Case Study: Cromarty Community Cinema – New Navigations

A group of 7 smiling people stand outside of a cinema for a group photo.

Cromarty Cinema is the community cinema for the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands. A 35-seat, fully accessible, modern cinema, it has taken shape due to the hard work of our committee, volunteers and generous donors. We show a good range of films, catering to the tastes of our local audience.


Programme launched on 22nd July in Cromarty with 5 Young Programmers involved in the process at all stages. 6 weeks of film screenings, special events, Q+As and a special moonlight swim took place with a high degree of interest from the public.

The theme of 'resilience' in the face of adversity ended up being even more relevant that we had imagined (at the planning stage).

Tactic of enhanced screenings - talks and recorded intros - was well received by audiences. Previous experience (running an annual film festival) indicates that film as a shared in-person experience is what's most valued by our community with special insights from professionals and others.

A deliberate mix of films including shorts, artists' film, documentaries, new feature, and a classic, ensured that there was something to hook everyone. The themes were clearly articulated from the outset and a wide and varied range of activities were built around the film screenings.

Project aims

  • Develop our Young Programmers (who were not a defined group prior to this).

  • Raise awareness about new research which highlights connections between Guyana and Cromarty.

  • Engage audiences in work that they might not be familiar with and encourage risktaking
    with film choices.

  • Screen films and host activity that raises spirits.

  • Deepen knowledge about aspects of film-making.


  • Breadth of activity and material attracted a loyal audience throughout.

  • Importance of creating a spirit of camaraderie with team working. Young Programmers and 2 mentors worked cooperatively and effectively as a team. 5 Young Programmers were involved in all aspects of the project planning and delivery including leading on key Q+As.

  • Special events were especially embraced by the public - impacts included increased
    business and new connections formed. Recorded intros helped to work around Covid and meant we were able to make events unique to Cromarty.

  • High quality of all elements of the programme including the print and design.

  • The support, the warm and enthusiastic response to the programme by the public and
    contributing film-makers.

  • All the learnings from the project will feed into future programming.


10 films which ranged from artists' films to shorts, documentaries, a feature and a classic.
'Black and Scottish'
'Lessons from Jeju'
'I Swim'
'Big Vs. Small'
'Million Dollar Mermaid'

Key partnerships

Eden Court (Inverness) assisted with aspects of the technical support and helped to get films formatted for screenings. This partnership is an ongoing and extremely valuable one.

Budget in brief

Budget was £5248. Spend was £5248.

In terms of deviation from original budget projections, a number of film-makers charged us a lower rate than had been forecast because we are a community-run entity and because they were highly supportive of what we were doing. This was refreshing and unexpected. Funds were channelled into fees for film-makers and others involved in in-person events or special recorded intros which enhanced the screenings. Other extras were added i.e. gifts of 'tea from the sea' were served by
Young Programmers during one of the special wellbeing and swimming themed screenings made by a
local herbalist. The local herbalist [Claire Mackay] also gave a memorable talk about lost traditions and the benefits of using locally sourced materials which was a bonus for audience members attending. Budget was used to build a programme that was unique. One specific high cost element was the print and design. This attracted much positive feedback and was fully accessible online.

What worked

  • Involving 5 young people in the process and mentoring them.

  • Making the process fun and inclusive throughout.

  • Having clearly defined themes which resonated locally and internationally.

  • Allocating a realistic level of funds and resources.

  • Factoring a lot of time to manage all the stages of the process.

  • Factoring extra tech support (because of the variety of firm formats).

  • Investing in high quality design and print and making this easily accessible online.

  • Programming a strong mixture of films - shorts, artists' films, docs, feature and old

  • Inviting and screening a number of special recorded intros helped to make the
    screenings feel unique to Cromarty.

  • Introduced lower ticket prices to actively encourage more young people to come
    along. This is something we will revisit with a new Japan season being hosted next

  • Making each screenings event unique.

  • There were a lot of learnings which we are taking on board planning future
    activities, screenings and programmes including a new season. We are basing the
    format, ticket pricing and print for example on the model used in this programme.
    We are keeping to the idea of a presenting a vibrant mix of films (shorts, artists'
    films, classics and features).

