Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from April 2015

5 Things I’ve learned about Film Exhibition

Posted Thursday 23 April 2015 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme, Training & Conferences

Hannah Canham

This year we launched our FEDS scheme, which aimed to recruit 15 ambitious trainees keen to gain film industry work experience, and to put them in work placements in leading film distribution, independent exhibition or international sales companies, where they can gain hands-on experience.

Our excellent trainees have now started their appointments, and below one of them, Hannah Canham, who is working at Showroom Sheffield at Sheffield tells us what she's learned over the last two months in her post. Here's Hannah!

Only eight weeks into my traineeship I’ve had the chance to meet and work with some great people who express a deep love for film. It is so refreshing to be in an environment that appreciates film knowledge and utilises it. It’s somewhere that I feel very at home. Here’s five things that I’ve learned in my time at the Showroom.

  1. Listen to audiences, watch trends.

When working for an independent cinema I’ve learned that it is important to listen to what cinema goers have to say about particular films, especially if it is a popular opinion. Keeping an eye on statistics is a great way of finding out what’s popular, but taking the time to talk other film fans can be incredibly advantageous. Trends can often change and audience tastes can develop. Keeping on top of what excites an audience is important, not to mention interesting, for any film fan.

Showroom Sheffield 20th anniversary
The Showroom celebrates its twentieth anniversary showing amazing films to amazing people.

2.   Accuracy

Human error is an inevitable part of life but when working for the programming department of a cinema, it can be disastrous. Making one simple mistake, such as the time of one specific screening, can be time consuming and difficult to rectify as it will affect all other films showing in that screen on that day. On the programming team, you’re dealing with a lot of data on a daily basis and making an error can be amazingly easy, but incredibly difficult to amend.

3.   Keep the projectionist happy

Arguably the most important role in any cinema: the projectionist. I’ve learned that it is incredibly important to have a good working relationship with your projectionist as this can affect the running of your cinema. The bottom line is that cinemas would not be able to function without the cooperation of the projectionist and the programmer. You need to be confident that the projectionist will be happy with, and able to adapt to, any last-minute changes as this is likely to happen much more often in an independent cinema.

White God
White God, directed by Kornél Mundruczó, one of the films that Hannah has found connecting with audiences in Sheffield

4. Watch as many films as possible

As someone who loves going to the cinema, this comes naturally, but is still valuable to remember. Having an up-to-date knowledge is essential when working in the industry, and possibly even more so in exhibition. It’s also important to try and expand your knowledge and attempt to watch different films that you might not have considered. Viewing lots of different films, good and bad, is important to see what works and what doesn’t. It also gives you more of a chance to engage with other people and share opinions and thoughts.

5. It’s not just a cinematic experience

Independent cinemas differ dramatically from multiplexes. People who come to these types of cinemas often have very different expectations and want much more than to just see a film. It’s usually about an experience as a whole. People who attend independent cinemas can be fiercely loyal and there is a certain amount of trust between the cinemagoer and the cinema staff, particularly the front of house. This personal touch is what sets independent cinemas apart from the large cinema chains. The Showroom works very hard to create an experience for their customers. For example, you can go and see a film; this may then however be followed by a discussion/Q&A. You also then have the option to stay for a meal and a couple of drinks afterwards so it becomes more of an evening out. There’s a certain amount of trust between the cinemagoers and cinema staff. They can share opinions and thoughts and also listen to recommendations. They understand that it’s not just about making money (although all cinemas need to be sustainable), it’s also about engaging with communities and helping to bring film to a wider audience, which is generally what independent cinemas strive to achieve. The ultimate goal in the UK tends to be to educate film audiences and provide deeper knowledge, understanding and appreciation for film.

News round-up... 17/04/2015

Posted Friday 17 April 2015 by Sarah Rutterford in General, News Round-up

Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes' Carol, premiering at Cannes 2015


