Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from June 2017

Diversity on screen: what does that really mean?

Posted Thursday 29 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme


We asked Mikaela Smith, one of this year's FEDS trainees, about how her host organisation Showroom Cinema is thinking about diversity in their programme and how they are trying to improve representation on their screens.

As many independent and community cinemas will know, funding deadlines for 2017 have been looming: in my first few months at the lovely Showroom Cinema, our little programming and development team were squirrelled away with funding bids aplenty: creating plans that will shape our cinema’s output for the next three years. Hefty stuff. Having worked for a non-profit in the past, I know a little of what a monumental task getting funding can be, and how important it is to not only have your goals and objectives set out, but to understand what your current output is. Who are you helping? Why? With the BFI’s focus on diversity, it is an important subject across the UK film industry, and it’s also not something that can be taken lightly. If any change is going to happen, people need to get serious.

It’s a topic I am willing to say I am pretty enthusiastic about. There are many personal reasons I won’t get into, but in short, I grew up mixed race in a very white area. Growing up is harder to do when there is no one that looks like you to help you understand yourself. It’s even harder when this is stretched across all the media that is available to you, and when all the media that is available to your peers portrays people that look like you in an unfavourable way. But enough with my life story: let’s get back to business.

Showroom Sheffield

Image: Showroom Cinema, Sheffield 

Joan, the Showroom's Senior Programmer, tasked me with analysing the last year of programming at the Showroom: every film that played on one of our screens over a twelve month period. She asked that I complete this small, simple task, so that we could really understand what our output was, and how we could use that understanding to set goals for diversity in our future programme. I was looking at writers, directors and protagonists: are they male or female? Are they BAMER? Are they LGBT+? (The latter was specifically looking at narratives/characters, rather than directors/writers, as I am not a wizard that can predict anyone’s sexuality).

Note: We chose to categorise ethnicity using the BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity and Refugee) tag, rather than BAME, which is a slight divergence from industry standard. For us, BAMER represents a progression, and we think it is important to recognize refugees as an important minority audience. BAMER is also the standard of our local audience: we work with the Sheffield equality hubs and try to connect with the needs and voices of the people that fill our city – we have a BAMER equality hub for Sheffield, and it made sense to align ourselves with them.

It was a mammoth task, but I was ready for it. I could see the importance in knowing this information, because if you don’t know where you are, how can you really make a conscious effort to move forward? Unfortunately, as soon as I got into the swing of things, I faltered. There were many films popping up that were representative of what I would call ‘diverse’ cultures, but that I struggled to categorise. Important films that teach us about traditions, religions and parts of the world we don’t always understand. Mustang, for example is a beautiful film about young women coming-of-age in a restrictive environment that is different from the one lots of you (and certainly I) grew up in, I would call it diverse, but are those young girls BAMER? Or are they white? How can you shoe-horn the melting pot of culture that is independent and foreign language film into a yes/no checkbox?


Image: Mustang

I checked in with Joan. ‘Meaningful representation of diverse subject matter’: an extra column on my now far-too-wide Excel spreadsheet, but it did make all the difference. Now I could still recognise the importance of ‘diverse subject matter’, but not be forced to mix it in with non-white narratives. This may seem ridiculous but it’s important to recognise both: there are many meaningful stories including white-majority casts, but they do not serve a BAMER audience in the same way that a film featuring BAMER characters does. The only issue with that column is that in order to do it right, you need a pretty great understanding of the programme (it was around 500 films, and though I watch a lot of films, I do also enjoy going outdoors from time to time: Nosferatu I am not.). Thankfully, the Showroom programming team is made up of a selection of truly bad-ass ladies that have a collectively fantastic knowledge of film, they have also worked at the Showroom far longer than I have. Together, the task was tackled.

How Did We Fare?

Our statistics came out better than I had expected, which isn’t to say I don’t think the Showroom’s programme is fabulous and diverse; I do. But I don’t think I am the first to suggest the film industry is not the most diverse, and a film programme can only be as good as the films available to it, really.