  • The project helped to clearly demonstrate to the community (and to ourselves as a volunteer-run entity) that the cinema can function effectively and be a community
    resource in all sorts of ways. Through programming ourselves, we can interrogate a
    diverse range of urgent issues and experiment and learn together.

  • Our 5 Young Programmers all gained new understanding and valuable
    experience which will help their CVs and be useful in more informal ways, as well.
    'I've gained an understanding of how to shape a film programme with local audience
    and current affairs in mind.' - Grace Hall, Young Programmer

What has been difficult

  • Time and more time was needed - mentoring was extremely important and impactful but
    with 5 mentees this proved to be time-consuming for mentors. The time element
    should not be underestimated when mentoring young people.

  • Covid added an extra layer to everything - how many audience members we could
    potentially accommodate, how/where to host our team meetings and general anxiety
    felt by several of our Young Programmers. We had to remain flexible at every stage
    and think creatively. Meeting in person outdoors helped to keep the group feeling
    connected and we screened possible films in the cinema to watch/discuss these
    together as much as possible. This helped to maintain a sense of connected-ness
    and foster real exchange of views which fed into the decision-making process.

  • Matched elements of the project to individual Young Programmers so that their
    interests were especially activated (one directed a Q+A on Highlands slavery history,
    another worked with a Highland based film-maker he admires and hosted a Q+A
    with him, and another helped to organise an outdoor moonlight swim to connect in
    with a special film screening).

  • To remain flexible and have multiple back-up plans at all times.

  • Many different contributors provided films and liaison varied massively (some teams
    and artists were highly organised and others were slow and erratic to deal with) so
    patience and tenacity were vital. The variation was surprising and more time was
    needed to handle this side of things than had been envisaged.

  • Special events were highly appreciated by our audiences and required more time
    but worth it so enhancing screenings is valued.

  • Weekly screenings and events involved a lot of work. One of the rewards was that
    audience members were loyal and bought into the whole programme.

  • Overall the programme worked well but did require a high level of time commitment
    to deliver all the aspects.

  • 'The Young Programmers project came at a time when I'd been working from home
    for 8 months and was feeling quite overwhelmed with my new working patterns and
    disconnected from the people and real life art experiences that I loved and missed!
    The early days of coming together in the cinema to view and discuss films as a
    group was one of the few things I left home for and became an immensely
    rewarding and enriching experience.' - Kirsten Body, Project Curator and Mentor

What you would do differently if you did it again

  • There were many learnings but not a huge amount that we would do differently to
    be honest, other than perhaps getting a bit more help with press (however, we're
    aware that comes with a risk so nothing is guaranteed) and trying to encourage two
    of our five Young Programmers to be more active at all stages. How exactly
    would we do that? Perhaps we could have deployed our most active Young Programmer to encourage and describe the need to be involved in some of the less glamorous
    tasks like cleaning the cinema and helping with ticket sales as well as the more fun
    parts such as programming. One of our Young Programmers felt strongly that
    everyone should take responsibility and was surprised others did not follow through
    to the same extent that she did. Perhaps there could be a way of looking at peer
    working and influence to help inspire an uplift in responsibility and change, and
    encourage the more reticent Young Programmers to step up?

    As the lead mentor, I actively tailored all forms of communication (WhatsApp was
    the preferred format) to sensitively harness all the Young Programmers and ensure that we did not lose any them. This took careful navigating.

    Kirsten Body, curator and fellow mentor talks about this:

    'The group's cohesion was down to sensitive care to acknowledge the personal
    situations and health concerns within the Young Programmers themselves making
    participation possible at different levels. [This] gave the Young Programmers a
    supportive mechanism to gain new skills, connect and challenge their own
    assumptions about what they were capable of.'

Awareness / Attitudes

Our whole programme was designed to address all these topics. Every film challenged perceptions, broadened awareness and triggered rich discussions from the first film ‘1745’ to the final film ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’. Two speakers introduced MMM. This was a cross generational duo – retired doctor Helen Charley and young programmer Marley Mackenzie. Both read the autobiography of Esther Williams in preparation. Helen spoke with passion about the misogynistic experiences and difficulties that Esther Williams faced and overcame, and Marley outlined why she had proposed this film in particular. It was a fitting ending to an inspiring and thoughtful programme that covered issues including race and slavery in Scotland, activism, misogyny, wellbeing, surviving abuse and inspiring strategies for recovery.

