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Posts in Cinema Careers

How to build a community cinema from scratch in the 21st century

Posted Thursday 9 November 2017 by Laura Davis in Cinema Careers, General

Deptford Cinema opened in 2014. Since then it has won multiple awards and boast some of London’s finest repertory cinema while remaining an affordable hang-out spot for its local community. How did they do it? Volunteer Laura Davis explains.

Deptford Cinema

Hand-held drills and paintbrushes: begin at the beginning  

At Deptford Cinema, the glamorous goings-on of festivals, orchestral concerts and celebrity Q&As are all indebted to the hard graft of volunteers past and present. Many of those involved today played a part in the cinema’s construction and from that a democratic system naturally emerged. Establishing the cinema gave Deptford the creative community space it so desperately needed, so people were more than willing to help out. As a result, the initial group of volunteers broadened out fairly organically with every person happy to contribute in their own way, from website design and keeping an eye on the cashflow to book donations and managing the gallery space. There truly is a something for everyone.

Deptford Cinema
Volunteers building the wooden benches for our bar/café area during one of our building days

An organisation built around consensus decision making isn’t the total nightmare a lot of people might expect it to be! What sounds like a disaster waiting to happen is the absolute opposite; the time and energy many devoted to Deptford Cinema in its humble beginnings has now paid off. Our flourishing community space is open to all, be they electricians, plumbers or arthouse cinephiles.

We hold meetings every Sunday at 11am. We realise time constraints and hangovers don’t always mean this is the best of times for everybody! But in addition, Deptford Cinema uses expertly-managed email lists, project management software and social platforms for its volunteers to collaborate online. The minutes of each meeting are easily available online to ensure everyone is as up to date as they can be and participation is as inclusive as possible, with every member able to get involved as much or as little as they want.

Deptford Cinema
Left: the best decorated bathroom in all of South London!; right: work produced at one of our life drawing events

Know your audience and get them involved

Very often members of the Deptford Cinema audience return as volunteers. It's very easy (almost too easy!) to find yourself in discussions with film distributors after being inspired by the movie goldmine that is this fairly inconspicuous corner of South London. Deptford Cinema is not just an exhibition space but a learning tool for aspiring young hopefuls to get a flavour of the film industry. It is simply a delight to discover there is a pre-existing framework ready for you to put on the director retrospective you thought you would never see. And with its space used for other activities including life drawing, art exhibitions and open mic nights, Deptford Cinema has been the genesis of creative futures beyond the film industry.

Deptford Cinema began because Lewisham was one of two London boroughs without a dedicated cinema. Finding an affordable local screening of (for example) an Andrzej Zulawski or Agnès Varda classic was next to impossible (outrageous!) and for that reason we wanted to make our tickets as cheap as possible. Without any wider affiliations or obligations Deptford Cinema has the ability to screen a range and variety of films that might not appear at other London institutions, big or small.

To ensure our audience reflects Lewisham's demographic, we offer concessionary tickets for students, pensioners and the unemployed. Due to recent financial setbacks, we had to resort to a small ticket price hike to keep the books balanced but despite this slight increase, we remain arguably the most consistently cheap cinema ticket in London. With film licenses taking up most of our budget, occasionally the lofty ideal of a full house for some Nordic noir on a wintery Monday night faces a nasty reality check and makes the cinema a loss. Although our reputation is putting Deptford on the map, we are still an awkward tube/DLR journey away from most centrally London-located film buffs, meaning that our high hopes for box office sales sometimes fall short.

Deptford Cinema
Volunteers meet in our gallery space every Sunday at 11am

Expect the unexpected

As it was built to support programming over profit, Deptford Cinema has encountered trouble in the past. The cinema nearly faced closure in June 2016 when it couldn’t pay its bills to Lewisham Council. However, community support via a 3,000 strong petition saved it from the brink.

