You might have seen our recent diagram of the Highs and Lows of Film Club with its zig-zagging rollercoaster ups and downs. At the moment we’re feeling optimistic for the future but like any arts organisation these days we are constantly trying to adapt to external pressures, find inventive ways to do the projects we want to do, keep our audiences happy, keep showing good and interesting films, keep our creative peckers up and indeed, just keep going.
One of the constants not shown in the up-and-down diagram but definitely there in the background is the BFFS. We are very proud to be members of the British Federation of Film Societies, based right here in Sheffield. Groucho Marx famously never wanted to be part of a club that would accept him as a member, and we usually know what he means, but this is a good exception to the rule.
BFFS is the organisation that has supported us – and other film clubs like us from all over the country – since we were just starting out. They have been advising film societies for years on structure, governance and membership, how to find a venue, what kind of seating (comfortable, every time – yeah, we sometimes break that rule, we know) on programming, publicity, budgeting, fundraising, and most of all on film licensing. We could maybe have done it all without them – but we’re very glad we didn’t.
BFFS is nearly as old as the Welfare State (actually the idea of a federation of film societies started in the 1920s with George Bernard Shaw among the founders) and in many ways shares similar values.
Their motto is “Cinema For All”. Their aim is to champion the community and independent cinema movement throughout the UK and promote a thriving film culture in all the little corners of the country that the mainstream and multiplexes can’t reach. With hundreds of member groups all over the country, they provide a network of like-minded organisations and the chance to meet and share experiences with other film clubs. It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones who have encountered a particular problem, or to find out how other groups do their marketing or what films their members have enjoyed most, and so on.
They even have international links with film clubs and the cinema industry in other countries. The Danish films we showed earlier this year came about through links between the Danish Film Institute and BFFS, for instance.
We haven’t moaned so much about licensing recently, have we? Through BFFS and their links with the industry we get a members’ discount, so we’ve been able to show some films that might otherwise have been well out of our budget range. Their catalogue of films is a delight just to browse through (and it’s interesting to see what other film societies are choosing, too). When we were tearing our hair out a few months ago, trying to track down the distributor for a certain film we wanted to show, BFFS were able to put out a trace and find that the distribution company who owned the rights to that film had gone bust, so it would be a while before it could be shown again in this country – so we chose another title. Having their guidance made the whole tricky process easier and less of a headache.
We don’t know any other organisation who has insider knowledge and experience of film culture and contacts with the wider industry but with such passion for independent and community cinema at heart. They really walk their talk.
They have their annual conference in a few weeks’ time which features the “British Film Society of the Year” awards. We would love to be voted FSOY one day but we decided that this year we just had a bit too much going on and not enough time to make a good application. Maybe next year….
Oh yes! And as if these weren’t enough reasons to love them, you can sing “B-F-F-S” to the tune of “Y-M-C-A”! The hand signals might be a bit more complicated though…
Our next screening, “Les Diaboliques” is a title provided by the BFFS and it’s a cracker. Do come along – you will not just be seeing a classic French thriller but you will also be supporting a historic and still-growing national movement to bring cinema alive in new ways and get people talking about and falling in love with film.
“Cinema For All”, we say!