RADIANT CIRCUS has been celebrating London’s alternative cinema screens since 2017. Along the way we’ve discovered many overlooked venues, underground events and expert exhibitors deserving of bigger audiences.
As we journey into darkness across London, we like to share what we find in our daily blog posts and listings. Here’s a little of what we’ve learned so far…
You can read more of our top recommendations in our guide to London’s indie and alternative cinema venues.
What follows are some listings of places we love. This directory is a work in progress and something we hope to refine and expand with subscriber support.
A flagship for the arts and culture in the City of London, Barbican sits proudly in our list of go-to places because of its compelling seasons linked to their art gallery and collaborations with other cultural partners. Sunday silents with live music are a speciality as are excellent strands about movies, their makers and the impact they have on our lives. Lone-wolf purveyor of off-kilter curios Cigarette Burns Cinema often sells out screenings here and we would also recommend anything programmed by regulars New East Cinema.
London’s mothership of moving pictures is responsible for promoting and preserving film and filmmaking across the UK. BFI Southbank holds its place on our list thanks to encyclopaedic – almost extravagant – seasons, an abundance of festivals and programmes that draw impressively from a vast archive. A commitment to the diversity of films, filmmakers and audiences as well as strands dedicated to experimental and cult cinema result in an unrivalled scope. Q&As with cast and crew come thick and fast, making BFI Southbank a place to rub shoulders if there ever was one…
This specialist French language cinema at the French Institute UK has a strong commitment to new works from France – and further afield – as well as regular strands committed to the many classics of French cinema. It features regularly in our guides for promoting works by and about women as well as an excellent programme of screen talks on Sundays and regular Q&As with cast and crew. They also play home to other national cinemas including the Spanish Film Festival and Cinema Made In Italy.
CLOSE-UP FILM CENTRE
Close-Up Film Centre in Shoreditch is the embodiment of London’s indie film spirit, providing a heavenly member’s library of borrowable books and DVDs as well as a well-equipped 40 seat screen and café/bar. The film programme majors heavily on director retrospectives but their one-off events by moving image artists are often our reason for going back time and time again.
It might be small with only 40 seats but its programme is perfectly formed. The “community cinema for Lewisham” features on our list for its strong commitment to world cinema (highlights include the cinemas of Korea and Latin America) and nimble thematic strands that bring its programme to life with regular flourishes of wit (their Alternative Royal Wedding was a 2018 favourite…), preparedness to swim against the tide of worthiness (GREETINGS FROM TROMAVILLE) and passion (FRANKENSTEIN). How community cinema should be done.
DOCHOUSE @ CURZON BLOOMSBURY
The UK’s first cinema dedicated solely to documentary, DocHouse has an exemplary commitment to new and cutting edge documentary including recent releases, festival favourites, shorts and more from across the world. We particularly like their DocHouse First strand which backs documentary films currently without a UK distributor and their discounted screenings outside of peak times.
Genesis Cinema is a family-owned venue on Mile End Road that offers incredible variety and value-for money (the blankets provided in their epic – and therefore hard to heat – main screen are also a welcome part of their charm. Not content with offering home to such varied exhibitors as Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest, Filikino, Birds’ Eye View, Rochester Kino/Cult Classic Collective, CineSisters and many others, they also screen regular free events in their Bar Paragon which make this a great venue for lovers of screen-culture in all its forms.
THE HORSE HOSPITAL
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.
The central London arts venue appears on our list for its commitment to feature length documentaries and film festivals – homegrown and in collaboration with others – that celebrate more adventurous content. A home for “radical art and culture”, the ICA is a great place to engage with and better understand world cinema’s cutting edge through their regular programme strands and Q&As with artists and filmmakers. We’ll admit we don’t always understand everything they write in their brochures, but sometimes you just have to go with it… Regular artists’ film club screenings offer affordable introductions to indie cinema’s more challenging content.
London is spoilt for smaller cinema chains – Everyman, Curzon, Picturehouse – as well as larger chains with the screen capacity to take the odd risk or two. More often than not we’ve found ourselves heading to Picturehouse for the chain’s regular cult, documentary and ‘discover’ strands and extensive support for London’s film festivals. Picturehouse Central has a stunning main screen – with a bent for science fiction – that makes it one of our default places to huddle in the dark.
Other Picturehouses are (always) available! Hackney, Stratford & Ritzy often appear in our listings for their added value screenings including meet the talent Q&As and presentations by indie exhibitors.
PRINCE CHARLES CINEMA
The Prince Charles is a venue you feel everyone knows, but that doesn’t mean we are all aware of its wonders. The sold out shows are often their participatory screenings – be it ROCKY HORROR, GREATEST SHOWMAN or BROS – and their regular residencies for THE ROOM and it’s curious kin. But, you should flock there for regular original format screenings (now the only reliable home for 70mm in London), cinema classics and much-loved cult items. In our opinion the audience-grabbing sing-alongs unfairly overshadow their arthouse excellence. It’s also one of the very few places where late night screen culture is respected with all-night offerings covering everyone from Arnie to director Taika Waititi and the epic HARRY POTTER.
REGENT STREET CINEMA
Regularly cited as the home of moving pictures in Britain – after the Lumière bros’ used the venue to showcase their Cinématographe to the press and public in 1896 – Regent Street joins our lists not just for its inner Art Deco beauty but also for its grown-up programming. Home to excellent world cinema with a strong commitment to festivals and collaborations on celluloid with enthusiasts like The Celluloid Sorceress, Regent Street always has something to offer. It also happens to make a stunning venue for an opening night gala. We are – if nothing else – mugs for a glass of something fizzy and a fancy nibble.
Rich Mix delivers diversity on its several screens, drawing on its location to engage with a wide community and industry audience for, amongst other delights, the East End Film Festival (currently on a hiatus year) and Welcome Cinema + Kitchen. Short film nights regularly sell out here (which is why they rarely appear in our listings!) and they offer a great home to such varied visitors as the Brazilian Embassy for a recent focus on women in the Brazilian film industry and more.
Starting as an auctioneer’s shop, the Dalston building that became Rio Cinema was first converted into a cinema by Clara Ludski in 1909, naming it the Kingsland Palace Of Animated Pictures (we somehow wish it was still called that…). Much has changed since then but the Rio is one of those picture places that actively embraces its position in London’s rapidly evolving moving image culture. With a small second screen opening in 2017, this is a great place to go for music-themed events, double bills and midnight mayhem. As we sat watching vision-mixed 70s & 80s hardcore gay porn to a synth soundtrack by Patrick Cowley (SCHOOLDAZE by Fringe!, NTS and Dark Entries, 23 FEB 2019), we reckon Clara wouldn’t recognise the old place… or there again…
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*THE SMALL PRINT: As accurate as we could make it. Apologies for any errors. Apologies if we have missed your venue (let us know!). Updates & corrections will be made to this online version. Listings content is drawn from event organisers/venues and does not suggest a relationship with RADIANT CIRCUS. See our LISTINGS POLICY for more info about what gets included and why.