More recently, this past summer there was an electrical fire in the flat above the cinema after which the cinema was closed for an extended period. With bills to pay and cinema-goers to entertain, breaking point felt pretty close. As a not-for-profit community organisation, our commitment to offering cheap films meant we had no reserves to call upon. Thankfully in its time of need, our volunteer network once again came to the rescue and we live on to defend our title of Cinema for All’s 2016 UK Community Cinema of the Year! However, the uncertainty of rent prices and increasingly expensive overheads means it's often difficult to stay afloat and we can’t keep relying on bar and box office sales alone, so...

Patron Scheme Deptford
Some Deptford Cinema zines - become a patron and they could be yours!

We invite everyone - whether from nearby or from further afield - to donate a small amount to keep the dream alive. Our patronage scheme is £25 a year, but donors are welcome to spend as much as they like. In return they get two tickets to a free patron-only screening every month as well as a hand-designed patronage card. The patron launch party will take place on Wednesday 15 November from 7.30pm. Local brews, sparkling beverages and tasty snacks will be served along with some sweet tunes and great movies. There will be a small presentation and an opportunity to meet the volunteers behind Deptford Cinema. Save the date!

Deptford Cinema
Our shop front on Deptford High Street

The money will primarily be spent on fire safety equipment, upgrading our electrics and making the venue more accessible for disabled audiences. If we achieve these goals, we hope to then build a dark room and fit a new cinema sound system. For a low cost, low stakes organisation, £25 really does go a long way.

Deptford Cinema’s survival is, and has always been, reliant on the generosity of the public. If you would like to join our patronage scheme, please visit http://deptfordcinema.org/become-a-patron.

Cinemas, community and culture in Northern Ireland: Allen's role at #filmFEDS

Posted Thursday 5 October 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme, Training & Conferences

FEDS Allen Maria Anthony
Allen (centre) debates with his fellow FEDS Maria (left) and Anthony (right) 

We're currently looking for the next generation of talent on our FEDS scheme, which offers eight months of paid training with a major film festival or cinema. But what's it like being a FED? Here, one of our current trainees Allen Loyola tells us about his role at Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast.

When I applied for the FEDS traineeship I’ve never had any experience in film distribution. I had some experience in film production by helping friends on their short films, etc but never in the exhibition or distribution side. My background is in science, I remember applying to the scheme just a few weeks after I finished three very long years of studying Physics in the same university that would be my host venue: Queen's Film Theatre in Queen’s University Belfast.

I knew I loved films and I loved going to QFT so when I read about the FEDS scheme I had to apply. It was a marketing position, so I thought, worst comes to worst, I’ll get to see films before anyone else!

It’s now been seven months since I started as a trainee for Queen’s Film Theatre (QFT), a cinema that’s part of Queen’s University Belfast. It’s origins can be tracked back all the way to the 1930s when a number of university societies decided they wanted to show films that weren’t in commercial cinemas. Eventually, this led to the QFT being officially founded in 1968.

QFT today
QFT today

As I mentioned above, the placement is based in the cinema’s marketing department so what exactly have I been doing for the last seven months? Well, a lot of social media “stuff” and a lot of time on Photoshop designing posters, banners etc. It may sound like a normal placement in an office, but in reality working in an independent cinema is always different. Working with a small team, you can expect to be involved in a lot of things: the programming, the website, community outreach and lots more. In my seven months here at QFT, it’s become very clear that a lot of work has gone into making QFT a haven for all film lovers in the city.

Recently QFT celebrated Cinema Day, a country wide initiative, presented by Film Hub Northern Ireland, that celebrates the diversity of film exhibition in Northern Ireland. As QFT is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary next year, we decided to invite the very loyal QFT audience and past employees to get to know what they’d like to see in the future and discuss what QFT means to them. One of the things that stood out to me was something that the former head of QFT Michael Open said during the discussion. He said that during the time of “The Troubles”, QFT was one of the few places that people could gather to socialise, feel welcome and not feel in danger. In fact very recently a few people have commented that QFT was one of the “few shining lights during a dark period”. These things have made me slightly re-think what I view an independent cinema should be.

