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The Lexi & The Nomad: Exhibitor of the Month

Posted Thursday 26 May 2016 by Duncan Carson in General, Pop-up and Event Cinema

Lexi external shot

The Lexi in Kensal Rise, West London, is a unique cinema with a purpose beyond showing incredible films and selling popcorn: mostly staffed by volunteers, its profits are all driven back to a South African charity that changes lives through sustainable living. The Lexi has now been running for nearly ten years, set up by Kensal Rise local Sally Wilton (whose title now is Lexi Founder/Dreamer). This is the fifth year they'll be travelling around London with their itinerant screen The Nomad, taking top films to unusual spaces across the capital. We sat down with Rosie Greatorex, the cinema's programmer, to talk about putting a cinema at the heart of a community and how their cinema is making a difference to people's lives.

How do the volunteers shape the Lexi and the Nomad?    

Our volunteers are key to everything we do. At the Lexi, they come from all walks of life - we have teachers, mental health nurses, students, business people, freelancers, retired people, firefighters – every profession and non-profession you can think of. Volunteering at the Lexi has also been a way for quite a few out of work people to improve their CV. We train you up and then you commit to a 3 hour shift every 2 weeks. It does take a lot of management time though. Zoe our Ops Manager does a great job, as does Dave our front of house manager. I think the important thing is to realise people volunteer for loads of different reasons. To make friends, to see more films, to support their local community and of course to support our charity in South Africa.

We made the transition to a volunteer-staffed front of house about five years ago. We took about a year to make the change, and I spoke to loads of community arts organisations and social enterprises about how they manage their volunteer teams and the different models and ways of thinking about it. We won an award for best practice in the first year of being volunteer run.

Bittu Lexi
Bittu, one of The Lexi's 50 volunteers, working in the bar

I am very aware that there are strikes going on with cinema staff in London, and a very important debate about the Living Wage in cinemas too. We don’t want our volunteering scheme held up as a reason to not pay your cinema staff! This is a model which works for us as a tiny 75 seat single screen with a small bar, in our local area. It allows us to operate with our staff costs as a fixed rather than direct cost which makes a huge difference.

At the Nomad, our volunteers are often just starting out in their career in exhibition or wanting to get into some area of the film industry. On both projects, we do try to understand why that person is volunteering and make sure we can help them get the most out of it. Loads of our Nomad volunteers have gone on to jobs in the industry, but come back every summer anyway. The Nomad needs 300 volunteers every year to make it work, so we're always on the lookout for new people to help out!

Nomad Brompton Cemetery
One of The Nomad's most popular screening sites, the spooky environs of Brompton Cemetery

How do you make the cinema something people want to contribute to?

We have a waiting list for volunteering at the Lexi! I guess it’s a really unique project and local people are proud to have us in their area and want to get involved. Mostly they get involved by buying cinema tickets and popcorn and wine, or by getting married here or having their mum’s party here, but we have 50 volunteers at any one time as well.

For me, at the end of a really long day, to see people come to volunteer on our box office or at a Nomad event after they have already done their own full day’s work, is just incredible. We all feel like that at the Lexi, and so even though it can be pretty hectic sometimes – especially in the summer, when Nomad is also in full swing – I think everyone here feels like they are valued and part of something. So I don’t think we do use any particular strategy to make people feel they want to contribute – it sounds corny but we are a community.

How do you communicate the charity aspect of what you do while keeping it fun?

Great question. We do think a lot about this. The Sustainability Institute is a charity project with a very hopeful, pragmatic and progressive approach. But clearly they are dealing with the realities of the huge inequality in South Africa and the legacy of apartheid and some pretty grim realities on the ground. We don’t want to manipulate our customers or over lay that side of things though. It’s also very important to respect the kids at the project and not use their image to try and get the sympathy ££s. So we try to strike a balance.

We have some great short films which screen sometimes before our main features to remind people where their hard-earned cash is going. We do also send out updates and snippets of news to our database if something great happens like one of the kids from the village matriculates or gets a job. Both the Lexi and Nomad make good use of the screen before the programme starts, with a slide show about the Sustainability Institute and at the Lexi we have a slide show projected onto the wall of the bar, so if customers are interested they can stay and watch the whole thing and get some more in depth info!

Lexi Coram Gardens
Coram Secret Garden is just one of usually secluded spaces opened up for al fresco cinema watching

How do you programme, playing off profit (for a good cause!) and culture?  

