‘Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions’ (BtM) was a four-year research project (conducted between 2017-2021) aiming to understand how a wider range of audiences could participate in a more diverse film culture. Since May, Eve Dixon Batchelor, a Young Reporter for Get Into Film, has worked on BtM’s follow-up impact project, which focused on supporting the work of those developing more diverse audiences for specialised film.
In this blog, Eve speaks with Jane Rayner, Senior Research & Evaluation Manager for FAN, about the research findings and how organisations can best use the project’s publicly available data website.
Jane Rayner (FAN): Hi Eve, thanks for speaking with me. It occurs to me that with this research you have a large body of evidence demonstrating the positive impact that independent film has on people’s lives. That’s just the kind of data I am looking for when I make the case to funders for the work we do in broadening audiences and supporting provision of a more diverse range of films. Could you start by telling us some of the ways that watching films can have an impact on the audience?
Eve Dixon Batchelor (Beyond the Multiplex): Film has the power to educate, as it exposes audiences to different ideas and can be used as a cultural resource to make sense of the world. Film is a great form of escapism – from the stresses of the everyday and during big life changes. Film helps personal discovery, giving audiences a sense of identity and taste or causing them to reflect upon experiences. And finally, film gives people a sense of community – within a certain venue or subculture for example.
JR: One overarching theme of the research is the idea of ‘audience as a process’, could you tell me more about that?
EDB: Audiences don’t only engage with film whilst they are watching it, but throughout their day-to-day lives – like discussing it with friends and reading about it online. They engage with the film both directly as an individual viewer and collectively by engaging with what is shared culturally.
JR: That is something all of us working in the sector probably understand already, but this research really highlights the opportunities we have to engage new audiences outside of the film event itself. For example, by tapping into the social aspect of expectation and discussion before and after the screening itself. Would you agree?
EDB: Yes, totally. To me, these findings show the importance of building anticipation around independent releases – and in more creative ways than advertising on expensive billboards. For example, programming special events celebrating new releases at independent cinemas to create conversation around the film and venue, locally and on social media.
JR: The research also seems to suggest that there are key life transition points when you are potentially more open to trying new types of film, is that true?
EDB: Yes. Many interviewees became more open when they moved to university, as they were exposed to non-mainstream films for the first time. Openness also increased when many older participants retired, as they had more time to discover a wider range of films.
JR: I also found it interesting how audiences draw on their own life experiences to interpret film, even when their own life experiences are not directly represented on screen, can you share some examples of that?
EDB: Yes, audiences often related to films which depicted characters who were at similar points in their own life, or who were in situations similar to those that they had experienced earlier in their life. Some film elicitation group participants drew on their own experiences of job-seeking when interpreting I, Daniel Blake, because it shares that context of unemployment. Some participants also analysed how Call Me by Your Name captured the feelings of growing up, as despite the unfamiliar Italian setting it resonated with memories of their youth.
JR: What does this mean for how venues might think about attracting audiences to a more diverse program?
EDB: I think relatability is a great tool in attracting new audiences. Once that initial barrier of unfamiliarity is down and audiences are watching specialised film, it is the personal connection they feel that compels them to return.
JR: There is so much interesting data on the website, potentially an overwhelming amount, where should people start?
EDB: I think they should go to the summarised research findings because they highlight the main points of insight from the data and lead you to exact pieces of data which illustrate these points. The ontology is also a great tool for exploring the data’s key concepts.
JR: How do you envisage organisations using this data?
EDB: Users have generally reported that the website is an in-depth resource providing tangible evidence of how the ongoing work in specialised film provision is important. The data (both quantitative and qualitative) showing the positive impact of specialised film on people’s lives could, people felt, be used to inform decisions so policymakers aren’t required to rely upon their own assumptions. Particularly, this data could be useful for funding applications to bodies outside film, who possibly feel that those promoting independent film only do so because they enjoy those films themselves. It was clear that the website is a valuable resource to use in conjunction with other data, be it findings from in-house focus groups or the Beyond the Multiplex book (being released early 2022). The BtM team plan to create factsheets that focus on different areas of the findings so readers can focus on what is relevant to their field (such as one for each region), as well as running more targeted demonstrations to help users navigate the website efficiently.
JR: I know that you ran some workshops with key sector organisations to discuss the research findings, did anything interesting emerge from those?
EDB: During the workshops, I loved hearing discussion of what the next steps in diverse film provision should be. The concept of increasing ‘openness’ to diverse film started a conversation over whether the industry can create new ways to measure success aside from attendance and economic gain. It is tough to avoid discussion of financial profit in proposing events and initiatives – but organisers felt that the real success of screenings is found in attendees’ increased confidence in watching diverse films. Can new metrics that measure confidence and openness be created? And if audience is an ongoing process, can strategies focus on long-term initiatives and investments? A small attendance to an event is not a failure, and a large attendance is not created overnight.
JR: And has being involved in this project changed your own ideas about the importance of film provision at all?
EDB: To be a young person and part of such a rich, significant project has been an exceptional opportunity. I already valued film highly, but I now believe even more strongly that diverse film should reach a wider range of people – to boost their critical-thinking skills, emotional engagement, and general quality of life. I hope the focus on promoting specialised film to young people, mentioned by many of our partners, carries on as so many of us would benefit – and continue to do so for the rest of our lives. I must thank our stakeholders and the Beyond the Multiplex team – mainly Bridgette Wessels; Lito Tsitsou and Anna Kime – for everything I have learned over this internship and shared here.
JR: Finally, is there anything else that has emerged from the research that we haven’t talked about that you think would be useful to the sector?
EDB: I think it’s interesting that differences in diverse film provision are more present within the different English regions than between the regions. BtM found five geographical and place-based distinctions within all the regions – diverse film cities; mainstream multiplex cities; diverse film towns; mainstream film towns and limited underserved areas (visit the website to see definitions of each term in more detail).
JR: Thank you, that is all really interesting.
EDB: Thank you for your questions!
You can learn more about the project and explore the research findings in more detail on the Beyond the Multiplex website.