The 2023 Cinema For All conference took place at Workstation, Sheffield, a fantastic former 1930s' car showroom, converted into a unique cultural hub in the heart of Sheffield's Cultural Industries Quarter.
Comprising conferencing rooms, social space and attached to Showroom independent cinema, café bar and creative workspace, it provided the perfect venue for hundreds of keen community cinema organisers to convene for 2 jam packed days of inspirational content, screenings and social opportunities.
After a warm welcome from the Cinema For All team, the sessions opened with a fascinating talk from Dr. Matthew Jones from The University of Exeter who has been tasked with a two year project ahead of the 100th anniversary of the first film society of digitally archiving Cinema For All ’s rich history, reminding us of the importance of looking back in order to move forward. This reflective opening provided the context for the conference theme - ‘The Community Cinema of the Future’. The program was split into 4 key sessions exploring what the community cinema of the future might look like. How we might respond to technological changes, issues around format and streaming, how we might reach out to and collaborate with our community and how we might lessen our impact on the environment and use the power of cinema to help protect it.
The first workshop of the day focused on Climate Action for Community Cinemas and featured a particularly inspiring case study from Jennifer Lowe from Leigh Film Society who’s volunteers have built their own cinema using only recycled or repurposed materials and sustainable practices. Wow!
The second session featured a diverse panel from varying perspectives to talk about The Future of Film Programming. In a group activity we were able to break out and talk to other organisations about how they curate a balanced but challenging programme, and what streaming services mean for the future of film availability.
Buzzing with ideas, it was time to recline to our favourite position in a dark room to watch Bunch of Amateurs - a tender and though provoking documentary that highlights the power of community through it’s protagonists, the Bradford Movie Makers - one of the oldest amateur filmmaking clubs in the world. It was poignant to our own community cinema community for many reasons but particularly relevant to this conference’s theme - to look at the past and learn from the rich heritage of volunteer community cinema life to explore how we can use that knowledge to preserve more of the memories of our individual organisations.
The Saturday night saw the Film Society of the Year Awards - a brilliant celebration of the fantastic efforts of organisers who have tried to keep their communities together over the challenging pandemic period. It was co-hosted by A Bunch of Amateurs director Kim Hopkins and as a fabulous surprise the cast, who we all fell in love with during the Bunch of Amateurs screening, showed up at the end and joined us all for the after-party!
Sunday started with an exciting talk on Rosetta Live as part of the Technology of Community Cinema session. We learnt about a gamechanging piece of kit that would allow Community Cinemas to include Event Cinema as part of their programming by receiving live streamed content such as Theatre, Ballet and Gig screenings.
After lunch followed the final session ‘Building Future Communities Through Film’ where we heard from Priscilla Igwe, founder of The New Black Film Collective, a nationwide network of Black producers, educators and programmers. Caroline Wilson fom Undr Ldn, a young curator hosting events, screening films and supporting local young filmmakers. Dimitris Poteas from Act One Cinema reaching out to Asylum seekers through community cinema and Shona Thompson from Regional Screen Scotland a curator of film events, festivals and tours across some of the most remote and lowest socio-economic Scottish communities.
In summary, attending the conference taught me:
- The importance of archiving
- To think more deeply about the environmental impacts of the events we put on
- How to expand our programming efforts to reach more people
- To explore collaborative ways of working with other organisations towards a common goal.
Whilst I only got to see one of the film screenings during the conference we will certainly be looking to include some of other films in our future programming for this year to help appeal to a wider and more diverse audience.
Han van Oudheusden received a bursary to attend the Community Cinema Conference.