  • Today is the registration deadline for Children's Screening Days! The films line-up is now confirmed - our newest addition is Black Britain, an upcoming BFI National Archive programme studying the experiences of the black community in Britain from the early 20th century to the present day. Book here and read our recent blog on tips for programming for young audiences, which gives a flavour of the day, here.
  • We're also getting ready for April's Screening Days this weekend. Check out our fantastic line-up and our trailer playlist. It's our biggest ever event and we're delighted so many of you will be joining us, but we had to disappoint more people than we'd have liked to, so do sign up to our mailing list to make sure you don't miss out next time.
  • The Cultural Cinema Exhibition course will be running partly alongside Screening Days at BFI Southbank - we're thrilled to be running this flagship programming course again and excited to meet this year's trainees.
  • Our latest release The Invisible Life is out in cinemas today. The first film in 25 years from Portuguese director Vítor Gonçalves - whose previous release, A Girl in Summer, is considered a landmark on Portuguese cinema - it's been hailed a "rigorous, elegant study of emotional crisis" by the Guardian. Read more and see all playdates.
  • Cannes announced its line-up this morning and it's a veritable smorgasbord. I can't wait for Todd Haynes' Patricia Highsmith adaptation Carol, Hirokazu Koreeda's Our Little Sister and Jia Zhangke's Mountains May Depart - and am also intrigued (not least for Colin Farrell's moustache) by Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster. Read Little White Lies' excellent round-up.

Opportunities & calls for submissions

  • We'll be running a Neighbourhood Cinema training event in Northumberland over 1-2 June. If you're hoping to start screening films locally or know someone who is, read more about this free event.
  • BFI Film Audience Network members - do you want to go to Sheffield Doc/Fest? If you're a member of one of the Film Hubs, you're eligible for a discounted pass (£149 + VAT), in a move designed to encourage UK exhibitors from across the regions to come together and help develop the documentary exhibition landscape. Email your Film Hub for details.
  • Doc/Fest is also offering documentary makers the chance to pitch a doc reframing the debate around climate change and win £4K funding towards developing the project.
  • The BFI London Film Festival 2015 is now open for submissions.
  • Fancy a £1K cash prize? Submit your short films (1 to 10 mins) to Bath Film Festival's IMDB New Filmmaker Award.
  • And win another £1K with Leamington Underground Cinema's short film prize! Also open for entries.
  • Underwire Festival is looking for female-directed short films - submit here.
  • The Royal African Society's annual festival, Film Africa is seeking short films made by African filmmakers, or on a topic relating to the continent.
  • The early bird deadline for submissions to London Short Film Festival is coming up (10 May).

Read more

  • Who's distributing the best films in the UK? Erm - we are (almost).
  • "We were making films because they were an expression of ourselves: what we were challenged by, what we wanted to change or redefine, or just dive into and explore." - Read about Tate Film's excellent LA Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema retrospective, currently screening to great acclaim.
  • "The films we digest when young play out years later in different guises." I loved this affecting, resonant piece by Joanna Hogg on her cinematic influences.
  • "In a dream world, I'd want people to leave with the feeling they could do anything" - equally inspiring is Verena von Stackelberg on Berlin's film exhibition scene and opening her new cinema, Wolf, in the city.  
  • Fancy taking a course in icy blondes (or icy blondes)? Take Saffron Screen's one-day Hitchcock film course.
  • Have $40,000 to spare, love seeing films as they come out but loathe human interaction? This is for you.
  • If you missed our recent blog on the Gulbenkian cinema's Fifty Years of Feminism season, catch up here.
  • Cumberbatch cares.
  • And finally: show your support for East London arts venue Rich Mix, under threat of closure.

Programming a feminist film season

Posted Wednesday 15 April 2015 by Jemma Desai

Carry Greenham Home
Carry Greenham Home by Amanda Richardson and Beeban Kidron

In 2014, just 12% of the main characters in the 100 top grossing films at the US box office were women, and they represented only 30% of all speaking characters. Only 7% of the top 250 films at the US box office were directed by women. Kathryn Bigelow was the first, and is still the only woman in the more than 87 years of the Oscars to win Best Director.

In response to these alarming statistics, since February the Gulbenkian in Canterbury has been screening a film season entitled Fifty Years of Feminism, a partnership with the cinema and the film department at the University of Kent. Professor of Film Studies Elizabeth Cowie observed that cinema and feminism both arose at the end of the nineteenth century in 1895 and was moved to mark the relationship between the two.

“The selection of films in this season is designed to prompt the audience to think about the progress of feminism and women’s rights, and the changing landscape for women both in society, and on film, throughout the 20th century."

One Sings the Other Doesn't
Agnès Varda's One Sings and the Other Doesn’t

The University of Kent reaches its half-centenary this year and as part of its celebrations has funded a series of events organised by the Radical Women: Fifty Years of Feminism at Kent project, including a symposium on feminist activism in Kent and of course the feminist film season. The project celebrates the past and continuing work of feminists at the University of Kent in research, scholarship and activism. 

As Elizabeth progressed with the idea, her first challenge was to think about what we mean by ‘feminist film’. "I quickly decided that the season would be broadly woman-centred, with key films - both fiction and documentary - mainly made by female filmmakers that address the issues and politics of being women and exploring stories of women as workers, as wives and lovers; daughters, sisters and mothers and the constant struggle for an equality that meaningfully recognises difference."

