SPOTLIGHT programme announced by BFI Film Audience Network to invest in culturally underserved communities

The programme will see investment in eight local areas across the UK to boost audience choice and improve access to screenings of independent film.

13 March 2024

Outdoor screening at Folkestone Harbour as part of the BFI’s Powell and Pressburger season © Matt Rowe

Announced today as part of the latest iteration of BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), SPOTLIGHT sees additional BFI National Lottery investment in eight local areas across the UK to boost audience choice and improve access to screenings of independent film. In addition, each FAN Hub now also has funding available – totalling over £750,000 – to support a wide range of exhibition activity across the UK, and Network is also rolling out significant skills programmes to upskill exhibition professionals. This comes as an external evaluation of BFI FAN is published, highlighting its success in reaching new audiences and broadening access to screen culture. 

For BFI FAN 2023 to 2026, the BFI ringfenced £1.85 million National Lottery funding for SPOTLIGHT. It takes a hyper-local approach to developing screenings in eight areas, each identified as having little or no screening provision by their local Film Hubs. The projects will be delivered over three years, in many cases operating in partnership with locally based film organisations, with an end goal of establishing audiences and screening activities that can be sustained and continue once this targeted support ends.  

The SPOTLIGHT areas and the partners set to receive support are: 

  • Film Hub London: Barking & Dagenham and Newham 
  • Film Hub Midlands: Stoke on Trent and Stafford, in partnership with Flatpack Festival 
  • Film Hub Northern Ireland: Newry & Mourne, in partnership with Newcastle Community Cinema  
  • Film Hub North: Sunderland, in partnership with Sunderland Shorts Film Festival  
  • Film Hub Scotland: Moray Firth area, in partnership with Eden Court, Inverness  
  • Film Hub South East: Peterborough, in partnership with the Gateway Film Festival 
  • Film Hub South West: Swindon, in partnership with Create Studios 
  • Film Hub Wales: Rural Conwy, in partnership with TAPE, Community Music & Film 

“The aim of BFI FAN has always been to open up access and opportunity for everyone across the UK to be able to discover and watch a rich variety of UK and international indie film,” says Ben Luxford, BFI’s Director of UK Audiences. “Given the ongoing challenges the exhibition sector is facing, the value of FAN, particularly the financial support and training it offers, is more vital than ever. The latest FAN evaluation outlines where it has had a positive impact and helped us set the roadmap for this latest iteration – it tells us that having a connected national network which has a localised approach is key to its success. In introducing SPOTLIGHT we want to encourage ultra-local audience development, focussing on a specific area that is underserved and enable the Hubs to take action to improve the offer and engage the local community. As well as benefit to those audiences, we also hope the whole of FAN will gather learnings to make longer-term impact.” 

Also rolling out in 2024 are a series of BFI FAN skills and development initiatives intended to provide Hub members with access to vital training and learning opportunities. These include REACH: Strategic Audience Development training which has been created by the ICO and run for four previous editions. This intensive course will give its participants an opportunity to build their expertise in growing and developing audiences and is soon to be followed by a new course – Revisiting Your Cinema Business Model – intended to address the pressing need for greater financial and commercial knowledge within cinemas across the UK

A regular programme of online webinars is also being offered to FAN members across the UK covering a range of topics including environmental sustainability, access, working with young audiences and screen heritage. Later this year will also see the launch of a new BFI FAN Conference, bringing member organisations together to share best practice in reaching audiences with innovative film programmes and develop a more connected community of peers within the Network.

These initiatives come as BFI FAN published an evaluation of its activity between 2018 and 2022 undertaken by Indigo Ltd. The report highlights the success of the decentralised funding model that saw an £8 million investment support over 2,428 projects that added an estimated value of at least £21.2 million to the economy. FAN exceeded its ambitious audience targets, with supported activity achieving almost 2.3 million admissions from 1,514 audience facing projects.