Article: This Way Up 2020: New Year, New Cinema

As well as chairing the session on Reframing Recruitment during This Way Up 2020, Reba Martin writes for The Bigger Picture about how the seventh edition of the conference tackled the year’s unprecedented challenges and changes to the cinema industry. 

This Way Up 2020, spiritually at Watershed but virtually online, the 3 day conference for those working in the cinema exhibition and distribution sector; though welcomes all in between or curious. This year’s event was important as a space to – as Watershed CEO Clare Reddington perfectly summarised – share, release, and bear witness.  

It is inspiring to see everyone from CEO’s to Front of House staff come together to talk about our favourite day out so considerately and seriously. The film sector’s strength is found in its constant communal working and learning, constantly re-creating and coming together. 

Despite their different sizes, spaces, and settings; those working and volunteering in exhibition and distribution are united in their commonality of wanting to watch films with other people. Though we could not do that this year, the tech wizards at i2i created a platform that was cooperative and inventive. A really nice feature for a conference to switch up the zoom-fatigue!

Push for diversity

The all important questions of equity, access, and inclusion were front and centre across all talks and discussions. Attending last year (2019) for the first time, I felt frustrated about constant head scratching about the lack of diversity in both Audience and workforce. 

However TWU2020 turned the speculation into strategy. Sadia Pineda Hameed shared a booklet they created in collaboration with inclusive cinema ‘Dismantling Structural Inequality in Your Cinema’ , Sue Emmas spoke with me and offered practical steps to reframing the recruitment process to be more accessible and open, and representatives of BECTU and the Film + TV Charity enthused union advice is the perfectly named ‘An Injury to One is an Injury to All’ session.

Realising the hostile environment, further arts and community cuts, and mass unemployment, cinemas are releasing in beautiful and creative ways the invaluable privilege they have as bricks and mortar, cultural and community spaces. 

It’s nice for an online event, so detached from the cinema itself, to dedicate screen time to showing us around and showing us the cinema itself. I miss it a lot and it is nice to feel excited about the possibilities, reminded that the buildings still exist. 

A possible return to escapism?

On the final day, a favourite of mine who I suggested on a dreamy whim to the powers that be (big up yourselves Film Hub Scotland), the distinguished John Akomfrah offered up insight and wisdom. Mark Cosgrove asked the classic question “what was your first experience of cinema” to Akomfrah and BFI Creative Director Heather Stewart, to a new illuminating insight. 

Frankly discussing the terror and loneliness that sitting in a cinema inspires – across all genres – between Mark, John, Heather and the attendee live-chat, an openness into what art means to us all proved a stronger connection than our wifi. 

For all the talk about audiences, often assessed as what Rabab Ghazoul critiqued last year as ‘clunky-categories’, they are often still obscure – but getting down to the thrilling yet comforting emotional rollercoaster we all experience helps us understand each other a little bit better.

We have the power to orientate our work to create what we want to see in the world around us. Ashanti Mcintosh reported that the market is alive and well, that films are still being made, though now escapism and a return to genre appear to be on the horizon. There are plenty more talks that I saw, and am excited to watch back and I will be keeping a beady eye on what’s to come!

Being on the development forum was an experience that allowed me to understand and appreciate This Way Up from a different viewpoint. The idea of a conference as somebody ‘creatively inclined’ sounds – to be honest – awful. But the idea of a space and few days for people working towards the same communal creative goal? Much better.

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