For those of us working in the community sector, this is a time of deprivation, which adds to that experienced by many we support. It is a time of anxiety and uncertainty, hardship and strain. It is not without blessings. Nature has very quickly got on the rebound. The schisms of Brexit in the UK have been healed at a stroke, it would seem: we are all now in this together.
And we all owe a profound debt of gratitude to our health and social care workers, who are at the sharp end of this situation, protecting the most vulnerable, at great personal risk. Open Cinema has worked with the NHS to distribute health information films to street homeless people, and is ready to do so again after the lockdown restrictions are sufficiently eased for us to do so.
Because our activities depend on communal gatherings and community spaces, which are all now closed, or in the language of the theatre, "dark"; and because our London office is now closed, we are now only available as an online or phone-based service. We would welcome any such approaches from people planning community cinema activities once they are again possible.
And we encourage everyone to do so: to use this time - where the demands of family and professional life allow - to think creatively about what matters to you and your community. This feels to me like a great global winter, or 'new year' moment, where we have the opportunity to reflect on what we wish to leave behind, and what we wish to build towards.
I wish everyone in our communities the resilience, fellowship, and inspiration they need to endure this pandemic, all good health, and the sure hope that we will see each other again, and renew our endeavours to create an inclusive and harmonious world.
Christoph Warrack FRSA
Founder and CEO, Open Cinema
Thursday 23 April
On 17 September, Open Cinema took part in a panel on impact ventures in the creative industries. Alongside founders from Karizma Kids, Made TV and Nice and Serious, our founder Christoph described the origins of Open Cinema in a combining of passion, skill and addressing a pressing challenge. There were some candid moments, a lot of laughter and wisdom in the exchanges between audience and impact founders.
The event was hosted by Expert Impact is a 'human lending library', where world-class social and and commercial business leaders give their time to help impact founders address a critical question in their organisation's development. All those on the panel are alumni of the programme. They are currently accepting applications and you can find more information here: https://www.expertimpact.com
Under the banner of the Open House Film Club (running continuously to this day), we held our first community screening for a gathering of homeless men and women in Lent 2005. This actually makes us 14 and a quarter! But the voluntary project became a registered social enterprise on this day in 2009.
The film we presented was Mel Gibson's brutalist, Aramaic-language The Passion of the Christ, and since hosted by St Patrick's Catholic Church in Soho Square, we thought we might only be able to show religious films. The programme quickly evolved to more fully respond to the interests and ideas of its members, many experiencing the programmer's role for the first time.
So was unfolding the founding ideas and ethos of Open Cinema: participatory, inclusive, responsive cinema - just as it should be!
The last ten years have seen us move from Soho to Bethnal Green, back to Soho, to Bermondsey, Shoreditch, Sheffield, and now Somerset House in central London.
We've worked hard to propel young people into work and street homeless people into employment; we've shown and made films in the Houses of Parliament; participated in the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad (with a screening at the Royal Opera House of films made by homeless people from all over the world); collaborated with major brands, charities and universities; we've won our share of awards; we've shared our learning with peer organisations; and we've mentored, apprenticed and given the first rungs on the employment ladder to dozens of gifted young people.
But above all, through contributions to panels, forums, conferences, expert panels and consultations, and collaborations with academic researchers, law firms, business schools and government departments in the UK and internationally, we have championed the idea that community is at the heart of cinema; that without community, cinema risks perishing, and without locally owned and managed cinema, communities suffer exclusion and the loss of vital social and economic benefits.
Here then to the next 10 years (and the next 14 and a quarter), during which we hope to focus increasingly on the environmental crisis, and help communities address it by connecting them with the best films, speakers and resources in this all-defining area of the coming decades. Cinema as a business model may have had a wobble around its centenary. But its role in helping communities gather, explore, celebrate and imagine is more important now than ever.
OC Foundation's first country-level franchise has launched its first community cinemas in Helsinki and East Finland, with discussions underway about a first franchise agreement to create the regional network Open Cinema Oulo, for the eponymous region in the north of the country. For more information you can follow the ace OC Finland time via the following links
Open Cinema was at the fifth This Way Up conference - we've only missed one - in Liverpool on 5-6 December to discuss the evolution of cinema, and how it can favour communities.