When I crunched all the numbers into some sort of a sensible report, I did so comparatively against Creative Skillset statistics, BFI statistics and a number of other sizeable reports from development/production areas of the film industry. I will mention that I would have loved to have had data from more independent cinemas to see where we really sit: are we behind the times, or daring and progressive? We can only find out if we share our information, but that might be a debate for another day.

Doc Fest 2017

Image: Sheffield Doc|Fest

We fared better than the UK industry output - which is in part thanks to the Showroom’s commitment to foreign language film, and specialised festivals and seasons: our ever popular selection of East Asian cinema and annual Japan Season (thank you, Japan Foundation) helped with our BAMER representation statistics, which were significantly higher than the UK employment rates for BAMER directors and writers. Doc/Fest also provided an enthusiastic boost to the number of female directors employed on films we showed: our statistics for this jumped from 13% to 17% with the inclusion of festivals and seasons. Doc/Fest’s programme for films on our screens (I can’t speak for their entire programme) was around 39% female directed (high fives all round for Doc/Fest).

Overall, our on-screen statistics were considerably better than off-screen, with 36% of films with a notable protagonist having a female lead. Interestingly, when looking at the programme in terms of the F-Rating, 40% of our programme was F-rated - the closeness of these numbers suggests a correlation between films written/directed by women also being the strong players in terms of leading ladies. This is why it is so important to have more diversity off-screen: it’s really the only way to get these stories told, and have them told right. Similarly, 18% of the Showroom’s programme features a director of BAMER background and 17% of programmed films were from BAMER writers. This is in spite of the UK film production workforce only employing 3% of workers from BAMER backgrounds. In supporting a vast programme of foreign film, the Showroom actively encourages much broader representation both on and off screen, and more accurately reflects the multicultural nature of the UK.

What Does it All Mean?

As much as I would like to shout about these statistics - and I would like to: across the board, percentages for female and BAMER writers, directors and protagonists, and LGBT+ narratives were strong. But were they strong enough? Do the films on our screens serve the communities in our city and across the UK? I think as much as they can, yes. But there is certainly room for improvement.

I’ve started analysing this year’s programme more in-real-time (I figure month-by-month chunks are much easier than analysing 500 films at once). I’ve added two new columns to the ever-growing spreadsheet: admissions for each film, and how many shows they get. As soon as I started writing the report, this became information I wish I had. Moving forward, we’ll be able to see how heavily our programme supports on and off-screen diversity, both in terms of what is programmed, but also how much time we give those films to find their audience. Both factors are important for monitoring how well we serve diverse audiences. We’ll also be able to see what audiences get behind, and if audiences for more diverse content are growing.

Daughters of the Dust

Image: Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust

It’s going to be an exciting year for the Showroom: the newly-implemented F-Rating is a call to arms, not just for our programming team, but our audiences. F-rated and Triple-F-Rated films now proudly wear a stamp across our website, print and box office marketing: if people are really keen to support women in film, we’re making it as easy as possible for them to see where and how they can vote with their seats. We’ve also just implemented Cine26, a fabulous initiative offering cinema-goers 26 and under £4.50 cinema tickets, all day, every day. It is a perk of the job that I get free cinema tickets anyway (all my childhood dreams have come true), but believe me: it takes me half the time to convince my friends that they want to spend two of their precious hours watching a bizarre French cannibal-horror (Raw, I’m looking at you), or better yet, a dreamlike re-release title musing on Gullah culture (thank you, Daughters of the Dust), when they know it will only cost them £4.50. It opens up a wider range of films to a wider range of people, and though the scheme is aimed at young people across the board (us millennials have it tough), I think it is important to recognise that this is also a great offering for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (who are, statistically, more likely to also be young BAMER people). Combining a more accessible cinema pricing (we also offer benefit claimant tickets at concessionary prices), with more active and more open analysis of what our programme offering is and who it really serves, are solid first steps in chipping away at the daunting industry issue of diversity on and off-screen.

Have any of your organisations carried out a diversity audit on your programme? What did you discover? We'd love to hear about your strategies for ensuring a diverse programme.

