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Saturday, 28 May 2011

ICO Cultural Exhibition Course, Day 5: The End

Yesterday was the final day in the ICO Cultural Exhibition Course and we finished with an overview of the marketplace and looking towards the future.

To this end, we had a panel discussion titled ‘The Way Forward for Cultural Cinema” with Eddie Berg (pictured), Artistic Director of the BFI, Ed Fletcher, from Soda Pictures, and Ian Christie, respected film historian and Vice-President of Europa Cinemas. It started with Ian’s presentation, which in true academic style, delivered no strong opinions, but asked a lot of questions; good questions. “Does film education translate into cinema admissions?” “Will alternative content spell the end of arthouse cinema?”

Ed Fletcher, never a man to withhold his opinions, presented the antithesis of Ian’s own talk with a strong rant about the difficult arthouse market, placing a lot of the blame for things at exhibitors door. He pointed to the change in ownership of many of the main exhibitors as an explanation for what he sees increasingly commercial programming. I found his talk quite condescending and arrogant, but a lot of that might have to do with his own personality.

Eddie Berg followed with a very different approach. He speaks in the way that people in very senior executive positions do, in small sentences that are loaded with meaning, a very logical (and some would say dry) and circular way that you really have to focus to get your head around. He talked about three different venues, the Bell Light box in Toronto, the Eye in Amsterdam and the American Museum of Moving Image in New York. He then explained the BFI’s own plans for a National Film Centre and the balance between the need for a monolithic center and the lack of regional film centers and even screens.

After our break we presented our fictional projects to the class, but I think fatigue had set in, especially as we were locked in the awful basement spaces all day with no air. The class looked a bit ragged and was aching for our final drinks, which followed in the studio space upstairs.

Overall, I think that given my master’s degree and my experience in Venice, I didn’t get as much out of this course as some of the others, but I met some fantastic people and witnessed some lively debates about the industry in the UK. I was also trying to gather as much info and contacts ahead of my new job in Stratford, which starts next week.

We need more, not less exhibitor training, so I hope that Skillset continue to support this important work in the future and there is a Cultural Exhibition Course in 2012.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

ICO Cultural Exhibition Course, Day 4

Today was all about marketing and PR and we kicked off with a talk by Julia Short, former MD for Verve Pictures. She presented a case study of how they handled the release of THE ARBOR. She was terrifically candid, with many of the best things she said preceded by “I really shouldn’t tell you this”, which is exactly the kind of thing the trainees are looking for. Some of the best anecdotes came from her time at Polygram, when too much money was paid for mediocre films (MULHOLLAND FALLS, anyone?).

After that Clare Wilford, a freelance publicist who has worked on our own CINECITY Film Festival, outlined her ‘rules of the game’ when it came to generating press coverage and interest in your event/venue/festival. Her approach is very straight-forward and rooted in real-life experience. I attended a course with Clare some years ago and although it was familiar territory, it reminded me of some fundamentals.

The post-lunch slot was a workshop on solving fictional press problems, with a Ken Russell retrospective being my group’s homework. Somehow we ended up proposing that staff dress as nuns. Don’t ask.

Finally, the groups formed yesterday to workshop the course’s project reunited and we started working on our fictional programming exercise, which is a lot of fun because it’s basically just a group of smart, film-literate people brainstorming fun programming, marketing and event ideas. Something I usually do in my own head.

After class I popped into the BFI Filmstore and picked up an Eisenstein box set (yesterday I bought Ballad of a Soldier and Destiny of Man, two other Soviet classics) – thank goodness the course is over tomorrow or I would spend too much money.

Tomorrow: Ed Flechter from Soda Pictures discusses the future of cultural cinema, and we present our homework!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

ICO Cultural Exhibition, Day 3

Our third day on the course brought an area that perhaps is my weakest link: short, archive and moving image films. I’m a feature guy. We’ve shown some of these things in the past at the Dukes, mostly because of our relationship with the Screen Archive South East. Frank Gray, the archive director and also co-director of our Cinecity Film Festival, was here today to talk – and as always he was engaging and very non-didactic. Sue Porter, from the Moving Image Archive for Central England, made the somewhat arguable claim that “archive film has never been sexier”.

Then followed perhaps the juiciest bit of the day: Sandra Hebron, the director of the London Film Festival, pulled the curtain on how the UK’s largest international film festival is put together. What I didn’t realize is how much the LFF relies on sponsorship money: 50% of its budget. She then described the ‘arduous’ task of traveling the world’s best film festivals scouting for films all year long. The feeling in the room was not one I would describe as pity. One of the most interesting things she said was that the UK culture was undergoing a ‘festivalisation’, not just in film, but literature, music and art.

Mark Cosgrove from Watershed joined the discussion halfway through and described how the Encounters Short Film Festival was created and where it stands now. He resents the thematisation of programming and described his approach as ‘pix n’mix”.

We were then moved into the basement for a talk with Adam Pugh, former director of the AURORA animation festival in Norwich who derisorily described Cinema City as ‘conventional’ which didn’t impress a City Screen man like me. Straight afterwards we were ushered into NFT3 for a screening of short films. Apart from the first two films, The Anthem by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Guest of Honor by Miguel Calderon, every single one of the films confirmed all my prejudices about artist moving image and short films.

Things got practical after that: we’ve been broken up into groups and have some workshop homework to do. That’s always the best part about any course like this because you get to know your cohort and become animated and inspired.