QFT Cinema Day
Cinema Day 2016 was a national celebration of films and move going in Northern Ireland

Of course, the most important thing that an independent cinema should focus on is the programme. Being separated from mainland UK and also by a border in the south, a diverse cultural programme is arguably the most important quality of an independent cinema like QFT, even more so in a city that’s been through so much political conflict. There is always a sense of duty to show films that are of local interest. Not just movies that were made in Northern Ireland/Ireland but also films that would challenge the divide in the Northern Irish community. Of course, being an independent cinema there is the need to show films that wouldn’t be picked up by the big chain cinemas in Northern Ireland, which is a huge problem. Northern Ireland has the most screens per head in the whole of the UK, yet you’ll find that QFT is one of the few places that would show foreign language films like Borg McEnroe or After the Storm. As much as I love watching the yearly release of a Transformers or Marvel film, I’d always prefer something original, especially in an era of remakes and sequels.

QFT vintage
QFT back in the glory days: the cinema has always proved a safe haven at times of strife

If you ask a regular visitor why they like QFT you’ll hear the phrase, “I feel at home here” a lot. I remember the first time I walked into QFT and feeling a little intimidated but after going to the box office, buying a ticket and having an in-depth conversation with the person behind the glass about the film I was about to see that I felt rather silly about being intimidated. Independent cinemas always strive to try and welcome all communities. For instance, there is a desire to improve the cinema experience for people who suffer from autism or dementia. Making the cinema a friendlier environment for people with these conditions is a great way to make people “feel at home” and “welcomed”. In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in training sessions that made me see what it’s really like to be in a situation that would impair my day to day life. For example in my first month most of the QFT staff took part in the ICO’s Deaf Awareness training. A great exercise where I learnt about the community, the correct etiquette and even some simple sign language to gain valuable insight on how we can improve the cinema experience for the Deaf. More recently, we had some vision awareness training which, as you might expect, gave the same valuable knowledge as the Deaf awareness training, but for the visually impaired community.

With the traineeship being based in marketing, these are things I didn’t expect I’d be involved in. Things that I’m glad I got the chance to take part in and learn from. It’s refreshing, not only to see the work that happens behind the scenes but also being involved in it. With only a few weeks left, some big changes in QFT, Halloween and Christmas just around the corner, it’s going to be a busy few weeks and I look forward to it!

PS. Yes, I absolutely did get to watch films early before they officially came out...

If you would like to apply for FEDS yourself, you have until 18 October to do so. You don't need past experience, only passion, so get your application in.

How to make your cinema more inclusive with creative collaborations: FEDS 2017

Posted Thursday 28 September 2017 by Maria Cabrera in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme, General

We spoke to Maria Cabrera, one of the most recent cohort of FEDS trainees, about her experiences at the Barbican during her traineeship and what she's learnt about the best ways to collaborate to create meaningful film experiences and reach out to new audiences. To read more about FEDS 2018, which will open for applications soon, click here.

Mi Vida Loca
Allison Anders' Mi Vida Loca, which Maria will screen at the Barbican on 10th October

Before starting my placement at the Barbican as part of FEDS the majority of my film experience came from putting on my own screenings with Reel Good Film Club, which I set up with my friends, and helping out at places such as Deptford Cinema and Scalarama, where I was encouraged to just give it a go. I found studying film studies at university tiring (something I won’t bore you with) and film programming made me excited to get a chance to put the films me and my friends chatted about, and which often were made and starred people that looked like us on a screen to share with ourselves and others.

Through trial and error and having opportunities to link up with other institutions I’ve been able to learn a lot, but I was really keen to gain insight and experience from the other side. As a big cross-arts centre, collaborations are a fundamental part of the Barbican with departments joining up on projects throughout the year and working with different artists and groups to curate spaces and events together. I’ve really enjoyed getting to experience how it all runs and to contribute to some of the amazing projects they work on.

Although grassroots and community-based independent film programming have always played a part in cinemas, collaborations between institutions and outside organisations have become a thing. From takeovers to one-off partnerships, museums, cinemas and other art venues have been keen to reach out and open their doors to the possibility of new audiences and a varied programme to match.

While here I’ve tried to soak up as much as I can, here are the notes I’ve made on working with collaborators...

