Case Study: A Wall Is A Screen: Leith

A Wall Is A Screen: Leith was a free guided short film walk with films projected onto the exterior of buildings after dark that took place in August.

  • #awallisascreen

Why this matters

The community groups we worked with in the run-up to AWIAS might not normally engage with such an event normally, due a variety of possible reasons including the lateness of the event (sunset in Edinburgh in August is 9pm) and potentially feeling unwelcome/unsafe. These crucial pre-screenings were an open invitation for these groups to attend the AWIAS event and feel ownership over the proceedings due to prior insight and knowledge about what the event would entail.

I had worked with Young Saheliya a year prior to AWIAS, where they produced a zine during the LeithLate festival exploring feelings of personal intimidation that can take place in Leith at a late hour. Indeed, the girls themselves had been verbally abused a fortnight earlier than the AWIAS event during a daytime visit to a local park, and it was therefore even more poignant and empowering for them to make the decision to help steward the event, which began at a potentially intimidating location of a deserted shopping centre after dark on a Saturday night.

By primarily working with women from a BME background in the run-up to the event and choosing a theme of ‘Women and Sport’ was to provide potential inspiration to those who traditionally might not take part in sporting activities, due to their cultural background and beliefs. Indeed, this theme was explored by the young people from Young Saheliya during their Q&A with Farah Jamil prior to the Mary Kom screening, who asked a number of culture-specific questions including the need to cover her legs while fighting competitively. All the screenings in the project carried the important message that anyone could participate in cultural and sporting activities, no matter their background.

It was also vitally important to provide examples of films that community members could relate to, in order to see themselves reflected on screen. As well as the pre-event community screenings, this was also the case for The Banana Republic screening during the AWIAS event where, rather than avoid or objectify what could be viewed as an intimidating building from the outside, inclusion of Cables Wynd House during the event instead reflected the lives of real people who live there. Hopefully, attendees not previously familiar with the inside of the building and its residents, now feel a sense of insight and connection as a result of it being included in the event.

The overall intention behind the project was to reflect the many communities of Leith on screen and to bring them together in celebration. This is important as cultural activities such as A Wall Is A Screen: Leith which bring community members together can contribute positively to social cohesion and a sense of pride locally.

Project aims

  • Encourage a deeper understanding of film exhibition and specialist film (including world cinema and short films) whilst developing new audiences for specialist film.
  • Gain confidence and increase social skills through participation in film events.
  • Reflect Leith’s many communities on screen and to celebrate Leith through film.
  • Reach as a wide demographic locally as possible, as well as attracting an international Fringe audience to local events.
  • Generate inspiration to engage further with specialist film and related activities, with the potential for organisations and individuals to host their own film events in the future.

Headlines

  • Significant engagement with a varied local Leith demographic in the run-up and during the AWIAS event, with the majority of event attendees local residents during a time in the year when Edinburgh’s population triples due to the Edinburgh Festival. The appearance of female amateur championship boxer Farah Jamil at the screening of Mary Kom, with Young Saheliya members conducting the Q&A and treated to impromptu boxing lesson on stage! As a legacy for the project, Farah is conducting a full-length boxing workshop with the young women, a connection that would not have been made otherwise. That after engaging with the AWIAS project over a period of months, four members of young BME women’s group Young Saheliya helped steward the AWIAS event on the night - along with a variety of other local community members from a variety of backgrounds, aged 6 to 60. Screening locally-produced short films during the A Wall Is A Screen: Leith event, with the filmmakers introducing their films in person to the 600+ people in attendance.

Films

5 feature films/film programmes were screened to community groups and the general public in the run-up to the AWIAS event, including the BFI collection Britain on Film: South Asian Britain, Aardman animation Early Man and Bollywood biopic Mary Kom with special guest. During the A Wall Is A Screen: Leith event, 8 short films were screened in total, including archive short Edinburgh’s Housing Conditions licenced from the Moving Image Archive, site-specific documentary The Banana Republic (which was projected onto the side of the Banana Flats, where it was originally shot) and Taking Stock by local filmmaker Duncan Cowles.

Key partnerships

Young Saheliya - pre-event screenings conducted with this community group working with BME women and girls between 12-25, as well as helping steward the AWIAS event. Sikh Sanjog - pre-event screenings conducted with this community group working with BME women. Multi-Cultural Family Base - pre-event family-friendly screening conducted with this community group. Leith Community Cinema - pre-event family-friendly screening conducted with this community group. Leith Festival - local community festival helped provide stewards and promote the event locally. Save Leith Walk - local campaign group highlighted their cause at the start of the AWIAS event. Edinburgh Festival Fringe - AWIAS was promoted in the Fringe brochure as part of the Fringe during August. Police Scotland - two local Leith community officers attended the AWIAS event and assisted with the movement of people from location to location, particularly where there were busy roads.

Budget in brief

The overall budget for the event was £17,000 which comprised of £10,000 from Glasgow 2018 European Championships’ cultural fund, £3500 from City of Edinburgh Council’s local neighbourhood fund Leith Chooses, and £3500 from Film Hub Scotland’s Pilot Projects fund. This figure covered artist fees (including travel/accommodation) for the A Wall Is A Screen team (based in Hamburg, Germany), a local production manager fee and production budget, hire fees for film screenings taking place prior to the event, as well as event marketing, documentation, education outreach and administration costs. As total admissions were 750+, subsidy per person works out at around £20 a head.