Changing attitudes to young people:

Young Programmer, Grace Hall: ‘I thought that it was really unique and an empowering opportunity to influence how a local arts programme takes shape – particularly as a young person. We’re not usually ‘trusted’ with that kind of freedom.’


Representation was actively addressed in terms of our project team, in the film choices and themes, in testing out new ticket pricing, in the ways in which we hosted Q+As, other events and planning how to actively engage audiences at our screenings. Thinking proactively about this percolated through every strand of our operation and in the ways in which we treated each other as team members. Wellbeing was not only a theme for the programme, it was a live issue for all of us with life in a very strange place. There were real and present health issues for at least two members of our group.

Young people were at the heart of the process and project. They are not a highly represented as an active age-group generally speaking with the cinema so this project provided a space to push this a bit. One of the 5 Young Programmers, Grace Hall is half – Guyanese and was highly invested in the issues that we were exploring in the first part of the programme. She was especially keen to be active as part of the focus on ‘straightening our history’. She had not met Dr David Alston prior to the project – this was a significant encounter for her. David has been undertaking pioneering research into slavery in the Highlands over the last few years, and has a book being published later this month by Edinburgh University. The longstanding Guyanese connection with Cromarty was not known to Grace. This had significant personal impacts for her including being inspired to research her own family history.

The film programme was designed to directly involve as well as attract a young audience. ‘ROCKS’, focused on girls of colour and had a fantastic Q+A with the cast and crew. This was extremely powerful and moving especially listening to young women of colour talk about taking control of how they are represented. Audience members and team members supporting these screenings found the Q+A extremely moving. We plan to extend the experiment with continued lowered ticket pricing for Under 26s in our next special season.

Having young people directly involved in the programming and delivery helped to generate and widen audience representation. As well as being involved in the process, our young people were also potential audience members and brought along family, girlfriends, friends to share and be part of the screening events.

Director of ‘Big Vs Small’ shared the difficulties she and her team members had faced getting funded including being advised that ‘there wasn’t enough of a story’. It would appear that misogyny is still very much alive and kicking in the film industry. Our audience expressed their appreciation for the frankness of the film-makers and to learn about the their challenges.

Showing women in an inspirational light:

Young Programmer, Izzy Thomson: ‘To be able to watch an inspirational film, made by and featuring inspirational women, alongside fellow sea swimming women was just wonderful. This particular event made me feel humbled and enveloped by the power and strength of women and how that is echoed by the sea. It reinforced how brilliant it is when we work together and play together and how that can create and inspire hope and change.’

Knowledge & Experience

Inspiring young people realising their potential and nurturing creative talent:

Coll Fullarton, Young Programmer (film-maker and our youngest Young Programmer, 17 yrs old): ‘One surprise for me was the process of finding films and the licences for them and that members of the team had to contact companies to be able to show the films. I was somewhat expecting a pool of films we could choose from but instead it was a really interesting process of contacting distributors and the creators of these films. Another nice surprise was getting video introductions from people who made the films and also actually having guests come to speak during the screenings was a surprise as I didn’t think that would happen due to Covid.

One event that really stood out for me was the screening of ‘I Swim’ and ‘Semra’. It was really quite a special screening for me as I was hosting the Q+A with the director of ‘I Swim’ Mike Webster and swimmer in it Louise Mason. I was quite nervous beforehand. Overall I think the screening and Q+A went well and people said I had done well after the screening which was nice to hear and definitely helped me a bit with confidence in speaking publicly however Mike and Louise were very good at answering the questions, even some tricky ones from the audience. It was also quite a special screening as I met Mike last year and really admire his work so to host a Q+A with him and Louise at the first screening* of ‘I Swim’ was quite memorable for me.’

* the film has been shared online but this was the first in-person screening of the work and important for the film director, other members of the team and the film’s subject.

Grace Hall, Young Programmer: ‘I learned how to break down the initial concept into an achievable event that is relevant and on theme. I also learned about how to approach/speak to different people in the film industry about screenings, permissions, formalities, etc. Lots of this was consolidated in our group meetings and by interacting with Susan and Kirsten.’

Team working: Being part of a team, being copied into messages to film-makers and being supported writing to directors and distributors was important in terms of widening experience and building skills. Team working was especially missing during this period when people has become more accustomed to a degree of isolation.

