Article: This Way Up 2019: Film students discuss the future of independent film exhibition and the need to adapt

This Way Up 2019, the annual UK film exhibition innovation conference, was jam-packed with discussions, talks and debates designed to enlighten, inspire and challenge.

Part of the weekend, saw a reverse panel of film students ask exhibitors questions about the challenges the industry and how it could change over the next few years.

Following the event, The Bigger Picture reached out to the panelists for their thoughts on the event. 17-year-old film student Michael Parker O’Brien from Barnsley, who attended the conference after going to a BFI residential course, decided to write about what he learned from the two-day event and how he thinks independent venues can adapt to the ever-changing environment.

In the last few years, independent cinemas have taken a massive hit from multiplexes. Many believe the future of independent cinema relies on changes made within the marketing and programming system, aligning it more to mainstream films. However, I believe some of the individuality would be lost and independent cinema would take an even greater hit. Instead, venues must look to the communal film-going experience and how that can spark conversation and grow audience attendance.

In the talks I attended, many suggested taking successful aspects of chain cinema such as showing more mainstream films. Although this may entice a temporary audience, I believe they would have no loyalty to the cinema and are just as likely to return to their local Vue or Curzon. Obviously, it takes time to cultivate a following, and to appeal to a wider audience. Memberships and loyalty cards were also mentioned as good ideas.

I learned a lot about what the future of cinema holds and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of passion people have for independent cinema, which I believe is vital for its future success. People are interested in things that others are passionate about, and there was an abundance of that.

From a student’s perspective, alongside the important story, quality and ambience are the other two important aspects that I’d expect from an independent exhibitor. If you go to a chain cinema, it is mostly a transactional experience of just seeing the film, but if you go to an independent venue, the overall experience  is just as important. If more young people gave it a chance, I believe they would realise that it would provide them with the opportunity to meet likeminded people and talk about the questions the movie may have prompted.

Qualities such as comfortable cafes, where people can meet and discuss the movie they have just watched will help to entice and keep potential new audiences. They are what will help independent cinemas appeal to a new generation of cinema goers. I understand that not every cinema has the means to have an on-site café, but small things such as value-added screenings (such as with talent Q&As)  and social events might potentially increase audiences. Inviting the audience to participate on an online forum to discuss the film would be a nice idea.

Overall, I see the future of independent cinema to be bright. People want something to support and to hear a story not often told. I believe that over the coming years people will tire of the vanilla experience of chain cinemas and will relish the opportunity to watch an independent film whilst supporting the local community.

More information on This Way Up, visit the conference’s website about previous programmes and upcoming events.

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