Like all thriving little cinemas we work very hard to understand what our audience want, and then to give it to them. One of the things that really influenced my approach was the ICO's Cultural Cinema Exhibition course and we obey the first commandment of programming from that: programme for thy audience, not thyself! We’re a first run cinema and we programme on date or week two, depending on the title. Basically we want to cram as much as possible into our programme. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t wish for a Screen 2. 

The Lexi audience are pretty discerning. They love documentaries. They will take a chance. We do as many Q&As as we can – one thing about the Lexi auditorium is that the acoustics are brilliant, so you don’t need a mic. The best Q&As I’ve been to have all been at the Lexi as you get a real conversation between the panel and the audience.

Programming Nomad is totally different, of course. We have 70+ screenings this year, all over London. From parks to palaces to cemeteries and churches and lidos. And being rep programming, it’s sort of a blank slate, which can be scary! But Nomad is in its fifth year now and I am hopefully getting a sense of that audience. I work on that programme with Kate, our Creative Director for Nomad. We made this amazing shared document which is like our programming hive mind and we’re adding to it all the time. What works well where, for how many people, what titles are best sellers, which are smaller but add something to our programme… I love that spreadsheet.

Lexi Cinema, London
Small but perfectly formed: the 75 seat interior of The Lexi

How do you build such a strong partnerships?

We are ethical, and professional. We may only be a small team but we will deliver on everything we promise. If you let us screen in your beautiful park, we will pop up the screen in one night, run a magical event and leave no trace. At the Lexi the same goes. We work really hard and we hope that shows, and it means people want to work with us again – it’s how we grew the Nomad so quickly and how the Lexi is thriving with only 75 seats. A lot of people giving their skills and time for free.

And sometimes you just meet other organisations you click with. We are screening Chocolate Films’ 1000 Londoners shorts in front of every Nomad screening this summer as part of a project we got some funding for (I am so happy about this) and now are also doing a couple of projects with them at the Lexi over the coming year too. I feel like every meeting we have with them, we think of other things we want to do. It’s a good synergy and exciting for our audiences too, I hope.

The Nomad shows films in some amazing places. How do you go about working with these venues? 

A lot of the venues where we screen are sensitive sites. Brompton Cemetery,  one of our favourite venues (and fastest selling!) is a good example of this. Firstly, we absolutely don’t let people wander among the graves! Obviously you have the creepy atmosphere from the fact that it’s a graveyard, and the graves are there in the backdrop - also the incredible Victorian architecture, but we also have to respect the fact that it’s still a working cemetery. Also the site is Grade 1 listed and one of the most beautiful working cemeteries in the country. We provide The Royal Parks who are our partner there, with really detailed installation, and health and safety plans. Paperwork! Our Tech Lead, Neil, will go for a site visit (usually several site visits, if it’s a new or complicated set-up) and discuss any concerns and specifications with the venue –and also of course figure out how to get the best sound and image possible in that space.

For the programming, obviously the venue lends itself to horror. Whilst we do programme darker titles there – this year, The Birds / Night of the Hunter / Psycho – the Royal Parks ask us to steer clear of pure horror, and to avoid anything with a supernatural theme. So it’s a bit of a challenge they've set us there but, to be honest, I think perfectly fair enough. Peoples’ relatives are there and it's important to be respectful.

This year I’m really looking forward Mulholland Drive at the Royal Academy, tying in with their Hockney exhibition. We had a lot of discussion with the team at the Royal Academy about our programme there, which was really exciting, and they’re staying open especially for the Nomad audience. Also, we’re showing A Street Car Named Desire at Brown Hart Gardens, which is this secluded raised terrace right in the middle of town. This will be an absolute gem of a screening but it’s a really small capacity. We work with the Grosvenor Estate for a lot of our Central London screenings (as The Grosvenor Film Festival) and they’ve opened up some really amazing spaces for us which are usually closed to the public.

A large part of the work of programming a pop-up cinema that roams to as many venues as Nomad is the back and forth with our partners at the venues over film choice. The absolute pleasure is when you screen a film that really suits the place. We showed Koyaanisqatsi a couple of years ago at Hyde Park lido, next to the water, with the city as a back drop, it was stunning. This year we’re screening Orlando at the Royal Maritime museum – so a really nice link to the Thames, and we’re next to The Queen's House – which has been a sort of pleasure house for queens and their consorts over the centuries. Really hoping people come out for that one!

Orlando Sally Potter
Sally Potter's Orlando will be making its way to Greenwich's The Queen's House thanks to The Nomad

What are the highlights of working at The Lexi?

