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June 8, 2010

The rise and rise of community cinema

The relentless march of the multiplex may have spawned a new generation of cinema goers but it has been the death knell for the independent cinema. Less than a handful survive.  A few months ago we reported on one rural community’s effort to plug this gap. We had no idea what was happening elsewhere

At present there are forty five community cinemas and film societies affiliated to BFFS Scotland and more are joining each year. The last three years in Fife alone has seen the establishing of five community cinemas in Newburgh, Crail, Colinsburgh, Glenrothes and Leven. The last has taken over the old Regent cinema in Leven and, having renovated it, opened for business in March.

With residents in rural areas of Scotland having little access to cinemas, here’s how to start your own.
Did you know that between Dundee and Aberdeen there are no commercial cinemas? All over Scotland there are thousands of small communities who do not register on the commercial radar of the multiplexes and are not catered for by that system.

Bizarrely, this situation occurs at the moment that digital technology has made high quality cinema both economically and technically available for small communities. Community Cinema, that is a cinema organised by the community and run by the community outwith the neurosis of the commercial world, is an idea whose time has come.

The birth of the multiplex
Changes to Scotland’s cinemas began back in the seventies, a curious time for  film. It produced classics such as The Godfather, Chinatown and The Tin Drum but also saw something of a public flight from the cinema and the closure of thousands of traditional Roxy’s Essoldos and Regals all over the country.
When audiences returned to film in the late eighties, the theatre gap was filled by the multiplex.
The multi-screen cinema is large, efficient and provides a cinema experience, complete with buckets of popcorn and as many sweets that you could eat without becoming glycaemic. The downside is that they are organised around the ideology of the market economy: their existence relies on vast capital outlay and thus it demands high income return.
Consequently, multiplexes are situated in areas of high population density and are targeted at a young audience with a large amount of disposable income. It needs to maximise profit and only courts the audience that can satisfy this need and logically only provides films attractive to this audience.
The 21st century economics of commercial film is stark and has no time or place for film lovers not situated in the demographics of high return or enamoured of Hollywood blockbusters.
Starting your own cinema

In Scotland today there is a scattering of independent commercial cinemas bravely delivering imaginative programming in a harsh unforgiving economic climate.

They are, sadly, few in number and their distribution is random. Communities that find themselves too far from their nearest cinema to make a trip feasible can, however, run their own cinema. And it’s remarkably easy.

The main two requirements are a village or church hall of a reasonable size (to seat 40+) and at least four enthusiastic volunteers.

Costs-wise, initially you will need to factor in the hall hire, and the cost of the screening licence. If you supply your own DVD the cost of the licence is unlikely to exceed £100 for a single screening, add hall hire of £30 and at £4 a ticket you are looking at an audience of 35 to clear your costs.

A membership scheme gives a degree of financial security to a club. There are lots of booklets and advice available for those thinking of setting up a community cinema. A good point would be to get in touch with the British Federation of Film Societies, Scotland.

Being an organisation dedicated to developing community cinema, they have experience and expertise in the setting up of new clubs and also have equipment that can be hired very cheaply while a new club is negotiating the Byzantine world of grants in order to purchase their own. Most viable new clubs have their own equipment within eighteen months.

So, if you find yourself sitting at home on a Sunday reading the film reviews in the colour section and would love to see Bright Star or Away We Go on a screen larger than your TV, it is possible and you could make it happen.