmakers that we showed our our launch event June 2007 at the Curzon were people like Lizzie Borden, Sadie Benning, Vivienne Dick. Last year Borden's Born in Flames was digitally restored and had a new 35mm print struck, which was very exciting to see this film finally recognized by mainstream film culture...

Edge

Image source: Sandra Lahire Edge 1986, film still. Courtesy LUX

SM: Feminist film in general has entered the mainstream conversation over the last ten years – as in the main-mainstream (national newspapers, BFI backed, etc), but it's in a way more exciting to see the kinds of experimental work that we've screened move into larger cultural spaces like Tate, like with Maud Jacquin's London Film-makers Co-op programme, which Sarah was part of.

SW: I think cinema itself has changed a lot in ten years and that what was once considered the margins is now a thriving alternative to mainstream commercial cinema, largely thanks to the activity of film clubs and festivals.

I asked Club des Femmes about what developments they were glad to see over the last ten years and which they could do without.

SR: Since we started there is now a really strong social network of queer feminist film curators, activists, programmers, pop ups, festivals in London – that links UK wide through alternative exhibitors  – e.g. Scalarama, SQIFF, Liverpool Small Cinema, Eyes Wide Open - whose rebel interventions within cultural cinema exhibition are significant and growing larger.

The development I am not happy seeing is the continuing exploitation by some cinemas of young feminist curators who are expected to give their skill and labour for free in return for supplying cinemas with ‘diverse’ content and audiences. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and we are talking within CdF about this a lot and how we can help change that. Watch this space!

SM: Online streaming and the emergence of boutique cinemas: these have both created opportunities and problems for making a breadth of films available.

I think the most important development is/was around digital projection enabling community cinema, especially with support from the BFI Neighbourhood Film Fund, which has created a massive growth in programming and curating (obviously supported by ICO training and distribution!), which can be local, responsive, communitarian, contextual, investigative and can offer real challenges to the status quo (like Liverpool Small Cinema’s 58% project); the second is theatrical release strategies for documentaries. As there are more women directing documentaries than fiction features, this has had a signal and dynamic effect, including raising filmmakers like Kim Longinotto to the deserved level of icons – although online streaming may mark the end of this brief golden era…

Have fun!

SR: We try to have as much fun as possible. Doing feminism is so much about that!

SW: Selina and I had both worked programming for different organisations but missed the freedom to follow our instincts and put film events together that could be more light of foot and responsive to what was happening in the world. We have always been creative and playful about the way we programme and that literally began with a conversation.

So, in the true spirit of Club des Femmes (and as a love of Tove Jannson and her creations was one of the original ways Sarah and Selina bonded at the ICO) I’m happy to share the official Moomins/Club des Femmes pairings as shared with me over the course of this interview:

Club Des Femmes Moomins2
(L-R: Little My AKA Selina Robinson; Moomintroll AKA Sarah Wood; Snufkin AKA Sophie Mayer)

Here’s to ten more years!

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