We've visited Neighbourhood Cinemas across the UK to experience the great work they've been doing!
Over the last four years, BFI Neighbourhood Cinema awards have helped to create 139 new community cinemas and benefitted 842 existing venues across the United Kingdom, generating over 230,000 admissions.
The BFI Neighbourhood Cinema website hosts over 750 touring and community cinema profiles and, to date, nearly 5,000 of their screenings have been shared with the press association to generate even larger audiences. British independent and specialised films have hit the top of our charts with The Lady in the Van, Brooklyn and Suffragette being the top three screened films.
To celebrate the fabulous achievements of Community Cinema leaders and volunteers, we visited BFI Neighbourhood Cinemas across the UK and are proud to share some of their achievements. Here are just some of the stories of the wonderful work which provides the magic of cinema to local communities.
The Electric Theatre Cinema
The Electric Theatre Cinema, situated in the town of Marsden, West Yorkshire, started out as Gingerbread House Presents: a monthly event which featured food themed around the film. Since then, the Electric has been screening a huge variety of indie, art house, world and British film – which audiences would have to journey an hour into Manchester to catch – alongside mainstream offerings.
It’s not just The Electric Theatre Cinema that connects Marsden to the big screen – many films and television shows have chosen to shoot there. In fact, the film A Monster Calls, which was showing the evening we visited, shot its opening scene in Marsden!
As well as enjoying the picture quality of the BFI-granted projector, people also love the social element of the screenings which often form the topic of conversation after the credits roll, around town and on the active social media channels.
By showing a mixture of films, the organisers – including Suzie Tibbitts, Zana Wood, Richard Higg and Mark Kelly – have seen a broad cross-section of the community attend. The documentary Addicted to Sheep, for example, saw many farmers flock to the Electric. People are drawn from a wide radius into Marsden: they even had to bring the start time of some screenings forward so that people can catch the last train home!
Grassmarket Picture House
We visited Edinburgh to speak with Jonathan Kinross at Grassmarket Picture House where he and his volunteers have adopted a community-centric approach to film. Local filmmakers are often invited to premiere their work and, as an added bonus, give Q&As and masterclasses.
Screening suggestions from the community are considered, which recently resulted in a clowder of cowboy movies screened as part of Western Weekend! Add enjoyable extras to the mix, such as live music, and Grassmarket Picture House shows itself as being a world apart from nearby multiplexes.
Jonathan also talked about their outreach programme which invites homeless people and those in social housing to screenings. The cinema provides tea and coffee to compliment the screenings which, although donations are always welcome, are free to attend.
Selsey Cinema Club
It’s a sun-drenched day in early May when we visit Selsey, a coastal town in Sussex. During that evening’s screening of La La Land at Selsey Cinema Club, we were impressed to see that not a single one of the BFI-granted chairs was empty!
Sam Tate – who organises the neighbourhood cinema – has also set up a lunch club for members of the community. Over half of Selsey’s 12,000 residents are aged 65+ and many are unable to journey to the nearest mainstream cinema in Chichester, which can take an hour to reach by bus. The lunch club provides door-to-door transportation to Selsey Town Hall plus a cooked meal, giving audiences a comprehensive cinematic day out (and granting carers a respite).
But Sam doesn’t stop with evening and lunchtime screenings – she also spearheads the annual open air cinema event Screen on the Green! Audiences have come in their thousands from far and wide for the last three years to enjoy a film in the open air. This year they’re echoing the town’s nautical connections with a double bill of pirate films.
Sam, who is also a member of the Town Council, says this is “a wonderful way of keeping in touch with the people in my community”.
Billericay Community Cinema
In Billericay, a town in Essex, themed screenings are the name of the game with audience members encouraged to dress up and mingle with volunteers who are outfitted as characters from the night’s featured film.
We attended a sold-out screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at Billericay Community Cinema which saw Holly Golightly lookalikes swanning in swathes. Best of all, local businesses are invited to set up stalls with food and drink with a thematic link to the film.
Chairman Adam Adshead says that the cinema has also worked with Brighter Opportunities through Supported Play (BOSP), a charity that offers support to families who have children with learning and physical difficulties. This collaboration has spurred on further work with other local charities.
Billericay Community Cinema holds its events in the public library, reviving the use of the building and drawing the town together around films and much more. With all this going on, is it any surprise that Billericay won Best New Society at the 2016 Cinema for All Film Society of the Year Awards?
Llancarfan Community Cinema
Two years ago, a screening of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at Llancarfan Community Cinema became the first listing on the BFI Neighbourhood Cinema website. Led by a team of enthusiastic volunteers, the community enjoys monthly screenings in the village hall.
Jim Barratt, the outgoing Chair, told us that the screenings are the most attended event in the small Welsh village situated just outside of Cardiff. The venue provides a place to socialise and to see films that audiences would have to drive half an hour to the nearest cinema to see! Many of the screenings at Llancarfan support local charities or clubs and are often themed around seasonal events or chosen for families to enjoy.
Such is the success of Llancarfan Community Cinema that neighbouring villages have been inspired to set up their own venues – that really is neighbourhood cinema!
Wem Town Hall
In the heart of Wem, Shropshire, half an hour from the nearest cinema in Shrewsbury, Wem Town Hall treats 5,000 residents to a broad choice of programming.
