RADIANT CIRCUS is celebrating our first year of subscriber support by sharing some of our favourite discoveries from our journeys around London’s independent cinema scene. From pop-ups in gin palaces to floating cinemas & historic buildings, London is full of alternative places to catch a film (or two).
Discover London’s independent cinema scene #1
by RADIANT CIRCUS
We started RADIANT CIRCUS by blogging our way around London’s harder-to-find independent cinema screens in 2017 and have been creating weekly guides to what’s on ever since. Last year, we started a crowd-funding campaign to help us continue to create our unique online listings. We love all of your support.
We want to celebrate our adventures into darkness by sharing some of our favourite discoveries, starting with where to find London’s most arresting independent venues. We have harnessed the same DIY spirit that propels London’s independent cinema scene to make our own – alternative! – EMOJI MOVIE. Don’t laugh… there will be sequels 😉
Start your screen search here
“I’m always amazed by how comprehensive your list is! You’re doing a great job & help me find stuff to see every week 🙌” (A fan, via Twitter).
Our main tip is to let RADIANT CIRCUS do the searching for you… We know that great cinema experiences aren’t delivered by an algorithm nor are they available on demand. They come from being in great places, with great people, seeing great things, with a great crowd. Finding the right event can take a tonne of effort and that’s exactly what got us blogging in the first place!
Each week we browse several hundred sites and social feeds to create handcrafted screen guides and listings. We hope we have become what we needed when we first arrived in London: a single website – listing lots of great films – every day. And because we go to the cinema far too much for our own bank account, we find as many FREE events for you as we possibly can.
We also try hard not to promote sold out screens. We want to get you into a great independent cinema event each and every night, so we do as much checking before, during and after we post as possible. Given that some events prove to be very popular – or take place in smaller venues with very limited capacity – we encourage you to click quickly.
Armed with our weekly screen guides and daily updates, we invite you to experience a world of independent cinema in every corner of the capital, whatever your budget and whatever film flavours you fancy.
Hungry for more? Here are our top ten tips for discovering independent cinema venues in London.
01. Love London’s independents
London is blessed with a vibrant array of independent cinema choices, from standalone screens, to multi-arts venues and boutique cinema chains like Electric, Everyman, Curzon and Picturehouse. Then there’s the BFI…
We put extra love into our support for London’s independently owned and operated venues like ArtHouse Crouch End, Genesis, The Prince Charles and Peckhamplex. Many such places project on single screens like Close-Up Film Centre, The David Lean, Deptford, The Lexi, Phoenix, Whirled and newbie Moving Pictures or – in the case of Rio and The Castle – 1 1/2 screens where they’ve managed to make the most of a small amount of extra space!
Why these venues? They promote some of London’s most adventurous film programming but they also require that extra little bit of love and support from their audiences. Projecting moving pictures isn’t hugely profitable, so by turning up and buying tickets – week in, week out – you are helping keep independent cinema alive across London.
02. Explore cinema history
Some of London’s independents – gorgeous picture palaces like Genesis, Rio and Phoenix – are historic buildings in their own right whilst Regent Street Cinema (part of the University of Westminster) was the place where moving pictures were first shown to the paying public in London. This heritage seems to make seeing films in these venues even more memorable, or maybe it’s just the pop-out brass coat hooks in the seats at Regent Street Cinema that we love so much…
These historic venues are anything but stuck in the past… As we sat watching vision-mixed 70s & 80s gay porn to a synth soundtrack by Patrick Cowley at Rio Cinema the other midnight (SCHOOLDAZE by Fringe!, NTS & Dark Entries, 23 FEB 2019), we reckoned Clara Ludski – the entrepreneur who first turned a shop into what would become the Rio back in 1909 – wouldn’t recognise the old place much… or there again…
03. Catch ’em all…
One of the tricks of finding independent cinema in London is to look for pop-ups in places that have a different day job. Volunteer-run film clubs, festivals and cinema collectives of all persuasions (from anarchist to feminist and beyond) often sprout in the most unlikely of places.
