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

Posted on October 5, 2017 by Allen Loyola

Categories: Cinema Careers, FEDS Scheme, Training & Conferences

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 1930’s 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…

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