Collaborations are good for your venue

I was excited to start my placement just in time for Being Ruby Rich, a film programme in collaboration between Barbican Cinema and Club des Femmes, a queer feminist collective run by some of the smartest and supportive people I know. Together with Barbican film curator Gali Gold, they put together a thrilling mix of screenings, discussions and workshops to celebrate the work of cinema activist, curator and scholar B. Ruby Rich. The event involved her flying all the way to London from California to explore the issues that drove the beginnings of her work to its relevance today. For me this was a dream programme; from pioneering De Cierta Manera by Afro-cubana Sara Gómez, shown on 35mm, to Yance Ford’s beautiful yet shattering Strong Island, recently picked up by Netflix....I could go on!

Strong Island
Yance Ford's Strong Island, screened at Barbican as part of Club Des Femmes' Being Ruby Rich

Every cinema has an expectation of who their core audience may be. What this collaborative programme showed is that an exciting programme with participatory elements can be the start to bringing a wider range of audiences into the space. Throughout the programme, surveys were handed out to audience members to assess a range of objectives. Of all the attendees, 40% said they were visiting the Barbican for the first time, with 80% of all attendees saying they were likely to come again. When it came to how people found out about the event, the majority reported that they had heard about the programme through word of mouth and… it caught the attention of people outside of London with some people traveling in just to attend. The feedback also showed that around 50% of the audience identified as LGBTQ* with 10% identifying as having a disability.

Although the programme took place in one of the hottest weeks in London, it showed how people do turn up for a fascinating programme.

How to maintain one-offs

While working here I’ve gotten involved in the running of the Barbican’s first Youth Panel, a space created to ensure the voices and ideas of young people can be heard by the rest of the centre. In one of the discussions a panellist asked, “How do we maintain what we’re doing now for the next Youth Panel?” The question of how outreach and collaborative projects shouldn’t just be temporary or worst, tokenistic, is definitely one to always think about.

Panel at Chronic Youth
Barbican's first Youth Panel, created to ensure the voices of young people are heard at the venue

Surveys such as the one mentioned for Being Ruby Rich, can also be very useful in checking out the positive outcomes as well as areas to improve on. Although the surveys highlighted some of the amazing responses from attendees, it is important to point out that niche film programmes take a great deal of effort to promote to the public. Audiences can take a long time to build so overnight success isn’t guaranteed and you should be prepared for it to take some work from you and your team.

Maintaining relationships that last is important in building a successful programme. There is nothing wrong with one-offs, it can keep your programming current, but committing to a few collaborations throughout the year with partners you trust and work well with can be a great way to not just fulfil the diversity quota but continue developing your venues’ identity and widening what’s on offer for audiences.

Where to start? Get some regional inspiration

As most people know, the film world in the UK is very London-centric and one of my favourite things about doing the scheme has been being able to visit all the venues the other FEDS work in. Although there are so many great screenings and events where I am in London (at times almost too many to actually go to) I’ve gained a lot of insight on new creative ways to get involved with local communities from the different regional venues.

Whether it’s working with a new festival in your city, or hosting a new local film club screening, there’s different ways venues are connecting with others. For example, I’m really looking forward to Showroom’s screenings in collaboration with Melanin Festival in Sheffield in October and CineQ’s screening of the much talked about Check It at Birmingham’s Centrala gallery.

Money, money, money

Things always get a bit awkward when money is involved but it’s crucial for creating your relationship with collaborators. Yes, budgets exist and can be especially tight as arts funding reduces, but taking into account the work and time your collaborator is giving to your venue or project is a great way to show that you respect and value your partnership. I have learned this is good practice when working with anyone from being on both sides of the deal; it’s best not to assume that someone is happy to work for free or not, and instead bring up the financial side of your project as soon as possible. Of course there’s always room for negotiation, but it’s always better to have a place to start. A good method that I’ve picked up at the Barbican is to calculate a standard fee for different roles and costs which is both within the means of your venue but which still pays your collaborator appropriately. For example, what can your venue or project afford to pay panelists, filmmakers or for someone to introduce an event (which they may also have to prepare for)? I’ve tried and tested this while working here and it's really useful in making communication easier and clearer.