The highlights of the Lexi programming are always the Q & As. Enabling our local community to have a dialogue with the filmmakers behind the films everyone is talking about feels like a really special thing. We do loads of panel discussions but one that really stands out for me is Asif Kapadia’s Q & A for Amy, last year. Of course we had a totally packed cinema, it was a great panel (hosted by Carin who does all our Q & As!) and being a local-ish doc, everyone had an opinion. The last time Asif had come for Senna. so it was really great to have him back again at the Lexi.

Then we had a space come up at the last minute at the Royal Academy courtyard (one of our headline venues), and Altitude granted us the non-theatrical rights early, so Asif came and did a Q & A there, too. In a totally different setting of course but under the stars in Central London, with a live jazz band - it felt like a real celebration. And a nice crossover between the Lexi and Nomad.

At the Lexi we’ve also had a long relationship with Film Club and Into Film. Personally I’m almost never happier than when we have a cinema full of young people. Next week we have our first Into Film screening as part of the Nomad programme - 220 children watching Song of the Sea at St Marks, Mayfair. I’m hoping that’s a relationship that will grow and we can open up more of our pop-up cinema spaces to children. Kate Pelen, Creative Director of the Nomad says 'Forging creative partnerships with like-minded people, from venues, to musicians, to filmmakers, is a real highlight of the project. There are so many potentially fruitful collaborative opportunities in the air: we just need to find the time to explore them all!'

One more highlight…. Ian and Hilary from Sacred Spirits supply all our gin and vodka – and it’s distilled in their garden, in Highbury! They come now and then and do tastings and ply us with too much gin and that feels like a really good relationship. Our customers love it. Their gin is bloody lovely. Zoe stocks our bar with as many local suppliers as possible so although the bar is tiny, the menu is really eclectic and carefully chosen.

Read more about The Lexi and its charity work here. To find out more about The Nomad's peregrinations this summer, click here.

Party at the Pictures on the Isle of Lewis: Programming in focus

Posted Tuesday 26 April 2016 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, General, Pop-up and Event Cinema, Training & Conferences

Party at the Pictures Pretty in Pink
The dancefloor for Party at the Pictures' Pretty in Pink event

The business of programming is at the heart of the cinema experience, but what does programming actually consist of? We're highlighting participants from our six-month Practical Programming course, supported by Creative Skillset and the BFI's Film Audience Network, to show some different approaches to successful programming. Here Oriana Franceshi of An Lanntair in the Outer Hebrides talks about her new strand Party at the Pictures and how it successfully brought a new audience and experience to the island's mixed arts venue.  

At An Lanntair we’re lucky enough to have a large reliable audience for our (mainstream) cinema programme, made up for the most part by young people aged 18–35. What we weren’t seeing, though, was this crowd showing an interest in our wider programme.

It was with the intention of altering young people’s perception of An Lanntair – to encourage people to see us as a venue rather than just as the island’s only cinema – that I came up with the idea for Party at the Pictures (PATP).  I’d had a few ideas of how I might accomplish this before attending the Practical Programming course at ICO, but it wasn’t until I had met the other programmers attending and been inspired by their creativity and ambition that I had the confidence to suggest trying something completely new to my colleagues at An Lanntair.

Pretty in Pink decor
Party at the Pictures is an all out immersive experience for audiences

The Concept

We have just one main events space at An Lanntair: our auditorium, which plays host to live music, theatre, dance, cinema and a broad range of events in between. PATP was to turn the challenge of this single space into an opportunity rather than a disadvantage. We planned to push back the auditorium chairs to turn the space into a dancefloor with comfy chairs and sofas around the sides.

The bar would make specially-themed cocktails, not only on the night of the event but for the entire week running up to it. The staff would also continue to serve drinks throughout the film (normally cinema patrons at An Lanntair can’t buy drinks during a film, similar to the policy most theatres adopt).

Decks would be set up at the side of the stage just by the screen, and as soon as the film ended a DJ would come on stage and start playing. The film on the screen would be replaced by a montage of dancing scenes from films, and the lighting would become… disco appropriate.

Basically, we were trying to turn the experience of the cinema into a special event, and encourage the audience back for gigs and other parts of our performing arts programme. It took me a while to arrive at the name Party at the Pictures. It was far from my first idea, but Let’s Go To The Groovies was roundly rejected.

Party at the Pictures posters
Distinct visuals that stand out from the venue's standard marketing helped bring new audiences 

The First PATP: The Reflektor Tapes, November 2015

'Don’t worry, Oriana: if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Scottish people in my time living there, it’s that they ALL LOVE indie discos.' Alison Wood, best friend and personal motivational speaker

Our first PATP was a screening of The Reflektor Tapes, a documentary about Arcade Fire, followed by an indie disco. When I read about the film’s release, I saw an opportunity to attract a cross-over audience of music and art film lovers, with the hope of attracting both back to An Lanntair as a music venue.