Want to learn about what our other trainees have been up to? Rico Johnson-Sinclair recently let us in on the secrets to surviving a film festival.

Five new ideas that are changing cinemas across Europe

Posted Thursday 22 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in General

Over the last two years, Agnès Salson and Mikael Arnal travelled across Europe looking for innovative practices in independent cinema exhibition. Starting in France, they eventually crossed twenty countries, meeting more than 200 cinemas. At the end of the French Tour they published Rêver les cinemas, demain (Dream the cinemas, tomorrow) a book detailing their journey, and following the European journey they published “The emerging practices of cinema exhibition in Europe” report for the CNC (National Centre for Cinema - France). When they started this project, they wanted to find inspiration and advice to create their own cinema but they also wanted to answer a question: What will the independent cinema of tomorrow be like? Here are five ideas they brought back from their journey that are changing cinemas across Europe.

1. Putting the audience at the heart of cinema

Image: Postmodernissimo, Perugia

Digital tools allow a new proximity between audiences and cinemas, which now, more than ever, involve their audiences in the life of the venue, forming an active community around the cinema. The audience can leave their mark on the venue, both through using it and feeling that they are part of it by enriching it with their own contributions. From taking a financial stake in supporting the place to a collaboration in its programming or atmosphere, the public are playing an ever more active role in the life of their local cinemas.

  • At the Numax in Santiago de Compostela (Spain), which opened in March 2015, people helped to finance the cinema by guaranteeing the loan needed for its construction.
  • The Postmodernissimo in Perugia (Italy) and the Wolf in Berlin (Germany) managed to raise €20,000 and €50,000 respectively through crowdfunding campaigns, building a community in the process.
  • On the island of Mallorca, the cinema Cineciutat was taken over by the citizens when it was shut down. Its members now manage the cinema and it has become a pioneering experiment of a self-management model.
  • Deptford Cinema, a community cinema created in South-East London in 2014, was built completely by volunteers during so-called 'Building Weeks', where volunteers would work together to offer their skills and knowledge to the project, whether this was to build a wall or to set up sound insulation in the auditorium. There are now more than 700 people who volunteer their time for the cinema and anybody who wants to organise a screening or an event is free to do so.

2. To be more than a cinema

Image: Numax, Santiago of Compostela

Cinemas today are more than screening spaces. Besides the screening room as a space for showing films, the auxiliary spaces play a fundamental role in the venue's identity. The audience member must have a desire to come before the session and stay after the credits roll, and social spaces play a key role in this. Adding catering, shops, co-working and post-production spaces to a cinema offers additional financial benefits but also presents an opportunity to capture new visitors by offering them these new services. The varied sources of income offer unprecedented flexibility to places previously entirely dependent on ticket sales.

  • In Amsterdam, entry to most independent cinemas is through their own bar, which is the venue's social hub. Each café or restaurant has its own identity: Kriterion and Studio K, two student-run cinemas, have dynamic cafés, mainly attended by young people; De Balie, which specialises in documentaries and debates, has a vast restaurant; The Movies has its own pub; the Het Ketelhuis and Rialto have café/restaurants, etc.
  • The Close Up Film Centre in London has a library with a catalogue of 20,000 films and books, making it the most comprehensive independent film resource in London for film enthusiasts and students and the bookstores of the Numax (Spain) and the Kinodvor (Slovenia) have everything a cinema lover could want: a fine selection of books, magazines and films.

3. The cinema as an active participant in creative production

Image: Wolf, Berlin

While the cinema is undeniably part of cinematographic culture, it is traditionally one of the last links in the creative process. The emergence of cinemas – or cinema projects – incorporating the content production demonstrates a desire for cinemas to play a greater role in the audiovisual landscape that goes beyond screening work. From this desire there are new ecosystems for supporting emerging talents appearing. The cinema’s position in the community already makes it a natural place for decentralised talent scouting, and the democratisation of filmmaking tools allows for a greater exploration of the potential of cinemas to support creative production.