Rose Horner, who organises screenings in the spacious hall, told us about the Best of British and World Cinema Project: a stamp card loyalty scheme where you earn a stamp each time you see a world or British-made film; after collecting five stamps, you get the sixth film for free! This encourages audiences to seek out cine showings other than mainstream American films and to keep coming back to the Town Hall.
Wem Town Hall also offers subsidised transportation for dementia sufferers to their friendly screenings, which draw people in from neighbouring towns too. You’re never short of choice in Wem - they’ve listed almost 200 screenings on the BFI Neighbourhood Cinema website!
In Newham, London, Abdel Khairoun runs Maghreb Ciné which uses a revived arts space for its screenings. The programme includes films from the North African culture (to which the name ‘Maghreb’ refers) and further afield. This appeals to and reflects the diverse community who attend while giving young people – who are receptive to the culture through music, fashion and food – access to a cinematic programme that includes Maghreb offerings.
Films are chosen to coincide with events that highlight certain topics and are introduced by an expert who talks in detail about the issues explored. The venue stays open after screenings to allow for discussion in an informal atmosphere. This widens awareness of the issue that is in the spotlight while bringing cinema from other cultures to audiences.
Strand Arts Centre
The not-for-profit Strand Arts Centre is a beautiful Art Deco building in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Strand’s CEO Mimi Turtle told us about films and events at the Strand, such as cast and crew Q&As. Some of their programming highlights local talent or showcases content that has a local connection – for example, films that were produced in the nearby Titanic Studios. Other offerings make use of the 35mm projector, which was used to screen Interview with a Vampire accompanied by a Q&A with director Neil Jordan. The Strand also use their 35mm projector for heritage tours and workshops which include splicing skills!
From inviting people into their venue to going out into the community, the Strand also engages with church groups, primary schools and youth clubs to spread a welcoming message and, as Mimi says, to raise awareness of “something that is, at large, a community asset”.
The Strand has recently redone its foyer and local suppliers are contracted to fill up the shelves with tempting treats, but it also has big ambitions for a total makeover. This will improve accessibility into the impressive community venue and make the Strand Arts Centre even prettier.
Artrix Arts Centre
Artrix Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary arts rehearsal and exhibition space in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire that frequently holds film screenings.
The director, Hannah Phillips, told us all about what the venue gives to the community. Artrix is known for its popular drive-in screenings, but we were delighted to learn about a children’s drive-in where kids crafted automobiles in which to sit while watching Cars! Drive-in screenings for grownups have included Grease, Dirty Dancing and Carol, which was screened around Valentine’s Day to reflect and cater for diversity along with a free screening of Pride as part of LGBT networking.
As well as drive-ins, Artrix went the extra mile with their BFI Black Star showing of Blade. The venue was decorated and local actors were outfitted as characters from the film making the screening totally immersive for audience members, some of whom joined in with the dressing up! Clips from this and other fabulous events are shown on the digital screens in the recently opened café. Artrix also puts on ‘over 55s screenings’ with a free hot drink, relaxed ‘parent-baby screenings’ and outdoor showings at Avoncroft Museum using their BFI-granted projector.
Film at the Folk Hall
The model village of New Earswick sits just outside of York in North Yorkshire. Founded by confectioner Joseph Rowntree as a home for factory workers, the village’s Folk Hall is still a multi-use centre for the community. A social study on loneliness and isolation in the area lead to the creation of the New Earswick Less Loneliness Initiative (NELLI) which inspired Christine Cooke to set up NELLIvision with the aim of giving those who may have mobility or financial issues the opportunity to watch a film in a social setting.
Sam Watling later took over NELLIvision and rebranded it as Film at the Folk Hall, which welcomes everyone from the community to its screenings. Sam and his host of volunteers curate a programme that aims at inclusivity and which is often in conjunction with other community ventures.
For example, a screening of Still Alice was preceded by talks and short films about dementia awareness; a screening of I, Daniel Blake included a Q&A with lead actor Dave Johns speaking on the subject of the stigma of poverty; and the next film Carol will be screened in association with a local LGBT+ group. Sam feels that missing out on films means missing out on a part of society and is clearly dedicated to fostering a welcoming atmosphere at the Folk Hall, saying “you’re welcome here no matter who you are”.
These are just some of the stories of the fabulous work that community venue leaders and volunteers are doing to bring film to neighbourhoods all over the United Kingdom. They’ve had support from their local councils, forged partnerships with local businesses and networked with other community venue leaders to get help and share best practice but, ultimately, the success of these community cinemas is down to the tenacity and hard work of the leaders and volunteers. We applaud them all for removing geographic, social and economic barriers to cinema and ensuring everyone in their community can access film.
Although the BFI Neighbourhood Cinema Fund has now closed, community cinemas will continue to be supported by the Film Audience Network and Touring Cinemas are eligible to apply to the BFI Audience Fund. There are also many other organisations that can help you with support and funding and our website and newsletter will continue. Don’t forget to keep your screenings updated on your profile page – these are sent to the Press Association every week for inclusion in the ‘what’s on’ section of local and national press so will help you to build your audiences.
Finally, a huge thank you from BFI Neighbourhood Cinema to all of the community cinema leaders and volunteers – your hard work in keeping cinema alive across the UK is very much appreciated.