What have we come up with? As moviegoing resumes in a new context, indie exhibitors will be in a unique position to challenge the mainstream, by leading the way with access provision, inclusive programming and by delivering online events that complement or work in parallel to IRL events, rather than against them. We don’t have all the answers, even for ourselves, but we think these are good ideas.
- Maybe do nothing. At the outset, we took a nod from our friend Herb Shellenberger (Rep Cinema International, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival) who was an early and influential proponent of #CancelEverything. When we began cancelling events – some announced, some that were lined up but not public yet – we spent a long time thinking about whether we should do anything at all to add to the endless lists of recommendations, the watch-alongs, the quizzes, etc. We didn’t want to contribute to the noise, which was becoming overwhelming, just for the sake of it–it felt superfluous at best, vanity at worst. Doing nothing is a luxury cinemas can’t afford, maybe, but then we’re not a cinema. NB “nothing” is a misnomer – it also incorporates watching, planning, scheming, writing, researching, networking – everything that’s invisible to the audience.
- Be worthwhile. Online is not the enemy, nor is it temporary. The internet offers opportunities that brick and mortar venues simply can’t–but the two needn’t be in opposition. Online is an opportunity, not a threat, and as curators and creative programmers we can embrace both. At the same time, now that every cinema in the land is handing out links to their Netflix recommendations and directors are using the pages of Sight & Sound to recommend free torrent streaming sites, we need to sincerely ask ourselves, why do you do what you do? Who is already doing what you do? What can you offer that no-one else does? Would your time be better spent supporting or signal-boosting other voices? How can you be better?
- Be best not first. Take the time to figure out what you want to do. At the beginning of lockdown, we began to puzzle out what would be productive and worthwhile to do, we also asked our Facebook and Twitter followers what they might want from us. We low-key collaborated with Bristol Bad Film Club on a watch-along (it was really their show, though). We curated some (5) YouTube-derived programmes for Trasho Biblio’s Trasho TV. We cancelled some events, postponed others, and began planning the best ways to deliver the ones we still could. We’ve looked at different platforms and approaches for different events, we’re planning print material to complement online events and we’re rethinking whole festival programmes with a view to delivering something that could only happen online, as opposed to contingencies, or even just complementary content. We’ve accumulated reviews and recommendations but mostly we’ve watched and listened and reached out and discussed.
- Expand your horizons. Our monthly Scalarama Glasgow meetings are designed to be a place for experienced exhibitors to collaborate and cross-promote, and to give absolute beginners the support and encouragement to get started. Our recent Zoom-based meetings have had expert contributions from exhibitors and distributors from across the UK, Europe and North America, as we’re no longer limited to inviting local guest speakers, or those who could travel/we could pay to travel. We even took the opportunity to schedule an in-conversation with Canada-based genre programming godhead Kier-La Janisse. Sure, lots of people are furloughed or out of work currently – but they likely would have agreed to join us online pre-pandemic, if we’d asked.
- Be accessible. Consider, when you’re sharing content, whether it’s accessible to everyone or if you can make it so. Have the films got descriptive subtitles or BSL interpretation or audio description? Have you sourced or created subtitles for the deaf when you could have? Think about your audience, or your potential audience, who might not have access to high-speed broadband, or even the internet. Some of these measures are challenging for indie exhibitors with stretched resources and no budgets. On the other hand, there are lots of platforms that support access provision and lots of organisations that will help you deliver it, whether with training or funding or just sharing readily available and increasingly easier to implement how-to guides. Not everyone does, but if you do have free time, maybe it’s better spent looking into access.
Since we stopped to think, the second half of 2020 is looking a little less daunting.