P.S. Asking for money when you are providing a service shouldn’t be awkward.

P.P.S. Of course some people are more than happy to contribute their work for free. I’ve found that some short filmmakers are pleased to have their work seen by more audiences, but this isn’t always the case!

My screening

Because there is always space for a bit of shameless self-promotion, I will be putting what I’ve learned to practice here at the Barbican with a screening of Allison Anders’ iconic Mi Vida Loca on the 10th of October. The film will play alongside Top Girl, a film by Rebecca Johnson (Honeytrap) about two young black British girls juggling school with growing up.

Top Girl
A still from Top Girl, which will screen at the Barbican alongside Mi Vida Loca on 10th October

I put them together because not only do they explore the friendships of young women of colour but because they are both led by untrained actors, and I wanted to create a discussion around the nuances of representation on screen whilst paying tribute to the artistry of the black and brown women in the films.

Whilst programming I wanted to explore not just the role of the directors but also the labour and input of the actors who lend the experiences to the film - which I believe is what make both films special and why they resonate with me and others. As soon as Top Girl popped into my head I knew I couldn’t go ahead without reaching out to poet and writer Abondance Matanda to do an introduction as her article about the film for gal-dem last year is the reason I and others know about the film. I wanted to highlight the influence her work had on my programming decisions and the way I think about film more generally. I hope to make it a small collaboration between us and the Barbican.

Would be great to see you there! You can buy tickets for the event here.

We are the weirdos, mister: Making horror more inclusive with the Final Girls

Posted Thursday 31 August 2017 by Ellen Reay in Cinema Careers, General

Final girls carrie event

The Final Girls Carrie anniversary prom party screening at ICA (photo credit: Juan Gil)

The Final Girls is a film collective exploring the intersection between horror film and feminism, led by Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe. Anna and Olivia share with us how they are making a new inclusive space for horror cinema fans and how an early morning Whatsapp conversation has taken them all the way to self-distribution.

The origin of The Final Girls couldn’t be less glamorous if we tried making it up. As WhatsApp is our main form of communication, it makes sense then that The Final Girls was born out of a manic 7am chat. We’d bonded over years of marathoning horror films and being really frustrated with some of the horror-themed events going on. We were fans, and hungry to see endless slashers, supernatural spookers and gorefests. Yet it felt like we weren’t 'the right audience' for these events, or made to feel like we were imposters for liking films that were not traditionally associated with a female audience. We love the community aspect of horror, but didn't always feel we could participate in that community.

trouble every day

The Final Girls' Trouble Every Day screening at Prince Charles Cinema

Within the span of minutes of rapidfire chatting, we had the name of the collective (The Final Girls), the film we wanted to play (Trouble Every Day), the date (Friday 13th May) and the general mission statement for what we wanted to do. This last point was important to us: to define what it is that we wanted to achieve outside of putting on a screening: exploring the intersections of horror film and feminism.

Between May 2016 until January 2017, we programmed, produced and hosted ten events including: a rare 35mm screening of Cindy Sherman’s only feature film Office Killer; a shorts screening and panel discussion on ‘the final girl’ trope at Film4 Summer Screen; an all-nighter dedicated to scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis; a preview of Prevenge in Manchester; an anniversary screening of Carrie followed by a panel discussion and a bloody prom party at the ICA. That’s probably still our favourite event (chiefly because it included a specially made yarn blood bucket and we covered the ICA floor in red glitter to simulate Carrie’s prom massacre).

The Final Girls Carrie prom night
The Final Girls Anna (left) and Olivia (right) at their Carrie anniversary prom night at ICA (photo credit: Juan Gil)

We probably did too much during those hectic first months. Aside from the preview of Prevenge, we had focused on repertory programming. We wanted to reclaim and re-contextualise genre films that been maligned or forgotten. We manouvered between arthouse horror like Trouble Every Day and Office Killer to full-blown slasher glory Inside. One of main approaches is to create an event, something that would make it more than a screening. The films were only half the job. We wanted for the audience to take away something from the screening. For Single White Female, we created Hedy/Ally facemask; for Carrie we commissioned a fortieth anniversary poster that we gave away to attendees and got Stephen King’s novel as giveaways from Hodder & Stoughton. From the very first screening, we have created dedicated zines that we give to all attendees. These are the place where we explore the film, explain what it is about it that drew us in, and play around with the film’s imagery, reappropriating and remixing it.