We created a Facebook event for the night, which the DJ updated regularly with videos for the type of music our audiences could expect to hear at the event. Gradually people began to contribute their own suggestions, which was nice.

We also plastered the town with posters and publicised the event a lot on the An Lanntair Facebook page, including a 'ten favourite Arcade Fire songs' countdown in the run up to PATP. Also we had a mention in the Stornoway Gazette and on Isles FM, as well as on the Twitter feeds of various local musicians who we thought would get people through the door.

With all of the above in place, and one week to go until the first ever Party at the Pictures, I believe we had sold four tickets. I was having sleepless nights and was basically incapable of talking about anything other than Arcade Fire.

The night of the event was probably the most stressed I’ve ever been, final exams and nearly-missed flights included. I was so sensitive to the audience’s reactions to the film that I couldn’t watch it with them and ended up in the projection booth where our head technician Mike handed me a stress ball in the shape of a pumpkin.

In the end, with a capacity of 80 (due to our comfy seating arrangement) we sold 60 tickets. On an island with a small population, where nobody had ever attempted an event of this kind before, 60 tickets wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t fantastic either. The night was a lot of fun (even I enjoyed myself eventually) and the feedback we received was really positive, encouraging us to hold another PATP.

I had learned some lessons, though, to consider going forward. These were as follows:

1. Friday night is not a good party night in Stornoway.

Maybe because everything is closed on a Sunday here and so people like to do their partying on a Saturday night? I don’t know, but it was explained to me – after the event had been arranged – that it’s really difficult to get people on a night out in Stornoway on a Friday. In future, if we had to organise an event on the Friday rather than the Saturday, we would need to be aware that this might require an extra push.

2. I should start dividing the tickets

The price for a ticket at the first PATP was £10. This was pretty reasonable considering a film at An Lanntair costs £7 normally, and the only club here costs a fiver to get in to. But feedback I received from bar staff dealing with customers in the run up to the event was that a lot of people couldn’t come to both the film and the club night, and so I might have been better off offering a ticket for the film at £7, say, and for the disco at £5.

3. Even when I think that my marketing material has outlined the event as clearly as possible, people will still get confused.

I had to deal with two customers who actually thought Arcade Fire were going to be playing that night. I felt like The Grinch.

Pretty in Pink invitations
Bespoke invitations brought a personal and nostalgic touch to the marketing to Party at the Pictures

The Second PATP: Pretty in Pink, February 2016

“The best sounds a kid will get is in a movie theatre, with huge speakers, turned up loud.” John Hughes, writer of Pretty in Pink

Elly, our CEO, was keen to organise another four PATP events for 2016. Just by chance the date for the first of these was Saturday, February 13th: yes, essentially Valentine's.

I was particularly interested in attracting more women to this event than were present at the last one, which I had noticed was a little heavy on the men. I also wanted to screen something fun and a bit kitsch rather than anything too 'romantic'. In the end I settled on Pretty in Pink, which was to have its 30th anniversary that month. I thought a John Hughes film would be a good call: they’re nostalgic for a lot of people but have never really gone out of style, and their soundtracks are distinctive enough to make the Party at the Pictures link a natural one.

The plan was to deck the auditorium out like a prom from the final scene of a teen movie and to follow the screening with an '80s disco. The process of making decorations for the event (it got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I saw pom-poms) meant that we had a lot of pretty images to share on An Lanntair’s Instagram, as well as repeating the same marketing steps as we had with the last PATP. I also made up little invitations that looked like LPs and took them round local businesses (hair dressers, tea shops etc) and again we had themed cocktails and a special montage video playing in the background, this time of romantic scenes from films; it was Valentine's, after all.

Pretty in Pink Oriana
Oriana hard at work creating a mountain of pom poms!

The response to our marketing online was fantastic, and we sold out the tickets for the film (90 this time, thanks to some extra comfy chairs). We had a special Valentine's offer on tickets – the ‘third wheel deal’, whereby two people could bring a third friend for free. Seeing the potential to make some sales on the bar, our Café Bar Manager covered the cost of decorations and the DJ: this meant that we could offer the 'prom' part of the evening for free, and charge the usual £7 for a cinema ticket.

