By Director and Film Programmer Anna Navas
Saturday the 14th March was the last day PAC was open to the public. It is barely a month ago but feels like another lifetime. At that stage I think we were all still working with the idea we might be opening again after the Easter break. A few days later, while the lockdown was looming and the dawning realisation came that it could last a lot longer, we had scheduled some maintenance on our sound system so we had a few hours in our cinema to get some work done before we put everything on hold for the next who knows how long. That last week we had been screening Emma so I decided to run it while we worked just to cheer ourselves up a bit and I ended up sitting there in my favourite pink seat sobbing like a sentimental loon as the film sparkled and glowed in the dark.
Since then I have barely been able to watch anything at all. So many people have asked me what they ‘should’ be watching or suggested that it must be great to have all this time to watch endless lists of films but the truth is that it is difficult for lots of us to settle down to do anything that requires much concentration and the films I usually recommend tend to need a bit of that!
I miss the cinema. There are much bigger things to worry about, I know, but I still miss watching a film with friends. I miss the rituals of deciding what everyone wants to see, what night to go, where to sit, shushing the person who always seems to sit in front of me rustling sweet papers, talking about it afterwards. That is why we have started running our Sofa Cinema with PAC on Facebook – in an attempt to keep that collective experience of watching films together. It has helped make me sit down and actually watch something and the second film we chose was a bit of a game-changer for me. I have always said I hate Studio Ghibli films. I don’t even remember what made me think that anymore but it’s a position I’ve held fast to for years. What an idiot. Our second Sofa Cinema film was Spirited Away and I now have to admit I was wrong – and I hate being wrong – what a beautiful, wonderful, entrancing film it is and how glad am I that I was kind of forced to watch it. It reminded me of the magic of cinema; a cliché but the truth.
What it has also made me realise is I don’t have to wait until I ‘feel like’ watching something particular. What if that feeling doesn’t happen for a while? What if that feeling never comes back? Just turning on the tv/computer/Netflix/Mubi makes something happen. Over the weekend I thought I’d watch something that would be purely entertaining, an easy way in, but the film I thought I wanted to watch was only available on Sky so I couldn’t. Instead I had seen a recommendation by Mia Bays, who runs Reclaim the Frame, to watch a documentary on Netflix called Crip Camp and I just took a leap. I didn’t ‘feel like’ watching a documentary. I didn’t ‘feel like’ watching something serious. I thought I’d give it 10 minutes to grab me and then I’d probably turn it off. Turns out it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Seriously, go and watch it right now, it will blow you away. I’ve cried tears of joy, laughter, sadness, anger and sheer admiration. What an incredible story. Camp Jened was a residential summer camp for disabled young people and in the early 70’s it became a kind of hothouse for creating a whole generation of kick-ass civil rights activists who basically changed America. This film follows the thread from the collective political awakening of these camp members right through their mass sit-ins to the laws they got amended, right up until now when the fight is still ongoing. If ever there was a film to inspire hope and belief in the human spirit then this is it.
More than anything, the film helped me remember that cinema, like many different artforms, can transform the way we see the world and can help us navigate through so many difficult and diverse experiences. I can help us to explore emotions that can be too overpowering in the current real world and becomes an outlet for fear or worry and most importantly can remind us of the resilience of some extraordinary people.
I’m worried we will all forget how magical it is to go and sit in the dark together watching something collectively. I’m worried that the film industry will change and small, beautiful films won’t get made. I’m even worried that big, bombastic blockbusters won’t get made. I’m worried people will get so used to sitting alone with a small screen, they will forget the joy of being transported somewhere else as a collective experience.
I can’t wait for the time when the biggest thing I’m worrying about is whether to have chocolate raisins or jelly beans while I settle down in my favourite pink seat in my favourite cinema, with friends, to watch the big screen come to life again.
Until then, join us for our next Sofa Cinema night on Saturday 18th April at 8pm when we will be talking about Portrait Of A Lady On Fire.
Reclaim the Frame is also continuing its activities online. The next event is The Perfect Candidate. Watch the film between now and next week and then catch our discussion with Haifaa Al Mansour on Facebook Live via the Birds’ Eye View Facebook Page on Wednesday 15 April from 6.00pm.