Ahead of their #ReviveTheDark supported screening of IN THE CUT, Sarah Kathryn Cleaver of Zodiac Film Club interviewed RADIANT CIRCUS about the campaign & the importance of preserving alternative screen culture. This interview first appeared in the Zodiac Film Club newsletter.
Tell me a little bit about why you started RADIANT CIRCUS, and the Revive the Dark campaign.
I started RADIANT CIRCUS as a new arrival in London almost five years ago, trying to find my way around the city’s independent cinema scene. Commercial listings had stopped and you could only find heavily curated ‘best of the week’ guides that didn’t give anywhere near a full account of what was on, or even where to find it. So I started blogging my way around London’s indie cinema screenings, piecing my own listings together, making my own discoveries, and sharing everything at radiantcircus.com. I launched a Patreon in 2018 and haven’t stopped posting since.
One of my favourite parts of developing RADIANT CIRCUS has been meeting London’s many diverse independent film exhibitors, be they individuals or collectives, women, Black, Asian, mixed heritage, Sikh, trans, queer, Filipino, or those passionate about silent cinema, experimental animation, VHS, science fiction or horror (to name just a few!). They’re the cutting-edge street food vendors of the cinema scene, serving up passion, expertise and authentic flavours with every event.
Revive The Dark was conceived during the second shutdown as a way for audiences to help film exhibitors return to projecting films again. There has been some good government support for indie cinema venues and organisations during the pandemic (if they were lucky enough to get a grant!), but freelancers, volunteers and small-scale collectives need extra help returning to the big screen as it’s still tough. If we want more diverse and distinctive cinema in London, we – as audience members! – need to back it.
How do you think the pandemic has affected cinema culture in the UK and why should we worry about it?
It has affected screen culture in so many ways, but I’m going to start with a positive and that’s that the cinema shutdown was both a crisis for exhibitors and audiences alike, but also triggered huge creativity in the various kinds of emergency screen culture that emerged. RADIANT CIRCUS will shortly be publishing a zine called CRISIS? about just that, looking at how small scale festivals and film clubs found new audiences online and don’t want to lose them again now venues are reopen.
The biggest challenge I see is that the pandemic continues to have a massive negative impact on the money venues and film exhibitors can make, which obviously threatens their very existence.
RADIANT CIRCUS is dedicated to ensuring diverse DIY exhibitors can continue to show films for their audiences, and can screen titles that stretch the envelope rather than repeat the same old formula. Without support for indie cinema, film exhibition will be handed to people with the deepest pockets, and that will inevitably exclude many others from being able to take part.
What is ‘alternative screen culture’ and why is it so important to preserve it?
The core of it for me is people showing the films they are passionate about and building an audience community that has the same interests. Often these people are volunteers, collectives or freelancers working at the fringes of film, or people deeper in the film industry itself, but with an unstoppable urge for a cinematic side hustle. And often, they look very different to the mainstream industry, particularly in London where the real diversity is happening in the DIY film clubs and volunteer-run festivals you find in cinemas and alternative spaces like pubs, clubs and libraries.
But it goes further than that, because there’s also a wider community of people like me who create content about film, from blogs, vlogs and podcasts, to poster and merch designers, researchers and writers of all persuasions, and a host of artists and makers who repurpose and remix moving images.
Alternative screen culture is important because it’s how we take films and make them our own and make them last. For anyone interested in learning more, I’m delighted that Zodiac Film Club will be talking about your work along with other indie exhibitors at our new indie cinema networking event, WunderKammer Live (17 September 18:30+ at the Filly Brook E11, free!).
Tell me about a trip to the cinema that changed your life.
Because of tube delays, I had failed to cross London in time to see a screening of Fritz Lang’s 1929 silent sci-fi classic, WOMAN IN THE MOON. The film was being presented by Pitshanger Pictures in an historic church in Ealing with a live, improvised church organ score. 18 months later, and to reopen their screenings in between lockdowns, Pitshanger presented Lon Chaney’s 1929 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in the same venue with the same organist, Henry Tozer. I gave myself more than enough time to get there and was blown away. It was an epic night of cinema, made with care by passionate people for their local community. It reminded me I was doing the right thing with RADIANT CIRCUS, just when I was spinning on the spot… (it also reminded me to check for travel delays prior to any departure…).
If money were no object, describe your dream screening.
I’d travel back in time to when John Waters introduced a screening of TROG at BFI Southbank before stepping down from the stage to sit in the audience to enjoy it with us. It was part of BFI’s complete retrospective of his works, which included a programme of other people’s films he’d chosen as favourites. I never got to meet him then, but I can at least say I saw a movie with him.
Your community of subscribers (who fund the campaign) are ‘committed to preserving the rituals of cinema’. What are those rituals?
The rituals are simple but powerful: cinema is all about gathering, in a dark room full of strangers, to see stories projected on a wall. The communal nature of this shared cinema experience is what really matters, and it’s at risk from so many things: streaming, home and handheld media, the rising price of cinema tickets, barriers to film exhibition, and the ongoing pandemic, to name just a few.
This is why it’s something we’re passionate about preserving at RADIANT CIRCUS. And it’s why we back individual film exhibitors and collectives rather than venues or bigger events, because it’s their ‘showmanship’ that will really revive the dark by reaching out to diverse audiences.
And lastly, what do you get when you subscribe to the RADIANT CIRCUS Patreon.
Every subscriber gets our London film listings emailed directly to them, including monthly roundups of film seasons and festivals, weekly guides to one-off events and new releases, and daily updates so you always know what’s on.
They also get – according to the level of the subscription – copies of the zines we’re producing about alternative screen culture, and access to the awards ceremony we’re planning to help showcase DIY, diverse and distinctive cinema in London.
Finally, 40% of all monthly fees go directly to sponsor indie screen events in London as part of our Revive The Dark campaign. We’re incredibly proud that IN THE CUT is the first event to get our subscribers’ backing and we will be announcing more Revive The Dark events very soon [Ed: already done!].
Sarah Kathryn Cleaver is co-founder of Zodiac Film Club, dedicated to “good looking films, complex female characters and our faves in rarely screened cult, contemporary and classic cinema.”
#ReviveTheDark is an audience-backed campaign to promote alternative screen culture in London, powered by funding from our monthly subscribers at Patreon. Join RADIANT CIRCUS to support indie cinema.
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*THE SMALL PRINT: Opinions author’s own. // As accurate as we could make it. Apologies for any errors. Updates & corrections will be made to the online version only. // Event dates/times/formats are subject to change by the venue/organiser. Events may already be sold out at the time of posting, so please click quickly. // We try to list as many original format screenings as we can (8 to 70MM), but sometimes formats change due to age of the print, availability, logistics etc, so please check ahead with your venue if the format is your thing. // All images are used in the spirit of fair use for reporting & review – no ownership is implied or intended / unless otherwise credited to RADIANT CIRCUS as the original rights holder. We will remove any images immediately upon request – just get in touch. // We don’t filter our listings by age/certification: all readers & subscribers should therefore be 18+. // Finally, we always try to follow The Carny Code by “not screwing up anyone else’s game”, but everyone can make mistakes… If something does go wrong, we will always do our best to put it right. //.