As with any thematic season the wealth of material presented a curatorial challenge. "There are so many wonderful films that explore female identity, and this season could only accommodate ten! While there are still far too few films made by women in general, there are such fantastic contemporary female filmmakers, and it has been exciting to see concurrent programming at the Gulbenkian that includes so many related films - new releases such as Wild, and The Falling and Mommy, all playing at the Gulbenkian in the coming months."

The Falling
The Falling by Carol Morley, screening in the Gulbenkian's main programme

For Professor Cowie, the link between the films in her season and the newer releases that the Gulbenkian play in their main programme is fascinating. "What has especially pleased me is how relevant the films in the season remain. In the newer films, I’ve also been really glad to see the new confidence to declare feminist concerns in cinema, and also in critical writing and blogs."

The increased interest in feminist concerns in film has meant that the season has provided an opportunity for the university to exploit their links with the Gulbenkian to reach new audiences for academically focused film programming. “The Gulbenkian has long housed an arts cinema alongside its theatre, with which academic staff have been involved in programming and introducing films and events. The season has been selected to include the widest possible audience, not just students and academics," Cowie explains.

Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour (the first female Saudi filmmaker) screening in the Gulbenkian's season

However, this meant making some tough decisions about the diversity of her selection. "I’d have liked to screen examples of silent cinema by women - certainly Germaine Dulac’s superb surrealist and feminist film The Smiling Madame Beudet from 1923 and groundbreaking works of of early Hollywood like Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong, or Ida Lupino's (who was born in Britain with connections to Kent) The Hitch-Hiker. The season slants towards British work, so I’m really sorry I couldn’t include Julie Dash’s superb and radical Daughters of the Dust (Dash's film is though currently on screen in Tate Film's exciting LA Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema season), or films by Chantal Akerman, the great Marguerite Duras, the contemporary films of Claire Denis, or Margarethe von Trotta's Hannah Arendt, or the wonderful Iranian women film-makers - the list just goes on and on!"

Having dedicated her career to furthering discussions around feminist film theory, Cowie’s final selection, whilst not a comprehensive reflection of the depth of her knowledge, certainly demonstrates her ardent passion for the subject. “Each film is special to me. Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank and Clio Barnard's The Arbor are films I really love for the complex ways in which they each address young women and their intimate struggles with family and identity. Agnès Varda's One Sings and the Other Doesn’t is a wonderful portrait of female friendship and a profound celebration of femininity and feminism. Todd Haynes’ gorgeous melodrama Far From Heaven not only also references the Hollywood ‘woman’s film’ and the clear inspiration of directors such as Douglas Sirk, but shows that feminist and woman-centred films can be made by men, with Haynes interested in drawing out the contradictions posed by issues of family, desire and race for both his male and female characters as they navigate life in a repressive society. I am also really pleased to be able to screen The Song of the Shirt, the 1979 film which is cinematically radical and politically complex in its investigative rethinking of the history of women’s work.”

The Arbor
Clio Barnard's The Arbor

As the film season hits its half way point, Cowie is more convinced than ever that showing films in the context of feminist curation is a fiercely political act. “As long as the inequity between men and women remains in work, family and representation, the politics of feminism remain important. Should our stories - of men and women - only be told in films made by men? Do we not need stories of women, too, achieving in the world, to reflect and inspire?"

Looking into the future, she hopes that a similar season might be curated at the Gulbenkian, but this time hopes that an equity between male and female filmmakers will have been established so that such a season needn't be labelled as feminist film, but simply "a retrospective of the plethora of the cinematic riches of the twentieth century."

How to run a (successful) children's film programme

Posted Tuesday 14 April 2015 by Duncan Carson in Training & Conferences

Kids in Edinburgh Filmhouse
A packed house at Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh.

Ahead of our Children’s Screening Days in May (for which applications close this Friday), we spoke to two independent cinemas about their experiences running successful programmes for children. Here are some of their key tips for making sure you can get regular audiences for a broad range of children’s films.

Bill, from the team behind Horrible Histories, is one of the films we're highlighting in Children's Screening Days.

Nicola Kettlewood is the Head of Education & Learning at Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh.  

