A blog post on the landscape of independent cinema right now, by PAC Director and Film Programmer, Anna Navas.
April 3, 2020: Exactly one month ago I was on the train to London, looking forward to four days of back-to-back film previews, catching up with colleagues and friends in the industry and possibly getting in a few cheeky cocktails at the BFI. Spring Screening Days, run by the Independent Cinema Office is one of the highlights of my working year. Colleagues from across the exhibition and distribution sides of the industry gather to talk cinema and go square-eyed watching Indy films which will be released in the months to come. There were almost 400 of us gathered together and while we were doing a lot more hand-washing than normal we were still talking as if the Coronavirus was a news story far removed from our professional lives. The biggest problem we were discussing was the impact of reduced windowing: with Netflix now over six months into cinema releases and with many different experiments in releasing patterns, what was the impact on distribution and exhibition? Little did we know then that within two short weeks every cinema in the UK would be closed for the foreseeable and we would all be advocating for film streaming platforms and driving our customers to watch films any way they could.
The early part of every year is when most independent cinemas world make their money. In the lead-up to awards season films become more visible and looked-for by our audiences. To say 2020 got off to a flying start is the understatement of the year. Parasite became the gift that just kept giving. Audiences could not get enough of it and we played to packed houses at every screening – a first for PAC’s new venue which is double the size of our old home at Looe Street. PAC is not one of the big-league Independents but Parasite was giving us the audience boost we could only dream of and for audiences it was a gateway film into the wonderful world of foreign language cinema. Looking back now it’s as if that was the golden hour before the dark.
Optimism was in the air because of such a strong start to the year and the PAC March April programme was a gift to create. I felt as if we had hit our stride for the first time since re-opening our cinema in January 2019, helped by an audience who stayed with us, incredible support from our Plymouth creative community and a very welcome funding lifeline from the British Film Institute and Plymouth City Council. There were big films which I knew our audience would love; Military Wives with its Plymouth connections, All At Sea which had a Plymouth based screenwriter to introduce it, Misbehaviour was going to be huge and we had the director coming to one of our Reclaim the Frame screenings. There was a brilliant workshop planned around Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a panel discussion with System Crasher, local organic growers talking around The Biggest Little Farm. Artist film commissions from our friends at Tyneside Cinema. We were joining up so many dots through the whole programme. And then everything stopped.
We have joked that of all industries, cinema must have been best placed to cope with a global pandemic/alien invasion/zombie contagion….but it seems all those films we have watched weren’t instruction manuals after all and we are finding it as hard to adjust and cope as everyone else of course. Things are difficult and the future of cinema (and everything else) is uncertain and unknown but I do feel optimistic. I know I can’t wait to go back to a cinema with friends and watch a film all together in the dark. If I feel like that I’m sure others do too. When this is all over people are going to want to come together and do so many things after having to spend so much time alone.
I’ve found it almost impossible to watch a film since we closed. I can’t get in the right mood, it’s hard to concentrate, nothing feels quite right. Many years ago when I was in a period of grieving I couldn’t settle anywhere. Wherever I was wasn’t where I wanted to be so I would go from place to place, never feeling right. That’s how life feels now, untethered. In the past I have always found cinema to be a place of escape from the realities of life but also a place to be reminded of the best and worst of humanity. It has always been where I go when I want and need distraction. I think what we all need is to be soothed and cinema can do that so beautifully. There surely can’t be a more pressing need to find that comfort again right now. I’m prescribing some comfort films for myself, starting with The Philadelphia Story. I need familiarity, sparkling dialogue, laughs and Katherine Hepburn and then I think I’ll be ready for the rest. There are films that comfort us, take us back to good times, clear our minds, remind us of human contact! I’m going to watch some of those and then, maybe when I have calmed my mind a bit, I can move more freely and naturally among all the other moving images.
Recommendations for some film exploration when you are ready
Sofa Cinema with PAC – join us on Facebook for weekly recommendations to watch and discuss.
Filmmaker/Writer/critic Mark Cousins has made a video essay called 40 Days to Learn Film from the isolation of his Edinburgh home. Not only is it brilliant, he has the most soothing voice so even if you close your eyes and simply listen, this is an absolute treat.
Reclaim the Frame – have a look, sign up, watch, join in.
Girls On Film podcast – have a listen while you are out on your daily exercise.
Check out Indiewire online. This is a list they have put together of overlooked Netflix gems to watch.
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