The night was really fun and included a balloon-drop to Madonna’s 'Like a Prayer', the orchestration of which may be the highlight of my career so far. I’d like to say that I was less stressed this time around, since we had sold out the event in advance and I knew that the format worked after the last PATP’s success. I was not less stressed. When people didn’t jump up and start dancing the moment the music came on, I declared the whole thing ‘a fudging disaster’ (or words to that effect) and began to seriously consider a career change. A few songs later, though, the dance floor was full and I was on it, glad that only two of my friends had been present mere minutes ago when I decided I was going to pack in programming completely and become a carpenter. We received a lot of feedback saying how much people had enjoyed themselves and asking us to organise another PATP, so we are.

The Next PATP: Chasing Zero, May 2016

“On far shores, weary mariners hear voices

Songs so beautiful they cast a spell

There is no choice but to hear.”

Dan Crockett, in Chris McClean’s short film Edges of Sanity

We have a really enthusiastic surfing community here in the Outer Hebrides, and our next PATP aims to cater to this crowd as well as fans of electronic music. The headline act will be the performance of a live score by electronic musician CJ Mirra to a collection of cold water surf films by Chris McClean. Chris was winner of Best UK Film at Approaching Lines Festival 2014 and Best Short Film at London Surf Festival 2011 and CJ Mirra, also lead singer and guitarist of the band Swimming, has worked as a composer with Film4, Mammejong, EpicTV and Vertigo Films, amongst many others. 

As well as CJ Mirra’s performance, we will be showing work by local filmmakers Mark Lumsden, Colin Macleod and Jim Hope and displaying paintings by Laura Maynard, a local artist who is a member of the surfing community and whose pieces are inspired by her experiences while surfing. CJ Mirra will end the night with a DJ set. For the first time, PAPT will bring a live music element to the event and so tickets this time will be £10 for the whole evening, or £5 for the late night DJ set only.  It’s early days but we are optimistic for ticket sales; we even bought 20 bean bag chairs to accommodate extra bums.

If you have an ambitious audience development idea, you can apply for REACH to bring it to life. Deadline fast approaching!

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

‘Diversity’: A matter of Staying Power

Posted Monday 31 August 2015 by Duncan Carson in General, Pop-up and Event Cinema, Training & Conferences

Staying Power 1

Colin Jones' 'The Black House' photograph became the defining image for Black Cultural Archives second film festival

Ahead of our 'D Word' Screening Days, we wanted to highlight different approaches to diversity. At the heart of the day is considering different approaches and creating a strategy that works for where you are. Having spoken to a variety of voices (including an established venue and people from across the industry), we wanted to highlight the work of Jan Asante, who played a key role in organising our inspiration for the event nitroBEAT's D Word Conference

Does ‘diversity’ in moving image programming and production matter? The recent spike in media debate themed around ‘diversity’ (or lack thereof) across various strands of the British arts scene would imply that an awareness of the importance of programming content that speaks toward the increasingly broad aesthetic interests of diverse audiences does indeed matter, particularly if cultural programming aims to reflect the ever-morphing zeitgeist.

Spring and summer of 2015 gave rise to a timely convergence of conversations invested in how best to generate and moreover, sustain diverse programming within the UK arts sector. Notable among them were NitroBEAT’s theatre-focused ‘The D Word’ symposium; the Royal Television Society’s ‘Diversity: Job Done?’ debate, and ‘Bechdel Test Fest’; placing under-representation of women on screen at its core. With the politics of race, gender, class, sexuality, disability and religious orientation providing the intersectional framework for many of these conversations, the manifestation of ‘Staying Power: Black Britain On Screen’ Film Festival in early June presented a unique, interconnected opportunity to put an expansive, exploratory spotlight on the cinema of diverse Black cultural identities in the British frame.  

Staying Power 5
Differentiated themes made the wide-ranging programme digestible

Conceptualising Staying Power

In my role as external curator for the second consecutive year of Black Cultural Archives’ Film Festival partnership with Ritzy Picturehouse Cinema and Culture Kinetica; the sophomore run of the festival was fortuitously timed to compliment Black Cultural Archives’ critically acclaimed photographic exhibition ‘Staying Power’, which launched in early 2015. A partnership between Black Cultural Archives and Victoria and Albert Museum spanning both sites; the bold, beautiful and provocative imagery of ‘Staying Power’ reflected a plethora of stories of Black British cultural experience and evolution, from post World War II through to the 1990s. Its documentary photography, portraiture and staged allegorical images captured a visual journey of nearly half a century; celebrating and challenging understandings of Black British identities with connections to a broader African-descent Diaspora beyond the shores of Great Britain.

