This is the full interview for an article that appeared in the Yorkshire Post, January 2012.
Interview with Melanie, Jenny and Alison
Daniel Dylan Wray, January 2012
So, the initial idea stemmed from a junior school performance. Was the success of that the catalyst for extending and creating the club? Or had it always been on your minds? Can you tell us a bit about how the school project came about.
Melanie: I had studied film and been involved in the industry, have always loved cinema and missed having people who shared my passion. (My family like blockbuster stuff and I’m an art house girl at heart!) So I had been thinking about a film club run along the lines of a book club for a while. I’d also been working with a pop up multimedia arts project as community artist and that made me think there was mileage in doing more along the same lines.
But the main inspiration for me was visiting a community arts centre in Nuremberg in Germany, based in an old school building, that housed different projects – dance studio, library, gallery and café space, accommodating different cultural groups – it was so creatively alive and exciting. Back home, the school in my local neighbourhood seemed a perfect venue to try to replicate something similar.
I’d worked with Luisa (the other original co-founder) before and knew she was up for new projects, so we put on a Christmas film just to see if anyone would come – and they did!
Alison: I wanted to get involved because I love film and for years I’d been thinking a local cinema club would be a very cool thing to have.
Jenny: I was getting increasingly interested in community cinema and a contact at the old junior school put me in touch with Mel and the rest is Film Club history…
What steps did you take in order to start the club properly?
A: With the help of the British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS), we investigated what kind of licences are needed to screen films. It turns out it’s very complicated and expensive! But we chose the MPLC umbrella licence, which gives us a year’s access to a limited number of films that we can screen to members. So we also had to set up a membership scheme, but the licensing restrictions meant we couldn’t charge.
Do you own all your own equipment? Has it been difficult to organise in a practical sense?
A: On the whole, we beg and borrow equipment – our screen belongs to the No Limits student film festival, we bought our projector with some community funding, our original DVD player was donated by Medlo but we’ve just bought a new one, and we’ve just got hold of some speakers and an amp donated.
M: We got a bit of funding from the Community Assembly Kids Can Do grant, which helped us to plan ahead, starting with an educational strand – we collaborated with the national FILMCLUB to do screenings and workshops at some local schools and we also put on a weekly summer holiday film club which turned out to be very popular. But mostly we are self-funded, all the takings from our events go back into the club. Practically speaking, there is a heck of a lot of “schlepping” – lugging the equipment about, taking it to new venues and setting it up is always potentially hairy! Making sure the room is dark enough and putting up blackout is often quite tough and we have spent a lot of time shinning up and down ladders with gaffer tape! But we have been very lucky to get help from all sorts of serendipitous sources.
J: I’ve been really touched by small acts of kindness…people lending their popcorn machine for the evening, or offering to stack chairs at the end.
What and where was your first screening?
M: We screened a colour version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ at Sharrow Old Junior School on a Sunday afternoon before Christmas 2010, transforming the hall into a 1940s living room with Christmas tree, fairylights and decorations, and lots of people came. It was a bit like an old fashioned family Christmas watching a classic film together – a bit of a ragtag collection of chairs and sofas, kids lying on rugs and cushions at the front, the sky getting dark outside; there was a party atmosphere from the start, someone even produced a popcorn machine, and it all just went from there…
This initially started as an S7 project, is that right? But you now put on events all across the city?
A: Mel, Alison and Lu all live in S7, and we were born from the Creative Action Network, a Sharrow community organisation, so S7 is our home. But we have used venues around the city, and will go wherever there’s a suitable place to screen our films.
J: I’m not in S7 but close by. It’s good to have a connection with a place, but we’re open to screenings all over Sheffield if the place is right for the film.
Any particular highlights from doing the club so far?
A: My favourite screening so far was the Summer’s End Soirée at ReCycle Bikes in Heeley. We did it outside in their courtyard, the last day of the summer holidays 2011, and there was a real festival feel. It all came together to be something really special. Being a guest on the film review show on Sheffield Live radio was a lot of fun too. And our Victorian screening of Kind Hearts and Coronets at The Lantern Theatre was great, even if the audience was small in number.