Working together was important – achieving consensus, sharing an array of tasks (i.e writing minutes for team meetings, writing copy of print, supporting each other when one person was taking the lead with a Q+A).

Social Cohesion

Cultural identity:

Films and talks address history in the Highlands, and Scotland more widely with stories of Black women who lived on the Black Isle. This raised awareness about women’s lives and overlooked histories. This has triggered further research and a heightened commitment to ‘straightening our history’.

Feeling engaged:

Our Young Programmers have all talked about the impacts including feeling that they have a voice that matters. Some of our subject matter and films were difficult and challenging in some ways including emotionally, but we did not shy away from this – i.e. ‘RESET’ by Alberta Whittle, ‘SEMRA’ by Neville Gabie. Audiences stayed after the screenings to talk at length about their responses to the work and this was really fascinating. Subjects ranged from Black Live Matters protests, specific dance forms that emerged from slavery and the ways in which people develop strategies (including swimming) to survive violent lives.

Audience member on becoming more confident:

‘The women in your film are far braver than I could ever hope to be, but I felt similarities, and hope to be braver.’

Young Programmer, Grace Hall on feeling more confident and being engaged: ‘I was especially interested in the screening process when we decided which films to include. There were valuable social components to this, as we were able to bond and share thought with each other. But we also learned how to look at potential film choices in light of practical elements, target audience, budget, accessibility, etc.’

Young Programmer, Marley Mackenzie on having a voice and being part of a process of collective programming: ‘I enjoyed discussing potential film options and then taking everyone’s personal taste, which was very diverse, arguing as a group which films fit the themes and which shorts could be paired together and curate an exciting programme. I was very comfortable debating and discussing with all the members and I really enjoyed the progress of curating the programme’.


Provided social contact at a time when this was difficult and missing from most people’s lives. Increased confidence with different elements from leading a Q+A to writing copy and being part of a shared discussion.

Increased visibility within the local community – the Young Programmers were named individually at every screening intro and illustrated in the programme.

Young Programmers became friends with each other during the project.

Developed skills that will help with career choices (one of the Young Programmers wants to become a professional film-maker, another was studying film but had not had the opportunity to programme for a cinema like this before).

Project provided a creative outlet at a time when normal ‘work’ was demolished.

Learning more about issues including Black history and women’s stories of resilience was important to the whole team.

One of our Young Programmers is half Guyanese and the programme enabled her to engage in some personal research which was inspired by the screenings and to learn more about the historical connections between Guyana and Cromarty (which she had been entirely unaware of).

Marley Mackenzie, Young Programmer: ‘Being a film student was extremely challenging during Covid when everything was online and there was no real sense of connection. This project provided a much needed antidote to all that and opened up a way of doing something active with film that was not only fun but will be useful experience for future pursuits.’

Alice Taylor, Young Programmer: ‘I enjoyed the idea of celebrating women’s voices, it was really powerful evening showing Big Vs. Small – more coverage of women involved in extreme sports is something I’ve looked for for a long time with growing up mountain biking and racing. This and choosing the topic of Black Voices confirmed to me how important representation is, and will hopefully be a continued step towards creating a diverse range of role models for everyone.’


Programme attracted a loyal local (Black Isle) audience as well as residents from farther afield and people visiting the areas. First event and screenings involved a talk by Dr David Alston whose new book is published this month about slavery in the Highlands. This event attracted visitors from Easter Ross who travelled some considerable distance to participate and were active at the discussion stage.

We involved local people including several individuals who run small businesses in the programme i.e. young champion surfer Iona MacLachlan who runs a surfing school in Thurso, medical herbalist Claire Mackay who advises tv (Outlander), etc.

Feedback strongly indicated that their involvement (in talks and special recorded intros) resulted in sales for them. Individuals got in touch directly to book lessons or buy teas following screenings.

We involved Highland based film-makers and artists who struggled to earn a living during this phase of lockdown and Covid. The enhanced the programme provided some income and helped to raise their profiles during a particularly challenging time.