From the eclectic trajectory of Staying Power’s photographs came the defining premise for a similarly-inspired film festival that would pay homage to ‘Black Britain On Screen’, in six definitive chapters: A Question of Belonging;  LOVE?; Black Genius; Revolt & Revolution; Soul Cinema: Mirroring The Black Atlantic; and Black In The Digital Age.

The festival tagline: ‘A salute to the pioneering voices of Black British cinema; those independent storytellers, community griots, radical documentarians and counter-culture moving image activists who animate the unseen and amplify the seldom explored narratives.’

Staying Power 2

Many of the screenings in BCA's Film Festival were of films that had been seldom screened before; while this creates issues, it also draws attention to the archival material and what they have to say about the current situation

Staying Power: Process, Programme & Partnerships

Working collaboratively with the internal programming and marketing departments at Black Cultural Archives and Picturehouse Acquisitions, the collective objective in bringing the ‘Staying Power’ photographic experience to the big screen was to re-envision how the exhibition’s most powerful images could speak through the iconic cinema of their time, as an exploration of Black culture’s evolving space in Britain’s landscape and beyond from the 1950s through to 2015.  Also among the principle considerations in building the concepts and partnerships for ‘Black Britain On Screen’ was the significance of the archive as a keeper of the record of Black history. The launch of Black Cultural Archives Film Festival the previous year had paid homage to the work and legacy of cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Specifically, his ideas around cultural identity, race and ethnicity as an ‘Unfinished Conversation’ – most poignantly expressed in filmmaker John Akomfrah’s The Stuart Hall Project, which opened #BCAFilmFest 2014 season at Ritzy Cinema.

The work of 2014 festival collaborator, film archivist June Givanni [founder of June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive, ‘Black Film Bulletin’ magazine at the BFI and former head of the British Film Institute’s now defunct African Caribbean Unit] was yet another point of inspiration in conceiving the screening selections and recorded BCA-based Salons that would provide an interactive discussion space for audience engagement with the key themes of 2015’s festival. ‘Black Britain On Screen’ would bring on board partners for these BCA Salons: Black UK arts and entertainment IMDb-styled database The British Blacklist, together with digital media design and culture blog The:NuBlk. The Salons themselves, each running at two hours and themed around the six aforementioned chapters of the festival, aimed to provide a more in-depth platform than the singular post-screening Q&A format had offered in 2014. BCA Salons (inspired by the Sundance channel 'Iconoclast' series) would foster trans-generational dialogues and bring together an eclectic array of high-profile cultural commentators to lend context to 'Black Britain On Screen' content, whilst cross-fertilising its historically pointed moments with contemporary sociopolitical themes.

BCA Salon speakers and hosts included Mykaell S. Riley (Head of Music Production at University of Westminster/ founder of the Black Music Research Unit), Akala (musician, activist and founder of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company), Professor Paul Goodwin (urban theorist and Chair of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts London), Dionne Walker (curator and filmmaker), Zoe Whitley (art historian and curator at Tate Modern/ Tate Britain), Nadia Denton (film writer, producer and former director of Black Filmmaker Magazine International Film Festival at BFI), Shola Amoo (filmmaker), Gabrielle Smith (founder of The Nu:Blk) and Akua Gyamfi (founder of The British Blacklist).

Ritzy Brixton
The Ritzy in Brixton proves a worthwhile partnership: it is in close proximity to the archive as well as being embedded in a multiethnic community that has played a major role in Black British history

Further festival collaborators included Film4 Online (co-presenter of Second Coming Q&A with Nadine Marshall), The New Black Film Collective (co-presenter of Dear White People), filmmaker and Q&A guest Andy Mundy-Castle (The Fade), DJ Cyndi (co-founder of Reclaim: Brixton) and Mercury-award nominated artist TY.

In all, 16 films were selected for the Staying Power screening programme at Ritzy Picturehouse. Among the films and documentaries featured (spanning 1959 to 2015) were early seminal works (and predominantly archival films) by directors who had emerged from the pioneering Black film collective workshops founded in early 1980s Britain: John Akomfrah (Handsworth Songs/Last Angel Of History), Isaac Julien (Territories), Reece Auguiste (Twilight City) and Menelik Shabazz (Burning An Illusion/ Blood Ah Go Run/ Looking For Love) among them. The seldom seen perspectives of Britain’s Black female filmmakers were explored in selections by director Ngozi Onwurah (Shoot The Messenger) and playwright-turned-director, debbie tucker green (Second Coming).