  • The Kino in Rotterdam (Netherlands), which opened in 2016, is a real cinema hub housing several screens and a bistro on the ground floor and co-working spaces on the upper level, allowing anyone working in the audiovisual sector to work together in the same space.
  • The Wolf in Berlin (Germany), which launched in 2017, offers post-production spaces inviting filmmakers to finish their films on its premises.
  • The Watershed in Bristol created the Pervasive Media Studio, a space where a community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics work together.
  • The Dokukino in Zagreb (Croatia), which has a programme entirely dedicated to documentary films, produces documentary films and has even set up a school to train young documentary filmmakers.
  • Open Screenings are organized in cinemas like the Sputnik in Berlin (Germany), the Nova in Brussels (Belgium) and the Deptford Cinema in London (UK). These are opportunities for filmmakers to present their work to an audience without relying on old modes of exhibition through festivals. Often free, these screenings enable directors to get feedback from an audience and from other filmmakers.

4. Bringing new forms of content to the big screen

Image: Toldi Mozi, Budapest

Since the transition to digital, alternative content (concerts, opera performances, museum visits etc) has been an area of major development. But such event cinema was only the beginning. TV series, video clips, virtual reality, video games, radio podcasts and collective listening sessions are now finding their way to the big screen in numerous cinemas, highlighting their role as trailblazers in expanding the communal aspects of old and new forms of media.

  • Il Kino in Berlin broadcasted Heimat from Edgar Reitz every Sunday during eleven weeks for the opening of their cinema.
  • In Amsterdam, the VR Cinema, entirely dedicated to virtual reality, opened in 2016.
  • The Toldi Mozi in Budapest, which has a concert venue, organises music video screenings to complement their concerts and programming.
  • The Gloria in Copenhagen hosts the Copenhagen Radio Cinema (Københavns Radiobiograf) which organizes a monthly radio listening sessions with compilations of recorded programmes worldwide.
  • The Cinema Bellevaux in Lausanne in Switzerland organises CD listening sessions in partnership with music labels for the release of new albums.

5. Cooperation as a central philosophy

Image : Cineville, Amsterdam

Whether it be setting up formal knowledge sharing networks or informal co-operation between cinemas in the same region, we have found a common desire to work together outside of territorial competition and to exploit potential mutual benefits. Sharing experiences between cinemas is crucial to enabling feedback and adapting quickly to new uses of cinemas and new models of film exhibition.

  • The Cineville Pass, an unlimited pass for independent cinemas in Netherlands, was created in 2009 by two young students working in Kriterion cinema. Cineville is not just a model of unlimited pass but also a website that promotes a new image of arthouse movies and cinemas through a team of young editors.
  • Kino za Rogiem ("Cinema at the corner of the street") is an organization in Poland that supports the creation of "small" cinemas in existing infrastructure such as a libraries, cultural centres, fire stations and cafés. They want to grow a network of small cinema rooms, with reduced costs to operate and maintain, but of undeniable quality, providing an alternative offer to meet new cultural needs.
  • Initiated by Cineciutat in Palma de Mallorca, Cinearte is an arthouse cinema network uniting more than 30 cinemas in Spain thus far, promoting arthouse film through educational and promotional programmes. The network aims to improve the process by promoting initiatives and practices that have contributed to the emergence of the new generation of cinemas but also to create a viable ecosystem of production and diffusion of independent cinema on Spanish territory.

To read the full report with hundreds more ideas from across European independent exhibition click here.

Cannes 2017: Catharine's blog

Posted Friday 16 June 2017 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports, General

Geu Hu

Hong Sang-soo's latest Geu-Hu

Sadly, we're nearing the end of our Cannes reports and will soon have to start day dreaming about future film festivals. After accounts from Jo, Kenny, Jonny and Duncan, here's a whistle stop tour of what a trip to Cannes means for the Director of the ICO, Catharine Des Forges.