M: I always love the feeling of relief when, once again, sometimes by the skin of our teeth, the lights go down and the film begins… but for me, one of the main highlights was meeting Alison and Jenny. We’d done two or three screenings by this time but Lu was wanting to concentrate on other things and I couldn’t do it all on my own. They both magically appeared just at the right time – serendipity again!
J: It’s got to be watching Shaun of The Dead upstairs at The Rutland. It was my birthday, and it was perfect… cake, beer, film and friends.
It seems more than just a film club that you run. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach the screenings, which venues you pick? How important are the surroundings for the film in question?
A: We want our screenings to have atmosphere, to really add to the experience of watching the film, so the venue has to reflect that to some extent – to have a good vibe. But we don’t just do themed events. For me, the film is the focus: if it’s good enough, it doesn’t matter where you are. Great cinema transports you to another world.
M: Ideally we would choose the venue to suit the atmosphere of the film, although we don’t have the resources for meticulous installation-type set dressing like London’s Secret Cinema. However, as Alison says, it’s more about creating the sense of something a bit more intimate and personal than the average seat in a multiplex. A feeling of being part of something special with a select group of people. We also like to do a bit of home baking for that ‘in your living room’ feel!
J: I love getting people together around a shared experience and the buzz when we pull it off is pure magic.
You run the club for free, accepting donations. Is this something you will always hope to do? Does it cost you much to put these events on?
A: As long as we don’t pay for the venue and can get a film licensed by the MPLC, our running overheads for each screening are quite low. Sometimes, a film or event tie-in is big enough to make it worth buying a commercial screening licence, which we then have to charge for. Obviously, we put a lot of time and effort into running the club and don’t get paid for this, but luckily we love doing it.
M: Yes. Are we completely crazy or what??!
J: Yes. We are crazy.
It very much feels to me that in these times of uncertainty and austerity such cultural (and free) events as these are of fundamental importance to people, communities and art lovers across the city. Is this my interpretation or do you view it in the same way?
A: That’s a fair interpretation; personally, I love the cinema, no-one else was really doing an underground film club, so I’m just trying to do something interesting. It does feel like Sheffield has a real cultural buzz about it at the moment, so it’s brilliant to be part of that.
M: I feel really strongly that this kind of event is a sign of creative and cultural health; it’s not just the fact that it’s free of charge so much that people have had to make an effort to find out about it and that gives the events a bit of a buzz – kind of an insider thing, like the warehouse parties of the 90s. Sheffield has always been a place where ‘underground’ type music and art has thrived and it’s great to be part of that.
J: Yes, you can’t get what we do anywhere else in Sheffield. I think people feel quite differently about a paid-for ticketed event by a company running entertainment for profit and a group of women with a projector and a screen rattling a donations tin for the love of it.
How do you pick which films to screen?
A: We have excited conversations, bouncing ideas off each other about all the possibilities of what we could do, and something usually sticks. We also go through our list of members’ favourite films, and take into consideration suggestions from our website and Facebook page.
M: Wish we could show more of all our favourites but unfortunately licensing laws often dictate what we can and can’t show.
J: I love it when we are all sat round the kitchen table, or in the pub or a local caf and one of us says ‘Shall we…?’ and instead of seeing all the problems we just get out there and do it.
Has the club gotten more and more members and attendees as it’s gone on? Can you see yourselves getting bigger and expanding? If so, how?
A: Oh yes. We only did our first screening with the four of us organising in May 2011, and launched the membership scheme in July. We now have over 200 members, and a growing group of regulars who have been to several screenings. We have big plans for the year ahead, in terms of regular screenings and one-off collaborations, and are open to the opportunities these will present so who knows where it will take us?
J: Yes, readers, join up and be part of it.
If budget were no obstacle what would be your dream film to put on and in what location/theme?
A: Ooh…off the top of my head…Polanski’s Cul-De-Sac in the castle on Lindisfarne where it was filmed.
M: Hear hear. And I would show Bladerunner at the top of a huge corporate building which you have to ascend by lift, with additional projection going into the sky.
J: I would love to build an enormous camera obscura in the middle of Sheffield. Cinema and projection in its purest sense.