It’s that time of the year when we usually take a long and affectionate look back through the cinema highs and lows of the past 12 months and think about all of the exciting film treats on the horizon in the early part of the new year. Well, this has been a far from usual year – and if we had a pound for every time we’ve said that we wouldn’t have had to work so hard to find the funding we needed to withstand the financial trials of the year!
It seems like an odd thing to say, given the current situation, but the year hasn’t been a total washout for cinemas. With all of the big ‘tentpole’ films in the mainstream sector being postponed or moved directly to streaming platforms, space has opened up for smaller films to breathe and find audiences. The spaces that have grown have been filled by more women filmmakers than ever before. Without cinemas we have turned to the small screen more and some of the most interesting and wonderful work has been seen there – Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series on BBC1 a notable example, especially in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. The indie cinema exhibition community has come together to create much closer bonds between venues and partners. We have had to talk to each other more, ask for help more, offer support more, share our successes and failures more and the result has been the flowering of a genuine sense of fellowship. Creative connections have grown throughout the industry and I know there are people across the country whose cinemas have all been affected in so many different ways but who are just a zoom call away and that network of friends and colleagues has been the raft that has kept spirits and energy afloat when sometimes it has just felt too tough to carry on.
When we consider that PAC has only been able to open for four months out of the past 12 it’s hard to describe how much work has had to be done behind the scenes to keep the cinema active. From the creation of Sofa Cinema, keeping our audience informed and engaged, making sure we kept staff, volunteers and customers safe when we could open. Creating online content, working with film distributors, screening platforms and allies such as Bird’s Eye View to offer our audiences the best films to see in very different ways. The PAC team of staff and volunteers has been incredible throughout the whole year and I think it is important to acknowledge how hard it has been to stay so positive and productive while there has been so much uncertainty and worry. We really do have a Dream Team.
Partnerships are vital. If we have learned one thing, it is that no organisation can survive alone. We need and value the help we have received from the British Film Institute, DCMS, Plymouth City Council, BFI FAN Hub and Plymouth College of Art. It’s not just about the funding lifelines we have been given but about the acknowledgement that that funding signifies they value what PAC is doing and believe that what we do is important. Film feels vital right now as a way of both escaping reality and taking a deep dive into stories that remind us of life before the pandemic, that describe how resilient we can be and how vulnerable. For a few short hours at the cinema we can forget the world as it is and fall into a dream.
On that note, here are the Top 10 films that have helped me continue to dream in 2020 (and in the best Christmas tradition, I’ve snuck an extra one in because it’s impossible to choose):
- Crip Camp. Directed by Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht. A brilliant, playful and deeply moving documentary. A genuine eye opener in every way. Free to watch on YouTube, or on Netflix.
- Nomadland (is this allowed? I saw it at a festival but it’s not released until early next year). Directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand. Beautiful meditation on grief, freedom, belonging. Can’t stop thinking about it. Official Trailer
- Rocks. Directed by Sarah Gavron. A funny, sad, sly film that draws you in immediately and then breaks your heart. Outstanding in every way. Stream via Netflix.
- Saint Maud. Directed by Rose Glass. Bonkers but in the right way. You will never watch Jennifer Ehle in reruns of Pride and Prejudice in the same way ever again. Official Trailer
- System Crasher. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt. For Helena Zengel’s performance alone this film is a stand-out. Stream via BFI Player
- The Assistant. Directed by Kitty Green. Watching this was like having ice-cold water injected into your veins. So controlled, so understated and underplayed it was a masterclass in the power of restraint in filmmaking with devastating impact. I felt like I could barely breathe for the whole film. Stream via BFI Player
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Directed by Eliza Hittman. Quiet, understated and emotionally devastating. Stream via Amazon
- Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. Directed by Pamela B. Green. A cross between nostalgia and the best detective story you’ve ever seen. An incredible piece of cinema research which stays riveting and astonishing from start to finish. A vital piece of cinema history. Stream via Modern Films.
- Parasite. Directed by Bong Joon-ho. The film at the start of the year that made us all think this was going to be a vintage year for independent cinema. Stream via Amazon.
- Clemency. Directed by Chinonge Chukwu. Alfre Woodard gives a performance of terrifying restraint. Thought-provoking, intelligent filmmaking. Stream via BFI Player
- Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Directed by Mark Cousins. This is the cinematic gift that will just keep giving. Exhaustively researched, endlessly fascinating, slightly addictive! Stream via BFI Player