How to make your cinema more inclusive with creative collaborations: FEDS 2017

Posted on September 28, 2017 by Maria Cabrera

Categories: Cinema Careers, FEDS Scheme, Training & Conferences

Mi Vida Loca
Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca, which Maria will screen at the Barbican on 10th October

Before starting my placement at the Barbican as part of FEDS the majority of my film experience came from putting on my own screenings with Reel Good Film Club, which I set up with my friends, and helping out at places such as Deptford Cinema and Scalarama, where I was encouraged to just give it a go. I found studying film studies at university tiring (something I won’t bore you with) and film programming made me excited to get a chance to put the films me and my friends chatted about, and which often were made and starred people that looked like us on a screen to share with ourselves and others.

Through trial and error and having opportunities to link up with other institutions I’ve been able to learn a lot, but I was really keen to gain insight and experience from the other side. As a big cross-arts centre, collaborations are a fundamental part of the Barbican with departments joining up on projects throughout the year and working with different artists and groups to curate spaces and events together. I’ve really enjoyed getting to experience how it all runs and to contribute to some of the amazing projects they work on.

Although grassroots and community-based independent film programming have always played a part in cinemas, collaborations between institutions and outside organisations have become a thing. From takeovers to one-off partnerships, museums, cinemas and other art venues have been keen to reach out and open their doors to the possibility of new audiences and a varied programme to match.

While here I’ve tried to soak up as much as I can, here are the notes I’ve made on working with collaborators…

Collaborations are good for your venue

I was excited to start my placement just in time for Being Ruby Rich, a film programme in collaboration between Barbican Cinema and Club des Femmes, a queer feminist collective run by some of the smartest and supportive people I know. Together with Barbican film curator Gali Gold, they put together a thrilling mix of screenings, discussions and workshops to celebrate the work of cinema activist, curator and scholar B. Ruby Rich. The event involved her flying all the way to London from California to explore the issues that drove the beginnings of her work to its relevance today. For me this was a dream programme; from pioneering De Cierta Manera by Afro-cubana Sara Gómez, shown on 35mm, to Yance Ford’s beautiful yet shattering Strong Islandrecently picked up by Netflix….I could go on!

Strong Island
Yance Ford’s Strong Island, screened at Barbican as part of Club Des Femmes’ Being Ruby Rich

Every cinema has an expectation of who their core audience may be. What this collaborative programme showed is that an exciting programme with participatory elements can be the start to bringing a wider range of audiences into the space. Throughout the programme, surveys were handed out to audience members to assess a range of objectives. Of all the attendees, 40% said they were visiting the Barbican for the first time, with 80% of all attendees saying they were likely to come again. When it came to how people found out about the event, the majority reported that they had heard about the programme through word of mouth and… it caught the attention of people outside of London with some people traveling in just to attend. The feedback also showed that around 50% of the audience identified as LGBTQ* with 10% identifying as having a disability.

Although the programme took place in one of the hottest weeks in London, it showed how people do turn up for a fascinating programme.

How to maintain one-offs

While working here I’ve gotten involved in the running of the Barbican’s first Youth Panel, a space created to ensure the voices and ideas of young people can be heard by the rest of the centre. In one of the discussions a panellist asked, “How do we maintain what we’re doing now for the next Youth Panel?” The question of how outreach and collaborative projects shouldn’t just be temporary or worst, tokenistic, is definitely one to always think about.

Panel at Chronic Youth
Barbican’s first Youth Panel, created to ensure the voices of young people are heard at the venue

Surveys such as the one mentioned for Being Ruby Rich, can also be very useful in checking out the positive outcomes as well as areas to improve on. Although the surveys highlighted some of the amazing responses from attendees, it is important to point out that niche film programmes take a great deal of effort to promote to the public. Audiences can take a long time to build so overnight success isn’t guaranteed and you should be prepared for it to take some work from you and your team.

Maintaining relationships that last is important in building a successful programme. There is nothing wrong with one-offs, it can keep your programming current, but committing to a few collaborations throughout the year with partners you trust and work well with can be a great way to not just fulfil the diversity quota but continue developing your venues’ identity and widening what’s on offer for audiences.

Where to start? Get some regional inspiration

As most people know, the film world in the UK is very London-centric and one of my favourite things about doing the scheme has been being able to visit all the venues the other FEDS work in. Although there are so many great screenings and events where I am in London (at times almost too many to actually go to) I’ve gained a lot of insight on new creative ways to get involved with local communities from the different regional venues.

Whether it’s working with a new festival in your city, or hosting a new local film club screening, there’s different ways venues are connecting with others. For example, I’m really looking forward to Showroom’s screenings in collaboration with Melanin Festival in Sheffield in October and CineQ’s screening of the much talked about Check It at Birmingham’s Centrala gallery.

Money, money, money

Things always get a bit awkward when money is involved but it’s crucial for creating your relationship with collaborators. Yes, budgets exist and can be especially tight as arts funding reduces, but taking into account the work and time your collaborator is giving to your venue or project is a great way to show that you respect and value your partnership. I have learned this is good practice when working with anyone from being on both sides of the deal; it’s best not to assume that someone is happy to work for free or not, and instead bring up the financial side of your project as soon as possible. Of course there’s always room for negotiation, but it’s always better to have a place to start. A good method that I’ve picked up at the Barbican is to calculate a standard fee for different roles and costs which is both within the means of your venue but which still pays your collaborator appropriately. For example, what can your venue or project afford to pay panelists, filmmakers or for someone to introduce an event (which they may also have to prepare for)? I’ve tried and tested this while working here and it’s really useful in making communication easier and clearer.

P.S. Asking for money when you are providing a service shouldn’t be awkward.

P.P.S. Of course some people are more than happy to contribute their work for free. I’ve found that some short filmmakers are pleased to have their work seen by more audiences, but this isn’t always the case!

My screening

Because there is always space for a bit of shameless self-promotion, I will be putting what I’ve learned to practice here at the Barbican with a screening of Allison Anders’ iconic Mi Vida Loca on the 10th of October. The film will play alongside Top Girl, a film by Rebecca Johnson (Honeytrap) about two young black British girls juggling school with growing up.

Top Girl
A still from Top Girl, which will screen at the Barbican alongside Mi Vida Loca on 10th October

I put them together because not only do they explore the friendships of young women of colour but because they are both led by untrained actors, and I wanted to create a discussion around the nuances of representation on screen whilst paying tribute to the artistry of the black and brown women in the films.

Whilst programming I wanted to explore not just the role of the directors but also the labour and input of the actors who lend the experiences to the film – which I believe is what make both films special and why they resonate with me and others. As soon as Top Girl popped into my head I knew I couldn’t go ahead without reaching out to poet and writer Abondance Matanda to do an introduction as her article about the film for gal-dem last year is the reason I and others know about the film. I wanted to highlight the influence her work had on my programming decisions and the way I think about film more generally. I hope to make it a small collaboration between us and the Barbican.

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