  • Be regular and clear in what you’re doing. We run Filmhouse Junior at the same time every Sunday and for the same price. When you first start screening films in an independent venue, the audience can be small at first. We’ve seen at both Edinburgh and Belmont that once families get into the routine, they can be consistent attendees and you can build up a healthy trust with the programme and the venue. It takes time though and parents need to be sure that you’ll be there consistently, even when they’re not!
  • Look for opportunities to reach the audience. Obviously you need to do all the standard stuff you’d do for any other programme (listings in printed brochure, website with programme long in advance, working with local listings outlets etc). But parents aren’t always in the routine of engaging with the cinema, so you might need to be creative to get the word out about what you’re doing. Cross promotion really helps: when we host our For Crying Out Loud screenings for parents with babies, we always push the Filmhouse Junior shows; when there are school trips to the cinema, we always flag the whole programme to the kids.
  • Take chances. We show a lot of ‘mainstream’ kids titles, but we’ve also championed some films that step off the Disney-Pixar-Dreamworks treadmill. One of the films we’ve shown to strong audiences is Belle & Sebastian, which had performed well in the Edinburgh Film Festival. A Cat in Paris has also played well. If you show children something that’s off the beaten track but that they love among a programme of more familiar titles, adults will trust you more with the programme.

Cine-majig Shorts
Kids getting groovy at the Cinemajig short films at mac birmingham

Amy Smart is Cinema Producer at mac birmingham.

  • A host can make the unfamiliar more approachable. We brought on Sam Groves at the beginning of the project in October 2012. He’s a Birmingham-based film programmer who specialises in children’s films at Flatpack Film Festival. Working closely with Flatpack has helped shape the programme as their approach to family programming has changed a good deal over the past few years, and has been partly shaped by seeing the tactics and strategies employed by young people's festivals in continental Europe, particularly Germany.  It's a revelation to see a large cinema packed with children on a Saturday morning, all there to see an Iranian movie and key to this is creating a sense of occasion. A warm inclusive host can really set the tone and give younger audiences something to look out for. In shorts programmes for example, we reduced the number of shorts and increased the opportunity for interaction with the host, and we noticed that audiences became more engaged.
  • Look for opportunities to capitalize on marketing. mac’s small communication team are working to promote the full artistic programme, so it’s often not feasible to do targeted campaigns for each film. We have to be strategic and we try to use the more populist films that we know will generate an audience to promote the more obscure titles.  We also allow flexibility in the Screen Juniors programme to allow for guest curators.  To tie in with Afrovibes, Screen Juniors was curated by film festival Africa in Motion, showing Khumba. This created an opportunity to ‘piggy back’ onto another event, increasing both the marketing budget and the reach.We invited animation artists Drew Roper and Tim Allen who worked on Fantastic Mr Fox to run a stop-motion animation workshop alongside a screening of the film. Attendance figures for the workshop and screening surpassed 150 and produced some wonderful feedback and high quality animated shorts. It was also a great photo opportunity.The more appealing we make the offer, the more likely it is to be covered by regional press.
  • Live Score and Custard Pie Fight @ mac birmingham
    A silent film screening with live score and custard pie fight at mac birmingham

  • Know your strengths and compete by offering something different. mac birmingham is a one screen venue within a multi-art form centre, and we often cannot commit to screening new releases and big budget films on first run to compete with large chain cinemas. Therefore we decided to come up with a different offer to attract audiences.  To add value to each event, and to link cinema with mac’s wider learning and participation programme and encourage audience crossover, we decided to offer a free animation workshop alongside the film. The free participatory element helps create a sense of occasion to compete with large chain cinema’s low ticket prices, but it also gives children and families the opportunity to learn new skills and create their own animated shorts. These shorts are then premiered on the big screen before the following Screen Juniors film, encouraging audiences to return each month to see their own cartoons.
  • Know why you’re doing it and think about the long term. To ensure a balance of diversity in programme as well as in audiences mac birmingham also offers relaxed film screenings as part of the season, to target audiences with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, a learning disability or sensory and communication condition. This is now a regular feature since participating in World Autism Day in April 2013. Attendance figures are low but we’re seeing a gradual increase as we’ve learned it does take time to build audiences and reach the right ‘influencers’.

    The variety of films and surrounding events we offer make Screen Juniors a truly unique experience, allowing children and families a chance to see a range of new and old, far and away films at a low cost. To date over 4,800 visitors have enjoyed the Screen Juniors film programme, workshops and linked special events. It’s taken over 2 years to build a sustainable children and family season which is less about generating income (we grossed less than £7,500 in over 2 years) and more about developing audiences. Children of today are digital natives and can access film and media at the swipe of a finger so it’s important to create a unique and tempting offer that will encourage families to buy into the shared experience of cinema.


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