Bringing Young Audiences to Cinema Heritage

Posted on July 22, 2021 by Laura Kloss

Categories: General

In this blog we hear from Laura Kloss, founder of Lightbox Cinema, about her work teaching and inspiring young audiences to learn more about cinema heritage. She offers tips on how to create interactive workshops looking back at silent cinema, 16mm film, magic lanterns, and the play of light and shadow.

I first started programming silent films as a family film club programmer at Curzon Cinemas. At the time I heard many young people say that ‘old films are boring’, but I was certain that there were a host of cinematic gems out there that would appeal to them. As I sought to expand my programme to include a broader range of films for children, I discovered that workshops and live performance were key to sparking their interest.

Out of this work at Curzon I set up ​Lightbox Cinema and began going to film festivals with workshops which introduced young people to cinema heritage and filmmaking techniques from the past. Since then I have worked with many organisations, including: Small World Cinema, Tate, Flatpack Film Festival, The Lost Picture Show, Chocolate Films and The East End Film Festival.

Through my experience touring workshops I have found that introducing interactive, creative elements to a programme gives exhibitors the opportunity to step out of the normal programming framework – a chance to screen shorter films and still create value for money. Adding workshops is also a way of offering something different from streaming films at home and the familiarity of the activity also greatly encourages parents and young people to try a film they haven’t seen before. Below are some of the workshops that I have found most successful and could provide you with a few new ideas to cultivate family and young audiences.

Buster Keaton screening Bromley Family Film Festival 2018
Bromley Family Film Festival 2018 (now Small World Cinema), Buster Keaton film screening with live score.

Music & Sound

Screenings with live music, as with adult audiences, are also popular with young people and families. ​Small World Cinema ​often programmes slapstick films, such as Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton titles, with a live piano accompaniment with great success. Parents feel comfortable introducing their children to these well-known films and children find them entertaining. They typically screen one short film of up to 30 minutes, perfect for children’s short attention spans, and often couple the screening with related craft activities. These activities precede the screening but often continue quietly at the back of the room during the film, so kids can watch and create and feel free to choose the activity they want to participate in. This is particularly good for groups or families with young people that have additional learning needs.

Taking this one step further, I like to offer workshops that enable participants to create new soundtracks for silent films. Working with a professional sound recordist, we record sound effects and music whilst playing along live to the silent film. As well as introducing many young people to both silent and black and white films, this workshop also explores many different filmmaking processes such as foley techniques, editing, recording and the creativity of sound design.

One of the most popular films I use is ​The ‘?’ Motorist (1906)​ by RW Paul. This wonderful film depicts a mysterious motorist and his companion trying to escape the law in a magical tale of film trickery that takes them to space and back, much in the same vein as Georges Méliès’ The Impossible Journey (1904). ​The participants love playing the grumpy policeman, heightening slapstick injuries such as the sound of breaking bones using celery sticks and of course going up into space evoking the twinkling of the stars with triangles and theremin sounds. Again, this workshop is perfect to introduce new audiences to silent film and suits all ages and abilities and I usually offer it for kids aged four and up. I have even delivered successful horror foley events for teenagers and adults.

Early Forms of Animation

To accompany heritage film screenings I would highly recommend a craft activity. Parents especially trust these kinds of activities and know their children will enjoy them even if they are not sure about the film. I like exploring early forms of animation in this context such as zoetropes, thaumatropes and silhouette animation. For each of these animation techniques we create a pack of instructions and materials including card, straws, string etc., for things which can usually be made within 15 – 30 minutes. All of these early modes of animation demonstrate the illusion of moving images and teach the origins of moving image technologies, whilst providing an activity that is hands-on, interactive and creative. It is an absolute joy to see families delighted when their drawings come to life. Lotte Reiniger’s Fairy Tale Films​ make a charming double bill with these activities. Check out Flatpack Film Festival’s brilliant programme ​Colour Box, which brings a fantastic array of artists and workshops to the festival’s family audience each year, for more inspiration.

Lightbox Cinema's Giant Zoetrope
Lightbox Cinema’s giant zoetrope installed at Bromley Family Film Festival 2018 (now Small World Cinema).

Introducing Analogue Technology

A few years ago, as I was running a workshop for young people about cameraless animation inspired by Len Lye, I discovered how much young people like learning about projectors. They took just as much pleasure lacing up the 16mm projector as making their 16mm animations. I now introduce projectors and examples of celluloid during all my workshops and screenings. They immediately demonstrate how technologies have changed and enable young audiences to grasp the material of film, frame rates and projection. ​​I bought my own 16mm projector from an artist friend and a little toy 8mm projector from the shop Umit & Sons in Hackney, London, but they are also readily available on eBay and not overly expensive.

Lacing Up a 16mm Projector
Participant lacing up a projector during a Lightbox Cinema 16mm workshop at The Lost Picture Show Dalston Square outdoor cinema, 2013.


If you have a group of young programmers or a partnership with a local school, youth group or film club, I would highly recommend working in collaboration with a local archive and professional filmmakers to make a short film with your youth group. This is an excellent way to introduce young people to cinema heritage as well as developing filmmaking, critical and soft skills. There are some great examples of past projects including ​Make Your Own Cinema Heritage, ​a​ ​project led by London’s Screen Archives and Film London in 2015. Girl Guides and Boy Brigade is an example of one of the films I facilitated for the project, created by pupils at Overton Grange School and residents at Ryelands Care Home in Sutton, produced by Chocolate Films.

Funding for these types of projects is available from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Film Hub North’s New Directions programme​ offers funding for innovative heritage projects. Projects like these give exhibitors an opportunity to screen films which appeal to young people, who will bring their friends and families, and complement them with other films, again introducing audiences to films they are unlikely to have seen before.

Lightbox Cinema Stop-motion Silhouette Animation Workshop
Lightbox Cinema stop-motion silhouette animation workshop at Bromley Family Film Club, 2019 (now Small World Cinema).

Finally, to research new content for workshops and screenings I would highly recommend the BFI Player’s free sections, particularly the​ Family Collection, as a really great place to start. ​Archives for Education, ​IFI Player, ​London’s Screen Archives a​nd the BBC Reminiscence Archive (Remarc) ​are also excellent resources to find free content for educational purposes.

To hear more about what Laura and Lightbox Cinema do, please visit their website.

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