Migration and the reconciliation of 'othering' were recurring motifs encompassed within Staying Power’s screen timeline. Explored through varied narratives were themes ranging from political resistance movements (Mario Van Peebles' Panther) to gentrification (Barry Jenkins' Medicine For Melancholy) through to interracial and LGBTQ identities (Justin Simien'sDear White People), themes that traversed continents, reflecting the complex interconnections of a 'Black Atlantic'.

A further 9 short films screened as part of BCA’S 'Black In The Digital Age' presentation, showcasing new work by emerging artists, animators and web series creators (Cecile Emeke's 'Strolling' series and SorryYouFeelUncomfortable collective among the selections), all shown in collaboration with Ritzy Cinema, Electric Pedals and Lambeth Sustainable Travel.

Staying Power 4
Black in the Digital Age and Soul Cinema strands brought the cultural conversation up to date

Marketing. Audience. Outcome. Continuum.

The defining image selected to advertise Staying Power: Black Britain On Screen was that of photographer Colin Jones. Titled 'The Black House’, taken circa 1973/76, and used with permission of specialist Black image photo archive Autograph ABP, the image was chosen specifically for its striking evocation of a time in England's recent history  when racially motivated assaults on Black communities were commonplace; assaults from English nationalist groups targeting new migrants were on the rise, and SUS laws of the era were about to entwine with racially-fuelled uprisings that would spill across the country's urban centre's in the early 1980s.

Ritzy Cinema lent support to BCA marketing of the festival and given the time and budget constraints in producing the festival within such a capped period, the bulk of promotion was done online; principally co-ordinated by programme partner Culture Kinetica, utilising BCA's Facebook and Twitter platforms to create ads targeting both Ritzy Picturehouse patrons and Black Cultural Archives' festival partner networks. Audience feedback forms were generated for all events to survey attendee interest, demographics and as a means of informing future film programming content.

In all, Staying Power:Black Britain On Screen was exceptionally well-attended, with BCA Salons selling out in advance and with several of the feature films shown at Ritzy being upgraded to larger screens, given the scale of demand. Though there were challenges; principally in acquiring some of the more obscure film titles within such a limited time frame, the overall outcome and audience insights were favourable, with many of the attendees who had travelled from outside London calling for the festival to consider touring other parts of the country in future. With future planning in mind, a platform like Black Cultural Archives Film Festival would definitely have scope for growth and even international expansion, but would definitely require the support of sponsors and collaborative media partners to realise its full potential as both an archival resource and advocacy platform, highlighting the significance of Black artistic contributions to British film culture.

Building a diverse audience: Sophia's blog

Posted Tuesday 11 August 2015 by Duncan Carson in FEDS scheme, General, Pop-up and Event Cinema, Training & Conferences

Broadway Reggae Symposium flyer
Thinking carefully about the flyer is one of the overlooked but all important moments when trying to engage people outside your usual audience

This year we're running our Film FEDS scheme, aimed at giving young trainees an opportunity to learn on the job in film distribution, exhibition and international sales. Ahead of our 'D Word' Screening Days, we wanted to highlight a case study of engaging with diversity in a thoughtful and successful way. Here, one of our trainees, Sophia Ramcharan, working at Broadway in Nottingham (one of the ICO's programming partners), gives her impressions of the experience.

As a film programmer I know that building an audience can be tricky, especially if you are attempting to attract new and/or diverse audiences to attend your film event in a location that is unfamiliar to them. As part of my placement at the Broadway Cinema I was asked to programme an event. My brief was simple: to develop an event that would appeal to a diverse audience,  building on our previous programming which included The Hip Hop Film Festival and black history season. 

From my experience of organising film nights in the Nottingham community, with a particular focus on ‘black cinema’, I’ve identified two broadly distinct markets and platforms. The first is to provide a platform for specialised films to be showcased to a wider ‘universal’ audience. The second is to screen films that would appeal to a diverse audience, in this case the African Caribbean community, with the aim to attracting them to the venue.

The best case scenario is to create a balance between the two. My intention for the brief was to create an inclusive environment that would appeal to the community as a whole that would not alienate or overly target one particular group.   My approach was to present Broadway Cinema as an ‘event destination’ that would make the day as attractive as possible so that the target audience would come enjoy the films and stay to enjoy the day with food, drink and entertainment available in the café. In summary: to create a positive, shared experience and to demystify any negative misconceptions they may have about Broadway Cinema.

So, in June, I delivered an event at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham entitled ‘The Reggae Symposium of Film and Music’. For me, reggae seemed to be an obvious theme for the event that would meet the aims of the brief; it is, after all, a global phenomenon.