Tomorrow it’s all about marketing and PR. Stay tuned!

Culural Exhibition, Day 2

Our second day kicked off with one of my main areas of interest: audience development. David Sin walked us through the basics, and I took advantage and tried to gather as much knowledge as I could in advance of the new challenges we’ll be facing in Stratford. He underlined the importance of market research and audience surveys, which I think should be at the heart of any venue’s work. Being audience-led is key.

Gaylene Gould (pictured) joined us for a talk on Cultural Diversity, a topic that makes most people’s eyes roll because it has become synonymous with public policy talk, and often is not rooted in real work and/or results. But Gaylene brought a fresh and smart approach which made us gasp and laugh in equal measures. “Film, of all art forms, I find is the most bigoted and the most racist.” She said, right before I asked how to connect with black audiences in East London. She gave me some top notch pointers. “For starters, if you’re whole team looks like you, you’re in trouble.” Noted.

Then we had very interesting panels on accessing disabled audiences, young people and children. Cathy Poole from the Curzon in Clevedon showed us an amusing home video which revealed that they have the same exact ancient ticket machine (AUTOMATIC) that we have! This session also gave us one of my favorite quotes of the day, courtesy of Martin Grund from Leeds Young People’s Festival: “you wouldn’t expect the world to only read books from one city in one country” on Hollywood’s film dominance.

The last session for the day was the distributor’s perspective: Dave Jarmain from Universal (my favorite major), Matt Smith from Lionsgate and Colin Burch from Verve. They outlined their business models and then we got on to the juicy stuff: distributors versus exhibitors. While they bemoaned the existence of windows, I pointed out that flexibility is needed both ways, specially when asking for all shows for weeks at a time. As always when you pit these two groups together, it gets fun, tense and “a little passive aggressive” as another trainee mentioned.

We finished off with a tour of the Roxy Bar and Screen near Bourough Market, an innovative and cool venue which, as it names suggests, is a bar first and a screen second. The owner and manager Phil Wood was a gracious host and apparently is a reader of this blog. Hi Phil!

Tomorrow, on Cultural Exhibition: Programming shorts, archive, festivals, moving image…

Monday, 23 May 2011

ICO Cultural Exhibition Course, Day 1

Today was the beginning of the Independent Cinema Office’s Cultural Exhibition Course, held at the BFI Southbank. It runs till Friday, and I’ll be tweeting (via @splendorcinema) and blogging about it.

After a basic outline of the ins and outs of exhibition and distribution from the ICO’s David Sin (who was best when he went off script and told us the implications of the European Court case of pub landlady versus Sky), we had an interesting talk from Julie Pierce, Head of Programme Planning for the BFI.

As a massive fan of the BFI’s retrospectives and seasons, it was fascinating to hear how they put the programme together, with some of the seasons (like Godard) taking up to two years to research and book. They have 9 programmers for 4 screens, which is a luxurious amount of staff, and which allows them to put on such magnificent films.

Then we had an amusing presentation from Richard Boyd, Technical Manager at the BFI, who again, amazed us with the ridiculous amount of resources this venerable institution (rightly) has: £200,000 spent recently on two film projectors, and weekly testing of all equipment. Interesting to hear that the BFI Southbank has the only public license in the UK to screen nitrate film, a very flammable (and familiar to anyone who’s seen Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) and dangerous substance that hasn’t been used in film prints for 60 years.

After some lunch, former Dukes programmer and friend Jason Wood (now head of programming at Curzon) joined Tracey Hyde from Saffron Screen for a panel on programming. Jason is always a funny, engaging speaker, and he knows his stuff. He outlines some of the ambitious plans Curzon has in store: putting other distributor’s films on their On Demand service, programming the Cornerhouse in Manchester, opening new Curzon sites in University towns across the UK, and also their recent acquisitions in Cannes: Artificial Eye (Curzon’s sister company) will be distributing the Von Trier, the Dardennes, the Kaurismaki, and We Need to Talk About Kevin. That’s an impressive lineup.

Some of Jason’s pearls of wisdom for the day: “There’s a danger that cinema will become alternative content”. And “A Judi Dench film means an onslaught of comfortable shoes” and when talking about the danger of losing young audiences to On Demand: “ There’s no audience to be lost, cause they’re not there”.

We finished the day with an interesting panel on non-theatrical exhibition, which included the Flatpack Festival, the ‘open-source’ Star and Shadow venue in Newcastle and the Slough Film Society (which is apparently filled with Communists!).

Next, on Cultural Exhibition: Audience Development. Cutural Diversity, Programming for children and the distributor’s perspective!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Eastbound and Up

Last week I was offered a new position as Business Development Manager at the Stratford Picturehouse in East London. I'll be working there three days a week, retaining my General Manager job at the Dukes.

It's an exciting new challenge, one I have been waiting for. I love the Duke of York's Picturehouse and I remain devoted to its success, but it's time to take on new ventures, and develop as a manager.

The Stratford Picturehouse opened in August 1997, and is a very interesting purpose-built building which now sits right next door to the 2012 Olympic Site. My job is help build new audiences and revenues for the cinema, which faces some new competition.

My entries on this blog will become even less frequent, and I'll probably take a break from it until I attend the Pula and Sarajevo Film Festival in July. Until then, happy moviegoing!