We’ve recently loved listing Zodiac Film Club’s residencies at Beyond Retro in Dalston, Women Over 50 Film Festival’s UK tour at Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace, Stow Film Lounge at Wild Card Brewery and regular weekly screenings by Screen25 at Harris Academy South Norwood.
Of course, there can be pain in these pleasures… RADIANT CIRCUS keeps track of as many pop-ups as we can but, goddammit, there will always be one we miss… which, because we are way beyond obsessive, keeps us looking for more…
04. Take to the water
We’ve recently encountered some marvellous moving pictures on London’s waterways. First up, London Short Film Festival projected a series of rubbery screen events curated by Natalie Sharpe – aka Lone Taxidermist – in the AIRDRAFT floating cinema at Hackney Wick (12 to 13 JAN 2019). Then Barge Fiodra moored for two watery days of film at Limehouse Basin screening, amongst other things, Andrew Kötting’s tour around Britain on a swan-shaped pedalo (SWANDOWN, 02 MAR 2019). If you’re after something a little more (ahem…) mainstream, each summer Time Out take to the Thames for projections of such surefire sell out hits as JAWS.
Whatever floats your boat, we’re hooked on the opportunity and hope to be reporting more waterborne adventures in the warmer months…
05. Head to your local*
Some cinephile sites sneer at bar and club screenings, but we love them because they offer some very distinctive pleasures. Whilst some pubs have gone for the full independent cinema experience such as the Back Room Cinema at The Montpellier, we’ve been attracted to many pub screenings like those from Tufnell Park Film Club at The Lord Palmerston with their impeccable world cinema tastes, World Wide Weird!’s dedication to cult 60s, 70s & 80s horror, and our soon to be returning friends at Crap Film Club who are carving out a niche for the love of not very good films. Currently quiet is Dominion Of Scum which shares a similar love for the shallower end of the cinematic gene pool, this time at The Glory. We hope they return soon.
Another specialist exhibitor dedicated to the whiff of last night’s beer is Deeper Into Movies which regularly screens at Moth Club, The Five Bells and an increasing array of places in ever-fresh Shoreditch. Deeper Into Movie’s expertise lies in that place where music and moving image culture overlap, recently screening a sold out celebration of Sonic Youth.
*Pub we mean…
06. Visit London’s museums, churches, town halls & masonic lodges
Another rich strain of alternative cinema experiences comes from heading into heritage buildings across London. This section is primarily devoted to plugging the absolutely essential Cinema Museum; the former poorhouse home to Charlie Chaplin that now offers an ever-changing variety of expert film events including those by silent film scholars Kennington Bioscope.
But you should also hunt out church screenings by Pitshanger Pictures at St Barnabas Church, Ealing and newcomer Collective Cinema’s events at St Margaret’s Church, Lewisham. Islington’s Union Chapel regularly throws its doors open to Backyard Cinema for their ROMEO + JULIET extravaganzas, but you can also find great documentary film there from touring ocean- and mountain-themed short film festivals to occasional Guardian Docs events. Of course, we really love it when church venues put their organs to good use… such as Pitshanger’s forthcoming live organ accompaniment to FRAU IM MOND aka Woman In The Moon d. Fritz Lang, 1929 (16 MAR 19:00).
Other fascinating heritage venues include Classic Cinema Club which projects in the awesome Ealing Town Hall (it really does feel like going to Hogwarts), Das Kino’s monthly projections at The Old Baths in Hackney Wick, Highgate Film Society at the Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution and a new programme of regular horrors by East End Film Festival in a once-deserted Masonic temple hidden in the walls of the Andaz Liverpool Street. Occasional screenings at Wilton’s Music Hall, 1901 Arts Club and The Old Operating Theatre Museum are also well worth spotting.
