5 tips on how to build your own community cinema from Star & Shadow, Newcastle

Posted on October 27, 2016 by Iris Priest

Categories: General

The Star & Shadow is a cooperative cinema made and run by the people of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After 9 years of providing an invaluable creative community resource at their venue on Stepney Bank, they have bought their own building and are working on its complete refurbishment. You can support them through their crowdfunding campaign here. Iris Priest, part of the collective behind The Star & Shadow, shares the vision behind their work and her 5 tips on building a community cinema.

For the last 10 years our volunteers have run a diverse, independent programme of films, music, art and events, from month-long film seasons and weekend-long music festivals to one-off performances and workshops. Unlike other venues in the area we do not rely on any single curatorial vision but are run by consensus decision-making. We are a not-for-profit organisation. We exist to provide a platform for experimentation, creativity and learning to flourish outside the mundane mainstream of film and music and to create safe spaces for coming together, thinking and testing ideas. The Star & Shadow has been built through collective knowledge sharing (inspired by open source culture) and, in this spirit, we would like to share with you a few tips about how to build and grow your own community cinema.

1. Involve everyone

The idea was that if we all build the space together collectively, physically build it, then we will all want to use it. So gradually the audience becomes more and more involved in participating it’s very important that the Star & Shadow be part of this active engagement: that if you go to a gig, a meeting or see a film there that you’re actually an active agent in that

Christo Wallers (Artist Filmmaker & Co-Founder of The Star &Shadow Cinema)

The Star & Shadow is open to anyone who wants to become involved in any and all aspects of the cinema, from working on the bar at gigs to programming or hosting films and events. We don’t always expect people to come fully prepared or knowing precisely what they want to do. We like to offer opportunities for volunteers to learn as they go and to follow their interests whether they be script writing, acting, running a bar, film editing or any number of the other activities involved in running a cinema and art space.

It is our volunteers who are, at present, literally rebuilding the cinema from scratch on the new Warwick Street site and pioneering the fundraising for the new venue. We hold weekly general meetings on a Monday evening which anyone – regardless of experience, skills or background – is welcome to attend as well as regular site inductions for people wishing to get involved with the rebuild. At the heart of what we do is the belief in cultural agency: of engaging people in film and the arts not just as consumers but as active participants, an approach which we believe is much deeper and more vital than a profit-driven commercial cinema.

2. Allow room to manoeuvre when the unexpected occurs

‘In the two or so years since its been shut, things have gone right down, there’s this huge gaping hole that’s both from a punters perspective and a performing perspective. Star & Shadows really like a musical home, for me certainly its very much a base for many writers, performers round here and all of the most magic shows happen there…’

Richard Dawson (Musician)

In 2015, after almost ten years of amazing creative activity on our Stepney Bank site, we were told that our building was being taken back by the owners for redevelopment. This was a real blow to the cinema, our volunteers, artists and larger communities of participants. But we weren’t just going to lie down and accept this would be the end, an emergency meeting was held to discuss what to do next:

‘…and as organisation that’s been running for 9 years we were all feeling pretty tired and like Maybe we should just sack it off but everyone agreed, No, were going to do this. Were not going to find anywhere that were going to rent, were going to buy somewhere and be in control of our future and so there’s been this surprising but wonderful additional burst of positive energy.’

Rachel Bollen (Artist, The Star & Shadow Volunteer)

star and shadow wall
(Image credit: Joseph de Haan)

3.Nurture good relationships

The Star & Shadow has maintained a good relationship with Newcastle City Council and it has been through this that we have managed to secure our new premises.Essentially, the council had this empty building (a former carpet warehouse) on their books and rather than simply rent it to us, they have helped us buy the building.

Despite operating in an unconventional way (in comparison to other cultural institutions in the area), it is by nurturing a good, ongoing relationship with the council that they have been able to understand and recognise our role in community empowerment and our contributions to social, cultural and economic activity in the area.

But it is not just the relationships with civic institutions that matter. Being part of the cultural and social fabric of Newcastle means that we exist within, and depend upon, a large ecology of individuals: other art spaces; studios; venues;festivals; charities; and community organisations. We exist through our reciprocal relationships with these groups and work hard to ensure they can use The Star& Shadow to promote their own social causes via film, music, discussions and working groups. We all benefit from a strong creative community of local and international networks. As such, we do everything we can to support both locally made or inspired films, musicians,artists and storytellers but also play host to events, discussions, lectures and festivals of international scope such as TUSK music festival; AV Festival;Language Caf Newcastle; VAMOS! Festival and Wunderbar Festival (amongst others).

4. Be patient

One of the things about the way the Star & Shadow works, which is different from most organisations that I’ve been involved with, is that decision making is by consensus the idea being that people really think deeply about the issues

Diane Jones (Activist)

Because we are run on community engagement and consensus decision-making, things don’t always happen quickly. Like any relationship, there are rough patches and disagreements but with the investment of time and patience the hard work pays off in the long run.

Star & Shadow building
(Image credit: Arto Polus)

5. Never stop learning

‘A couple of years after I started volunteering I started programming films which I was really nervous about but quickly I came to love it I programmed about 100 films in five years and it was just absolutely, totally amazing Programming films at the Star &Shadow really changed my life around completely because it helped me to see that it was possible to work in film and it helped me to meet people who worked in that field  I eventually quit my day job and I got the confidence to start working freelance in film, photography and art’

Stephanie Oswald (Film Programmer &Photographer)

Both as individuals and as an organisation we are always learning. Many of our volunteers who are working on the current rebuild are learning about site management, building regulations and health and safety. As we have evolved we have constantly been learning from our mistakes, successes and the shared knowledge and wisdom of others. But it is the constant learning which keeps us ever-evolving,questioning and excited.

To help Star & Shadow with the amazing work they’re doing contribute to their crowdfunding campaign for their new cinema (which ends 7 November) click here.

To find out more about the work the Star & Shadow do and to follow the progress of their refurbishment, you can visit their website https://www.starandshadow.org.uk/

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