I arrived in Cannes at around 9.30 on Sunday morning having got a flight at 6am so it’s always a triumph of hope over experience if you make it to midnight without falling asleep. I’ve got 3 days though, so I always want to make the most of the time! There’s something special always about coming into Cannes, seeing the sea sparkle and watching people in heels and evening dress saunter down the croisette in the mid-day sun. My first date of the festival is a meeting with the Creative Europe desk from Italy about some possible training and it’s in the EU pavilion which has its own hand-crafted macaroons so I decide that this is probably a very nice place to conduct your professional business. cinema ritrovato

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna

I catch up with Briony from the British Council on another pavilion beach and manage to dip my toes in the water…! The British Council are great partners in our DYFF course which is taking place in June in Edinburgh and this year we are hosting a session with them on inclusion and access focussing on deaf filmmakers and audiences. My next appointment is at the Hotel Carlton for the Europa Cinemas Network meeting. This is a great opportunity to see programmers and colleagues from the UK but also to catch up with alumni and speakers from our courses and European colleagues from a number of different projects. The Carlton Grand Salon has opulent chandeliers and looks like a film set so I feel straight away that I’m experiencing the magic of Cannes. We receive reminders of some of the great opportunities offered by Europa –  the 28 Times Cinema Project which will see aspiring young journalists from around Europe attend the Venice Film Festival and the upcoming lab at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bolgona – certainly a course which could lay claim to the best food on any training course ever.

The evening sees the arrival of my colleagues and we go out to dinner – our flat is in the middle of a lively restaurant quarter which is a good and bad thing….obviously not so great at 3am…and then onto a screening of The Square - on show at Summer Screening Days - which unbeknownst to me (and which I didn’t predict) will go on to win the Palme d’Or.

happy end

Michael Haneke's Happy End

Monday and Tuesday are for screenings – I see the new Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Geu-Hu by Hong Sang-soo, Naomi Kawase’s Hikari and 24 Frames by Abbas Kiarostami. There’s a lot of competition favourites in there and all have merit although for some - Hong Sang-soo, Haneke -  we’re definitely treading familiar ground. Of these, the strongest is probably The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Colin Farrell once again stars, this time with Nicole Kidman, and fans of The Lobster will not be disappointed although this seems to be forming part of an oeuvre rather than, as Dogtooth, heralding an arresting new voice. It has a very eerie quality to it, with unsettling performances and a shocking climax and it’s interesting to see such an original, left-field voice working with mainstream stars in this way but I personally would like to have seen a more economic use of narrative. There’s still time for the Nordic party, a festival institution with its festival DJ dance-off, inspired moves and wonderful waterside location, always slightly crazy and completely unmissable. It’s a short but productive stay and testament to the fact that you don’t need to have a long stay to get some business done.

Nine Tips for Surviving a Film Festival

Posted Thursday 15 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in FEDS scheme, General


We caught up with Rico Johnson-Sinclair, one of the trainees currently taking part in our FEDS scheme, to mine him for tips for surviving a film festival. Less than a month into his placement, Flatpack Film Festival kicked off. Here's what he learned from his baptism of fire.

I was ridiculously secure in my own skills before starting work at Flatpack Film Festival. Some might say I was even arrogant. Having volunteered at most of the festivals in Birmingham and having been praised for my production prowess and work ethic, I was sure I'd make it through the festival unscathed.

Cut to me, in bed, with my foot elevated to alleviate the pain.

I think my one downfall was assuming because I'd worked as a volunteer, I had an understanding of what actually goes into a festival production. I can promise you that working as a core member of the team is an entirely different experience and at least ten times as exhausting.

I barely escaped festival life with my pride intact. But I survived it all the same.

I guess that makes me qualified to tell you all how to do the same. Here are nine tips to prevent you from losing any of your lives.

flatpack 2017

Following images courtesy of Flatpack Film Festival

Learn to understand different personality types if you have people working for you

During the festival, I was in charge of my own group of volunteers. Let me start by saying how difficult it is to be in charge of other people when you are snowed under yourself, your patience isn’t what it was and all you can hear is the sound of each passing minute bringing you closer to opening time. The last thing you want is abrasive volunteers rubbing you the wrong way because of your own lack of understanding. Some people’s personalities do not match, and it’s your job as the superior to accommodate their personalities. I wish it was something I had considered before crunch time.