Slumber Party Massacre zine

The Final Girls zine for their double bill screening of The Slumber Party Massacre and The Slumber Party Massacre II at BFI

We’re not going to pretend like all of the events were raving successes.  We’ve had to face the empty cinema as much as every programmer has. However, every single event was a learning curve. We were building up steam for our next, and biggest project (so far): The Love Witch.

Aside from reappraising repertory cinema, our ambition with The Final Girls was always to build a supportive platform for new talent within the genre. With this in mind, our next logical step was to venture into the world of new releases. Before even seeing The Love Witch, we knew it was the film for us. Anna Biller is one of the most unique filmmakers out there today (and certainly one of the most hard-working). The Love Witch is a product of seven years of work from Biller, where she not only served as the director, but she also had a part in the writing, editing, costume design, musical composition and much, much more. A film like this doesn’t come around often and for something so special, we knew it needed championing.

The Love Witch Picturehouse Central

The Love Witch screening at Picturehouse Central

After speaking with Anna, we discovered the title had been picked up for UK distribution by Icon Distribution. Determined to not let this one go, we pitched our ideas to the distributor and reached an agreement. The collaboration with the distributor, Icon, was incredibly important. Without their support, this would not have been possible.

We organised a preview tour of the film, liaising directly with regional venues to pitch our ideas to them. Every single screening had to be an event. We travelled with the film to present it at the venues, and even though Anna was not able to travel for the UK release, we organised Skype Q&As with her, which we hosted. At Sheffield Showroom, we recreated the uber pink afternoon tea scene from the film in their cafe bar, serving scones and cocktails to the attendees of the screening. We created a special version of our usual ‘zines for the tour which doubled as a foldout poster and commissioned an artist (also working under the name Final Girls!) to create a set of tarot card-inspired postcards to promote the tour.

The Love Witch tea party at Sheffield Showroom

The Love Witch tea party at Sheffield Showroom

The Love Witch tour was bookended by two London screenings: the first one, at the Prince Charles Cinema, was sold out weeks in advance; and ended as part of Picturehouses’ Discover Tuesdays strand, which started off in a small screen and kept getting bumped up until we had 300 people in their biggest screen, and welcomed one of the actresses from the film, Laura Waddell, for an introduction. After The Love Witch tour was over, and with the film in cinemas, on Blu-ray/DVD and VOD, the interest in Anna’s work was bigger than ever. As a result, we put on an event in the newly opened The Castle Cinema screening her early short films on her own 16mm prints. We put on the event in partnership with MUBI, an online platform that has been hugely supportive of our mad ideas since the beginning, and at the time were playing Anna’s first feature Viva.

Single White Female masks

The Final Girls, incognito as Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda in Single White Female

And now we’re back at it again. Part of our vision for The Final Girls is championing new voices in genre filmmaking, so for Halloween this year we’ve planned a showcase tour of some of our favourite new horror shorts, all of which are directed by women. We opened a call for submissions in May, received over 1,000 short films from all over the world. From that process, and actively scouring festival programmes and the web for intriguing shorts, have curated a selection of ten short films that we’ve (quite tellingly) named: WE ARE THE WEIRDOS.

This programme is our first venture into self-distributing the work of filmmakers we love. It’s a mission statement, as we’re working to create a space for feminist horror, show the films we’re passionate about, and attempt to eliminate some of the arthouse snobbery around genre cinema.

The Final Girls programme of the most exciting new female voices in genre cinema We Are the Weirdos is coming to cinemas for Halloween. If you would like to screen We Are the Weirdos in your local cinema, get in touch with The Final Girls on hello@thefinalgirls.co.uk. To find out more about the project, click here. 

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