There was an excellent, highly informed and entertaining presentation from Celluloid Junkie's Patrick von Sychowski, surveying big trends including 4D, the (fading?) US phenomenon of MoviePass, the advent of the £40 movie ticket (at the new Odeon Leicester Square), dynamic pricing and (of course) windows.
In a fireside chat, Clare Binns, head of programming at Picturehouse, took flack on their living wage policy, while returning none (nor any statement at all on this).
There was a terrific and important session on carbon literacy for cinemas, with a best-in-class case study from the ever-groundbreaking Depot in Lewes.
But our favourite presentation was from Tour de Cinemas (pictured), a two-person road trip across Europe to find the most creative grassroots solutions to dynamic local cinema. Watch that space for ideas on your community's.
Access VFX began in 2016 as a one-day event at The Mill in London, bringing young people from outer London boroughs into the Oscar-winning effects studio. In 2017 this was expanded to a week, included the collaboration of around 15 VFX and animation studios, and hosted two Open Cinema events (see OC Blog). Open Cinema by then was a member of the advisory group.
But this year the initiative became a movement, hosting events in ten cities and reaching thousands of young people with events, opportunities, networking and access to the much sought-after runner, internship and apprenticeship programmes of over 30 world-class visual effects studios.
Some industries might be said to talk a good game on diversity and inclusion. Young people from communities across the UK are now winning bright creative futures through Access VFX.
BFI FAN - the film audience network for UK cinemas - today launches a tool kit to help exhibitors and programmers bolster the diversity of their programming and audiences.
The resources include over 300 guides, training manuals and briefings. They are housed at inclusivecinema.org, will enable people running multiplexes or community cinemas to welcome more people to their spaces, from a broader range of backgrounds, and to encounter a programme more reflective of the world around them. Good news, we think.
You can download a BFI press release with further information here.
At the 2016 Community Screen Forum (CSF; see previous blog post), colleagues from community cinema networks agreed that there needed to be better information-gathering by the sector, and a better idea of the landscape and potential of community cinema.
Over the following year, representatives from North East Arts Touring, Driftwood Cinema, Indy Cinema Group and Open Cinema were convened by Creative Scotland, and a bid launched to Interface, which facilitates collaborations between research institutes and commercial or public sector organisations. The bid was successful!
Work began, with researchers at the University of Aberdeen and software architects at the University of Aberdeen. Open Cinema was funded separately by Creative Scotland (now Screen Scotland) to create an API of its digital platform for community cinema.
This July the first version saw the light of day, for now internally. We have mapped the locations and screening activity of 87 community and independent cinemas in Scotland. Once the project reaches the end of the funding period this September, project partners are seeking to develop the software into a listings app for community cinema in Scotland - something delegates at this year's CSF were also unanimous in calling for!
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2005, when the first Open Cinema (then Open House Film Club) screening took place, community cinema wasn't really a 'sector'. Beyond the British Federation of Film Societies (now Cinema for All), it was more of a backwater of cinema, with local enthusiasts undauntedly keeping alive the flame of projected film.
Since then, an emphatic flourishing of organisations, programming, and audiences has taken place. Over thirty organisations were present at this year's forum, the majority representing a local, regional or national network of community screens, plus researchers, enthusiasts, and a Japanese cinema architect.
There were keynote presentations by Stephen Follows on data, and Michael Pierce on Scalarama (coming round again this September) and reinventing organisations. Dr Stuart Hanson from de Montford University presented research on the contribution of cinema to local economies - including fascinating nuggets such as that cinemas on high streets make people walk instead of drive, and support local shops instead of chains.
Open Cinema Finland is live! After four years of development, a great launch of the franchise in Helsinki on 6 June gathered stakeholders from the film, community and education sectors, all excited by the beginning of a new framework for cultural inclusion across Finland. A screening of the award-winning, autism-focused documentary My Secret Forest was followed by a remarkable Q&A with its subject and star, Lauri, and with its producer Sara-Helena Rawat. Open Cinema founder Christoph was also on hand - after a customary smoke sauna and sea swim - to introduce the origins and some future directions for this network of distributed innovation. Kiitos!