The screenings brought audiences back into the cinema after a period of being unable to do this. Initially we were limited to two thirds capacity but this changed which enabled us to have a full house as the programme developed. In addition to the scheduled screenings, we hosted a special additional session for the Cromarty Mermaids. This all-female audience was highly engaged by the themes covered in Big Vs Small. The mermaids were highly enthusiastic and energised about being part of a special screening. The Finnish film-maker, Minna Dufton who made Big Vs Small recorded a special intro at our request which mentioned the mermaids by name and they let out a loud cheer in the cinema. After the screening, there was a moonlight swim in the Cromarty Firth which was inspired by the women featured in the film. Iphone film clips were sent to the film-maker who posted sound and photos immediately on Instagram. The intensive exchange ensued with film-maker with

Cromarty Cinema, audience members and the Cromarty Mermaids. This made for a highly memorable and uplifting experience for all. The director was disappointed not to be able to attend in-person because of travel restrictions and Covid, but we found other ways and strategies to strengthen connections. Our events provided a boost for her and members of her team at a time when they had been mainly limited to sharing their work online. They were energised by our activity and the strength of the responses generated by our screenings in Cromarty.

We sold a lot more tickets than we had imagined. One of the surprises was that some local people booked to come to every single week (x 6) . Quite a few people were in this category, in fact. One local resident stated that Thursdays were ‘a highlight’ and kept her going during an especially intensive work phase. The project has helped to consolidate the importance of our cinema as a vital and flexible community resource.

What audiences said

  • Claire Mackay - multiple screenings
    'I had a great time, and loved 'Lessons from Jeju'. I kind of wishes I watched it
    earlier in my pregnancy, when I was a bit paranoid about continuing with swimming
    for a while.'

    Matt Hall - Big Vs Small
    'The screening was excellent and I loved all the introductions you'd arranged.'

    Alice Taylor - Big Vs Small
    'Such a beautiful and strong film. I loved the two women's relationship as well -
    something about encouraging each other to succeed?'

    Nicki Slater - multiple screenings
    'I really enjoyed all the films I saw. I messaged Minna Dufton through Instagram
    after the screening of Big Vs Small just to tell them how much I enjoyed it and how
    inspiring it all is.'

    Kirsten Body
    'It was amazing to host 'RESET' by Alberta Whittle; Cromarty Cinema is one of only
    two Scottish venues, the other being the Edinburgh Art Festival. It was a real
    privilege to gain access to the film from an international visual artist and share it
    with the community in Cromarty while Alberta is preparing for the Venice Biennale

    Anonymous audience member (sent to one of the film-makers)
    'I can't tell you how important it is to hear from professionals like yourself working
    with people experiencing trauma and abuse. I...wanted to say thank you SO much
    for sharing and telling, in the most gorgeous way, the story of these two
    inspirational, warrior women. You have breathed strength, hope and hunger back
    into my mind through your film and I feel the crackle in my belly start to burn again.'

    Anonymous audience member (sent to Minna Dufton)
    'Watched 'Big Vs. Small' with fellow mermaids in Cromarty last night. Just to say
    how much I loved it. Am not a strong swimmer, or fast. Am middle aged,
    overweight, scared of going underwater (though am working on this), and having
    mental health challenges due to various trauma, the sea is my medicine. I love to let
    go, float, and become part of it. I think it's the only time I can just 'be'. The women in
    your film are far braver than I could ever hope to be, but I felt that I had similarities,
    and hope to get braver.'

What professionals, press and partners said

  • Sample of one of the film-maker's response which was sent to an audience member
    who messaged directly about the impact of the screening.

    Minna Dufton, Director of Big Vs. Small:

    'I can't tell you how important it is to hear from professionals such as yourself working with people experiencing trauma and abuse. I'd be interested to see if there's a chance to join our powers in a new project that I'm working on. It makes me really happy that you'll recommend 'Big Vs Small' to your clients. My dream is for the film to reach, inspire and empower as many people as possible. Hopefully, we'll soon be able to bring the film to wider audiences in the UK.'

Press coverage

  • We approached the BBC, STV & BBC Alba who did not take us up on covering the
    programme. Despite the lack of uptake by press, we had good level of traffic online
    with film-makers sharing Instagram stories, for example. Being completely volunteer-run,
    there is a limit to how much press chasing we are able to do. Sometimes the press
    bites and other times, not. We felt that the programme offered a real opportunity to
    talk authentically about rural communities actively engaging with themes of
    wellbeing, resilience and overcoming difficulties at a time when this was foremost in
    many of our minds. It was disappointing that the press didn't rise to the challenge!