Never let the general public see you sweat

The last thing the paying public need to see is the literal sweat running down your face as you attempt to carry a chaise lounge down two flights of stairs in a listed building with a number of priceless artworks. A great way to avoid this is to choose the right times to move furniture. Also, there’s the non-literal interpretation. Practise smiling in the mirror every morning because you’ll be doing a lot of it. And DO NOT LET THAT SMILE FALTER. In all honesty, this was probably the easiest aspect of the festival as I’m always pretty ‘smiley’ anyway, but there was a measurable improvement in communication when there was a smile on my face.

flatpack 2017 2

Always have emergency snacks and water on your person

This one is so important. The festival production period will leave you without a minute to spare. Thankfully Flatpack runs mostly in and around Birmingham city centre, meaning I could easily grab a burrito, whilst carrying venue boxes and flyers to various venues. In our temporary office sat a plethora of sweet treats, water and coffee and, of course, tea thanks to Abbe, our Ops Manager. But at certain stages that becomes unfeasible, I clearly remember being tasked with the get-in at a venue that was slightly further away from the city centre. It was 7pm and I was particularly up against it. I hadn’t eaten since about midday, and I had been running (and I do mean running) around all day, and I could have killed my best friend to have one bite of a petrol station sandwich. It was not a good look, I was not en vogue.

Everyone will piss you off at some point. It’s not them, it’s the pressure

I spent around 20% of the festival period in an undetectable strop. I got annoyed with everyone at least once, but I knew from previous production experiences that this happens when you’ve gone three hours without a cigarette, five hours without nourishment, simply because you forgot to eat, and have ten people feeling the same way as you in close confines. I think that knowledge prevented me from losing my cool. Or what little of it I have.

flatpack 2017 4

When entertaining guests, always drink water between alcoholic drinks, if you have to drink for the sake of being polite. Don’t mix drinks and eat before bed.

My day started at around 7.30am, and before I knew it, it was around 2am on a Thursday, Degenerates Social at Centrala as part of Flatpack Film Festival was winding down.

After a brisk walk home and an 8am start, I’d all but accepted that this would be how my life ended. Until I realised I had to be at the Kino Train at 9am and quickly showered off my querulous mood.

That was a terrible day, unsurprisingly.

Do not attempt to take care of things in your personal life during production.

Of course, payday for me was mid-festival and having just moved into my new home, I was keen to make a start in filling it with home comforts, as well as the essentials. I ordered from Amazon Prime and ended up having my packages delivered at 7pm while I was still in a midday festival flurry. The delivery guy left them outside my door and they were stolen. I had to get the items delivered the following day, delivered directly to me at work, but when the festival came to an end, I was stuck with carrying a cutlery set, plates, pans and glasses home. My birthday also took place during the festival which got ignored for a couple of weeks by myself. The team got me a cake which I was too busy to eat. Oh and, whatever you do, don’t try and make it to the gym after a production day. You’ll regret it.

flatpack 2017 3

This is England: dress/pack for all weather types

The first days of Flatpack were dull and grey. By the weekend it was swelteringly hot and clear with highs of 23 degrees celsius. On Monday the sun was out but it was deceptively cold, I left my house in shorts and would have been late if I turned back. I got the flu almost immediately after the get-out.

Never overestimate yourself

I assumed that all the running, dancing, jumping, standing and walking I did during the festival production period wouldn’t catch up with a fit, 27-year-old like me. On the last day, I could barely walk and ended up curling up into a small ball for an hour to sleep and rest my leg. It didn’t help, but it was my own damn fault. Can’t resist a good dance to LCD Soundsystem though.

flatpack 2017 5

No one can really give you specific advice about working production

Your experience of working in production is completely different from mine. There are so many variables. All I know is that it’s all worth it because what you end up with is a labour of love you are willing to put your heart and soul into - so make sure it gets the recognition that it deserves and pleases the people who really matter, the audience. It makes me immensely proud that I could be a part of this year's festival in such an instrumental way. That also did wonders for my ego.

It’s a shame perspective like this doesn’t come to visit until it’s all over. You just do your best and hold on tight.


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