07. Allow the ambassador to spoil you…
Being a capital city, London is home to many embassies and cultural centres keen to promote their national cinemas, often for free and always with great programmes throughout the year. This is a great way to top up on your world cinema knowledge without breaking into the bank account, and you get to swan around some of London’s swankiest postcodes. Regular FREE features in our listings include programmes from the Austrian Cultural Forum, Brazilian Embassy, Korean Cultural Centre, and the Japan Foundation. The Italian Cultural Institute’s regular free screenings (often with wine and a nibble) are expertly enabled with salon discussion by Nick Walker from Rochester Kino.
Other important cultural centres with paid cinema offerings include Ciné Lumière at the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni and the Goethe-Institut, both of whom house their own cinemas and offer excellent year-round programmes and festivals. The Czech Centre regularly projects with partners.
Indeed, so rich is London’s embassy offering, we are working on a separate guide. Watch out for that tray of Ferrero Rocher as we pass it around….
08. Get thee to a gallery!
One of London’s finest independent cinemas is nested in the Institute for Contemporary Arts, offering a bold programme of new releases and retrospectives with an emphasis on alternative narrative and documentary fiction, which is probably their specialism. Forthcoming highlights include playing host to BIMI’s excellent Essay Film Festival (22 MAR to 04 APR 2019) and their own Frames of Representation (12 to 20 APR 2019).
Of course, narrative and documentary film are only part of the landscape of adventurous moving pictures. To enter the world of avant-garde, experimental and artist films, as well as video installations and irregular pop-ups, the committed film fan should head to an art gallery. Cultural cathedrals like Tate, Whitechapel and Serpentine all feature regularly in our guides, as do smaller parish churches for the fearless like Tenderpixel and The Horse Hospital (more of them next).
09. Descend into darkness…
The Horse Hospital is one of our favourite underground – literally – venues and one we never fail to recommend when folk are looking for alternative places to catch a film or two. It’s a for hire space, so the scheduling varies throughout the year but we love the ongoing Nova Nights led by Billy Chainsaw and the Miskatonic Institute For Horror Studies’ semesters of unmissable talks.
On another occasion, seeing Jane Giles, a former programmer at London’s Scala Cinema, discuss her new book about the legendary venue before screening THE EATING, DRINKING, SHITTING & PISSING FILM (d. Kurt Kren, 1967) was a real 16mm treat… believe us.
10. Embrace the great outdoors
No exploration of London’s alternative cinema scene would be complete without a mention of the numerous outdoor screenings you can catch in the seasons when the weather is a little more right.
Rooftop Film Club offers an incredible programme above various venues ranging from new releases to time-honoured classics. We also love the socially enterprising Nomad Cinema – a sister project of The Lexi Cinema – which projects in venues in the City Of London and elsewhere to raise money for its good causes.
We probably don’t need to mention the almost always sold out Film 4 programme at Somerset House so better to focus on the growing line-up of community-run Free Film Festivals that occupy various parks and other outdoor spaces in South London and are well worth your support (and involvement too, if you want to volunteer).
Watch out for our separate guide to London’s outdoor events as the days get a little longer.
And that’s the meat of it…
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RADIANT CIRCUS is patron powered, supported by readers’ monthly subscriptions, which start at just £2.99/month. With enough subscribers backing us, we will be able to: 1) establish RADIANT CIRCUS as a permanent resource; 2) fund a site rebuild to make our listings more social & searchable; and, 3) stage free events for subscribers as our way of saying a huge thank you! Our target? One thousand passionate film fans sharing what they love so that many more can discover it. Join the circus at patreon.com/radiantcircus
“A lot of love, time & effort being put into these really useful & comprehensive listings.” (A fan, via Twitter).
Our next guide will celebrate London’s independent film exhibitors, the many film clubs, societies, festivals, lone wolf operatives and anarchist collectives who project their passions.
SMALLER PRINT: This guide is as accurate as we could make it. Apologies for any errors! Do let us know if we’ve got something wrong. Updates & corrections will be made to the online version. All venue/event/programme details are subject to change by the venue/organiser. Inclusion in these listings does not imply any association with RADIANT CIRCUS.