The COVID crisis has had a major impact on film exhibition across the world, and while larger organisations in the sector in Northern Ireland responded quickly and innovated into moving events online, many were unable to connect with their audiences for a variety of reasons. The Moving Pictures Programme, developed and delivered by Film Hub NI using funding from Northern Ireland Screen, allowed those across the sector to access practical information in how to develop an online offer, use this for audience development and measure impact effectively. Participants were also able to avail of one-to-one mentoring to support them with a specific task, or general planning. The project was expanded to include a suite of 7 free podcasts so organisations right across NI, UK, ROI and beyond could access this information.
In response to the COVID pandemic, Film Hub NI, with support from Northern Ireland Screen, moved from the big screen to the small screen (for a short time) to provide members with free training and support to develop an online programme to keep connected with audiences while screens were dark.
To support members through a time of transition and offer skills development, practical advice and mentoring to benefit their organisation.
To ensure that a wide range of exhibitors can access FAN investment which include a digital element for hybrid programme delivery.
To support the sustainability of the sector, across all levels of exhibition.
To improve creative networks throughout NI and ROI
Developing awareness of different sectors of screen industry
9 training sessions were held via Zoom from January-March 21. These were hosted by the Film Hub team who invited guests to share their expertise. Topics covered were programming, platforms, audience development, accessibility, evaluation and using online to complement offline. Mentoring was taken up for members to discuss audience development, programming and evaluation.
Film Hub NI members can feel more confident in planning hybrid programmes and applying for financial support to deliver independent film to audiences across NI.
There was a concern that many smaller and voluntary exhibitors may cease operations after a hiatus due to the pandemic. Larger organisations had been supported by government schemes or FAN funding and have been able to survive. This programme will allow organisations at all levels to plan to deliver events to earn income and provide an offer to audiences.
A diverse range of participants took part which has raised awareness of different organisations across NI both to the internal audiences, and the wider audience of Access Cinema members (ROI) and other FAN colleagues (UK)
Throughout the programme, Film Hub NI engaged with guests who spoke about different aspects of the sector including distribution. There was also discussion about the film industry as an eco system and the ripple effect of the pandemic right across the sector.
The legacy of this project takes the form of a series of podcasts, covering 6 of the topics from the programme. The Hub team hosted engaging, informative and lively discussions with the speakers in each area, and shared practical advice with listeners. A bonus live recording, from a Digital Cities Belfast event which took place in February, spoke about the importance of theatrical releases vs digital releases was included to encourage exhibitors to think about how their organization is positioned in terms of screening delivery, on and off line.
The project was delivered by the Film Hub NI team, with financial support from Northern Ireland Screen. FHNI worked with ACCESS Cinema to encourage their members to attend. Partnering with different colleagues across the FAN network was vital for utilising expertise.
Budget in brief
The total costs for the project was £14k.
This included speakers fees, podcast guest fees, Hub management (additional staff time), website development, technical equipment and support, PR, marketing and branding,
Working online meant it was easier to reach participants - 79% of participants were from outside Belfast
Sharing of expertise - 20 completed mentoring sessions
396 registrations overall for the training sessions with 96 individual beneficiaries.
16.5% of participants classed themselves as coming from a disadvantaged background
7.5% of participants classed themselves as having a disability
What has been difficult
It was a completely new programme for FHNI to develop and involved intensive work from November 20 - March 21, which had to be undertaken during another lockdown and conflicted with childcare responsibilities etc.
Knowledge & Experience
The project was aimed at Film Hub members who were thinking about how to utilize online tools in order to screen films to their audiences to keep strong connections, generate revenue and upskill to future-proof their organization, beyond COVID times. Each session was designed to be accessed ‘stand alone’ to suit individual requirements, or members could participate in the whole programme.
Based on the feedback from the sessions, many organisations found that the networking and peer to peer learning was a key part of their enjoyment of the programme so along with podcasts, the legacy of this project is that Film Hub NI & Access Cinema are going to co-host monthly drop in sessions for members to chat about their activity. In terms of connecting exhibitors across NI and ROI this will be very useful for potential future projects.
Exhibition business models are changing and the new ‘hybrid’ mechanism of delivery online and in cinemas is set to continue as we move beyond this current crisis. Current Film Hub NI funding includes support for online content and this needs to be accessible to all members – from independent cinemas to the wide network of community cinemas which operates right across NI. Film Hub NI wanted to ensure that community cinemas especially, can use online platforms for brand development and to open up curated programmes of world cinema to audiences in rural areas. Ongoing sustainability of the sector is fundamental to the post-covid recovery, and this programme has allowed Film Hub NI to focus on being responsive to members changing needs.
What audiences said
It was really an excellent initiative and the start I hope of more to come! All the speakers were strong and engaging, well hosted and executed by the Hub and the opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts towards the end of the sessions were most welcome. I think this has such potential to run as a regular event series, perhaps with a focus on European Festivals and exhibition models and could create some opportunities for programming collaboration for Festival and for the promotion of new filmmakers and talent.
We took a long break as a community cinema as we were not getting engagement with online watch along we tried. We 'relaunched' with a filmbank VSR after attending these events and got a much higher response.
I enjoyed all the sessions over the past few weeks, it has given me knowledge on the other side of the desk that is film production.
Listening first hand from those working within these challenging times for the exhibition sector has renewed our enthusiasm for return to film screenings and renewed our commitment to planning our 2021 festival later this year.
The talks have been a great way to continue to engage with the local film sector while we have been unable to meet in person, it has bolstered my creativity and boosted my knowledge of the business side of working in film and re-ignited my passion for the industry. The information included in the talks was so relevant to what I am doing - working towards innovative and exciting screenings and content for young audiences in the UK and I know these talks have given me a lot more confidence in understanding how to approach distributors, what to look for and where, as well as how to measure engagement and the success of an event.