Article: Dementia friendly screenings: A guide for cinemas

An audience enjoys a dementia-friendly film screening (via Royal Albert Hall)

An audience enjoys a dementia-friendly film screening (via Royal Albert Hall)

Dementia friendly screenings have been occurring in some pockets across the UK for a number of years, and there have long in the sector been silver screenings, targeting older audiences, many of whom appear at the cinema with the condition and require additional support to get comfortable and enjoy a film.

In an aim to share the best practice from the pioneers in the provision of dementia friendly screenings to encourage other cinema exhibitors to give DFS a go, BFI FAN, the UK Cinema Association and Alzheimer’s Society partnered up to produce a how-to guide. The guide contains practical information about how to research, set up, run and evaluate a dementia friendly programme. It includes some data around dementia, as well as lists of useful organisations to partner with, and links to programming advice.

BAFTA®-winning actress and Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador, Carey Mulligan, whose grandmother ‘Nans’ lived with dementia wrote the foreword for the guide, and said: “Film has such a proud history of giving voice to those who do not have one. Becoming dementia friendly means cinemas can continue this by ensuring that everyone – regardless of any condition – feels welcome, supported and valued to take part in the cinematic experience. Creating a social space where those affected by dementia can enjoy a simple leisure activity with their loved ones is so important, and helps to create a more inclusive society for all.”

You can find the guide at

It was released just after World Alzheimer’s Month 2017, which saw over 39 FAN exhibitors run 46 screenings, covered by The Guardian and Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review.

Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer. Someone develops it every three minutes and it’s likely to affect 1 million by 2021 – but there is currently no cure. It’s not a natural part of ageing, but a debilitating condition caused by a variety of illnesses, the most common being Alzheimer’s. Early onset dementia can strike people in their 40s, 50s and 60s and even someone as young as 25 has been diagnosed. It’s easy for people to remember the worst of the condition, but important to remember that it’s progressive and someone diagnosed can live well for many years before the condition negates their quality of life.

One of the most compelling facts to be shared in the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends session is that someone living with dementia can retain their emotional memory very much in tact, while the chronological facts of a day can be lost quite quickly. So, a fight with a family member may be forgotten but the anger and sadness might linger. The plot of a film may be forgotten, but the joy of the experience can live on. This is a helpful reminder to people that don’t live with dementia that spending time focusing on those things that make you happy is really important and makes the efforts of dementia friendly screenings really worthwhile. Confidence to go out can be a major block for carers and those diagnosed, so a supportive environment communicated effectively by cinemas can be a real incentive to audiences, and is a powerful offer for an exhibitor’s community.

The guide has already been embraced by many cinema providers and was launched at Hackney Picturehouse (the first UK Picturehouse to host dementia friendly screenings) by the three partners, with case studies and presentations from Phoenix East Finchley, Picturehouse Cinemas and Courtyard Hereford.

It was developed using resources and case studies from Tinted Lens – Chapter Arts Cardiff, Tyneside Cinema, A Life More Ordinary – Dukes Lancaster, Cinema Club Kent, Musical Matinee Club – De La Warr Pavilion, Queens Film Theatre Belfast, Royal Albert Hall, Lost in Film – Lostwithiel Cornwall, Bracknell Film Society – South Hill Park Arts Centre,  Creative Ageing – The Courtyard Hereford, Picturehouse Cinemas, London Screen Archives, and Theatr Colwyn.

Lorraine Brown, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 at the age of 61, said about the dementia friendly cinema guide:

“I’ve always loved going to the cinema but it isn’t always easy being a customer with dementia. There are lots of easy changes cinemas can make so that people, like me, feel confident to continue doing the things they love. When my local cinema lit up the aisle better, I could see my seat number and easily get in and out of the room if I needed to. It’s great to know cinemas can use this guide to make things better for people with dementia. It’s such a pleasure here in my hometown launching this new dementia friendly guide today. I want everyone to know I am Lorraine first and a person with dementia second.”

If you have stories to share about dementia, you’d like to share news about screenings you’re running, or find out more about how to do them, please contact access officer at FAN, Toki Allison:  Toki supports FAN hubs with their inclusive cinema projects so can be contacted about any projects that concern access or diversity.

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