What worked

  • Working successfully and meaningfully with local community groups in the run-up to the event (it helped that some relationships had already been built prior to the project taking place).
  • Connecting up individuals and organisations with resources - as well as Farah Jamil and Young Saheliya, we were also able to connect Multi-Cultural Family Base with Leith Community Cinema, who regularly screen family-friendly films in the local area.
  • Raising awareness of local film exhibition facilities e.g. at local McDonald Road Library for community groups.
  • Safe facilitation of movement of a large group of audience members from location to location during the AWIAS event, thanks to the welcome input of local community police officers on the night.
  • Providing high-quality free film events that reflect different communities on screen and which are open and inclusive to all.

What has been difficult

  • As a small team, we were somewhat limited by capacity to market the event more widely meaning some people were disappointed to learn of the AWIAS event after it had taken place (although there was a poster tower promoting the event up in the Newkirkgate Shopping Centre for a month prior). Advertising in the community for more volunteers to flyer the event might have helped us get the word out to more people.
  • There were a small number of noise complaints on the night of the AWIAS event, as it took place late into the evening. All have since been satisfied by the apology they received, and it is something we’re taking into consideration should we want to conduct a similar event at a late hour in a residential area in the future.

What you would do differently if you did it again

  • To take on more volunteers to help with basic tasks earlier in the project.
  • To market events more widely to the local community through a variety of different methods, both online and traditional.
  • The need to issue widely a personalised letter before the event to inform local residents about how they might be affected. (This was conducted, but admittedly only on a small scale.) Potentially even a drop-in event to raise awareness.

Awareness / Attitudes

The project raised awareness people with different life experiences, as reflected by the diverse characters on screen. It also promoted the notion that people (particularly women) are capable of participating in a variety of sports and cultural activities. Additional elements such as special guests also showed that characters on screen are not remote from individuals, by presenting relatable people to speak in relation to Mary Kom, e.g. Farah Jamil. This inspirational person was a role model for others, encouraging participants to follow their dreams.

Diversity

Over 50 people from a BME background attended our community screenings in advance of the A Wall Is A Screen: Leith event. It was important that the films on screen represented the lives and experience of POC characters. The films that were screened were chosen in collaboration with community groups, who made suggestions about what films they wanted to watch, rather than have BME-themed films imposed upon them.

Knowledge & Experience

The pre-screenings were inspiration for the young women in Young Saheliya to participate in activities outside their comfort zone and to succeed, e.g. conducting a Q&A with a stranger. Conducting these screenings in a variety of local venues and spaced raised awareness of local film exhibition opportunities to community groups and individuals. The AWIAS event itself involved taking people out of their everyday lives for a short period and transforming commonplace locations into sites for artistic activity, leaving a memory trace and possible inspiration for the future.

Social Cohesion

The project contributed to social cohesion by bringing a variety of local Leith communities together through cultural events, which also contributes to a sense of pride and belonging by seeing yourself reflected on screen. It was important to provide a range of high-quality free film events that were welcoming, open and inclusive to all, with opportunities to engage and discuss the films on screen.

Wellbeing

The project promoted increased wellbeing as a result of audiences seeing themselves reflected on screen during both the community screenings and the Leith-related material that was screened as part of the A Wall Is A Screen event. The AWIAS event also contributed to the promotion of healthy lifestyle as it involved audience members participating in an outdoor cultural event that requires walking between locations.

Economy

Over 600 people attended the A Wall Is A Screen: Leith event, which will have made a positive contribution to the local economy in the form of audience members spending money in local bars and restaurants before and after the event. For those attendees not already local to the area, the success of the event and insight into Leith would also have encouraged them to return at a later date. As a result of the AWIAS event, Leith was promoted on a global stage via the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, thus raising the profile of the area internationally.

What audiences said

  • "Thanks a lot for putting on such a brilliant event. I am very happy for you guys that so many people turned up for this (and also that the weather was on your side)."
  • "There must be at least a few hundred people down the Kirkgate for A Wall is a Screen tonight, it's been a great community event so far."
  • "Yes, I would say a few hundred people at least. Very community spirited. Enjoyed. Afraid the old legs wouldn’t allow us to do the walkabout but have heard nothing but good reviews. My house was also used as a screen in the Kirkgate and it was awesome all those people staring up at it. We had leaflets put through our letterbox...and there was a big round advert at the beginning of the Kirkgate Shopping Centre I believe. It was very good."
  • "I went along and liked the films at the beginning made me very sad as in all these years nothing much has changed and Leith is being ripped up again for no good purpose as far as I can see. The films in the middle I wondered at their relevance but thought the last film good and a fair reflection of what goes on today as well. Thanks to the people who arranged it all and glad there was such a good turn out."

What professionals, press and partners said

  • "Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for inviting us along and to say that 'A Wall is a Screen' was sublime in a number of ways, beautiful, exciting and an incredible example of art bringing community together. A very special evening in my life." Kairin (Save Leith Walk campaigner)
  • “The event wasn't just a film screening, but a meditation upon our city at night, an environment which most people are never around to see, and an exercise in connecting all involved with their neighbourhood and their neighbours.” (David Pollock, The List)
  • “A walking tour spliced with a film night, Hamburg-based film collective A Wall is a Screen sees film programmers take cinema out into the streets, using whatever wall space they can find to project short films.” (Jamie Dunn, The Skinny)

Press coverage

  • https://film.list.co.uk/article/102983-a-wall-is-a-screen-leith/
  • https://www.theskinny.co.uk/film/film-events/the- best-film-events-in-scotland-in-august-2018
  • http://sceptical.scot/2018/08/wall-screen-pop-festival-aims- reclaim-night/