The Independent Cinema Office was founded in 2003, with a vision of an agency which counld enable everyone in the UK to have access to life-changing cinema, wherever they lived. This vision grew so that we could support the skills of the incredible people who work in venues and film festivals (via our training and professional development), increasing access to the films available to these venues (via our distribution and Screening Days projects) and making sure they had access to the best advice and information.

The Independent Cinema Office was established in July 2003. Initially, it was incorporated into South West Screen, one of the nine Regional Media Agencies set up by the then UK Film Council. In 2005, it became independent of South West Screen and became a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.

Some of the activities undertaken by the ICO, principally its programming advice and booking services with some cinemas were previously undertaken by the Programme Unit and Exhibition Development department which were housed within the British Film Institute until 2003.

Historically, the BFI had been central to the establishment of what were once termed ‘Regional Film Theatres’ by funding new builds and giving annual financial assistance.  With the advent of the UK Film Council however, the funding landscape changed as well as priorities in cultural activity. There were many venues which served local communities and promoted independent and world cinema who had no formal relationship with any funding body or public agency.

At the same time, however, there was no training or professional development available for those working in the cultural cinema exhibition sector, no recognised entry route for individuals, no single information source for areas as diverse as print availability, distributors, rights holders for films or funding sources for projects or capital schemes. There was no agency charged with making cultural cinema available to the widest range of exhibitors nationally through touring material, distributing single titles, artists’ moving work or archival material.

The ICO seeks to fill this gap and provide a resource for any independent exhibitor working in the UK.

With the closure of the UK Film Council in 2011, responsibility for public film funding in the UK returned to the BFI including the distribution of  Lottery funds.  The ICO continues to be supported by the BFI and is a national strategic partner of FAN (the Film Audience Network), charged with the provision of programming, advisory and information services for the sector as well as acting as a national advocate and delivering professional training & development, touring programmes and events to exhibitors across the UK. Over the past 14 years we have also received financial support from Creative Europe, Arts Council England, The Japan Foundation, KOFIC and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Since 2003 we have:

  • Programmed 27,000+ films
  • Trained 1500+ professionals from 650+ organisations
  • Distributed 300+ films and achieved audience figs of over 6.5 million

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