Nottingham has a strong tradition of a sound system culture from ‘back in the day’, but also historically a relatively large Caribbean community.  My idea was create an integrated approach to a day of celebrating the reggae culture; screening of two classic reggae films, Rockers (1978) and Babylon (1980), and a symposium discussion to explore the themes of the day with a celebrated guest panel. 

So how did this event become a reality?  

Rockers
Rockers
(1978), one of the reggae classics screened during the symposium, but more recent titles proved elusive

Titles

One of the biggest obstacles was obtaining the relevant permission to screen the films. Films that were on our wish list were not available to screen or I could not find information about the distributor. Not only was this very frustrating, this was fundamental factor in shaping the films programme which is why we settled on the two classic titles that were on the programme. I should note here that this part of the planning process can often be the most time consuming.

Marketing

Print
Deciding your marketing strategy is very important to the success of the event. Broadway is one of the few cinemas to still have a printed monthly programme and placement of the event in the brochure was very important for many reasons. Mainly, in my opinion, because it provides a clear message that the event is fully integrated into general programme and not bolted on as an after thought.

Flyer and Poster
The importance of a flyer cannot be overstated. A strong design with the key information is crucial to the distribution of the promotional material in the key places in community venues, such as community centres, hairdressers, restaurants etc.  For events that are encouraging an inter-generational audience, flyers are important because of the low levels of digital literacy in the elders in the community. This also helps to create strong recommendations of the event by ‘word of mouth’.

Online
From my experience, the target audience in the community are not really engaging with social media as the ‘typical’ Broadway audience would. It is rare that elders in the community would use Twitter and Facebook.  So whilst it is important to promote the events online as normal, it is also very important to push the traditional marketing methods as described above.

Broadway Nottingham external
Broadway in Nottingham: continuing to engage with a more diverse audience

Partnerships & Sponsorship

I engaged with two ‘community connectors’ to help to deliver the project.  A locally-based DJ collective and Nubian Link, an educational group dedicated to promoting the educational, cultural and economic needs of the Afrikan community from an Afrikan-centred perspective.  Both organisations were important in broadening out the marketing reach of the event into the community with a dedicated street team who were out distributing flyers and posters.  They were also very important in helping to shape the activities of the day and delivering the programme.

To enhance the programme, a sponsorship deal was negotiated with Wray and Nephew, the Jamaican white rum specialists. They provided some free product and recipes for us to create the rum cocktail. Monetary sponsorship was secured from the Nottingham Carnival and Tuntum Housing Association in Nottingham which went towards the guest expenses and the evening entertainment.  

Reggae Symposium gig
Planning an event in a modular way, with a variety of activities, can make it more accessible to those who would avoid a traditional film screening; Photo credit Michael Saunders

Activities

A BBQ was planned that included authentic Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken wings. We provided music on the outside terrace – authentic dub reggae and live music in the café to round off the event.  All of the activities were scheduled between the films programme.  The symposium panel discussion had the cream of British reggae talent, including Janet Kay ('Silly Games'), Mykaell Riley (Steel Pulse), John Masouri (Echoes music magazine) and Brinsley Forde (founder of Aswad and star of Babylon). 

We developed a special promotion, if people brought an all-day ticket, they were treated to a free reggae rum punch.  
From my experience, as programmers we often make the mistake of not programming enough time for an in-depth debate and integration with the audience, which can impact on the cinema schedule if the discussion overruns. That is why we scheduled the panel discussion as a separate event, the length of a feature film, rather than an after film Q&A.  

To conclude, programming with the intention to engage new audience requires creativity and resourcefulness to create an event that will attract the audience that you want. 

The approach with the Reggae Symposium of Film and Music was to encourage the community to experience Broadway,  enjoy the day; take one of the printed programmes and decide what the next film they see at Broadway will be and with whom. The price of a cinema ticket these days can be expensive for many people, so my philosophy is to always try and add value to the film screening for maximum effect. This can be achieved in scaled-down methods rather than as described in this article, but hopefully I’ve provided some inspiration.

I do believe that we’d achieved a balance in the audience in terms of ethnicity and age. I have worked with Broadway on a number of film events. However, this event in particular also helped to showcase the range of services that Broadway had to offer; an impressive programme of films, great hospitality, friendly staff and a space to socialise and meet new people. Whilst the goal was to engage new audiences in the films programme, many came to the cinema simply to enjoy the music, the relaxed vibe and the authenticity of the event. From that standpoint, the general feedback was also that they were pleasantly surprised that Broadway planned events like this and they would definitely consider coming back again to check out future films programmes.

To see a selection of images from the event, click here.

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