WunderKammerLive (17 SEP) was our first network and showcase event for London’s alternative cinema community. The event was curated by RADIANT CIRCUS and hosted at the Filly Brook – an indie craft beer, food and music venue in E11 – as part of the Barbican-backed Leytonstone Loves Film (15 to 19 SEP 2021).
A mixed crowd of Leytonstoners, local cinema practitioners and those from further afield came together to hear four inspiring stories of diverse/DIY cinema, engage in some casual networking in the beer garden, and indulge in a surprise Friday night film which (much to our own surprise…), we’d managed to keep under wraps until the very last moment… Here’s what happened.
Talks got started by Isra Al Kassi from T A P E Collective who deserves enormous thanks simply for taking on the task of being our first ever speaker at our first ever WunderKammerLive!
Isra spoke about T A P E’s history and activism as a South London film collective championing a more inclusive industry by platforming shorts (see Good Wickedry!) and showcasing under-represented feature films through a combination of cross-arts events and community screenings. Founded in 2015, T A P E’s cinema programming is a response to the lack of representation on screen and has a special focus on identity, heritage and culture in film. Work is progressed through a combination of film events, discussion panels and written work covering a range of topics including Black-led horror culture, filmmaker origins in creating iconic music videos, and the African femme fetale.
Taking us through the collective’s history, Isra led us to the moment when T A P E was invited to pitch a season to the British Film Institute (BFI) for screening at their Southbank venue: “We went in with a very clear idea to make sure the concept doesn’t get watered down.” Their intention was nothing less than to “challenge the usual themes and procedures of big cultural institutions” and to “take over the physical and digital space for people of mixed heritage to feel comfortable enough to engage in the wider conversation.”
Hearing T A P E’s journey from small-scale collective to big-venue platform for their season BUT WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM? was a textbook lesson in remaining grounded and not being afraid to disrupt. The finished programme including a series of under-seen gems, classic films worthy of reappraisal, short film programmes and platform events. The legacy of the month-long season and preceding digital takeover includes tangible content such as zines, recorded panels, and video essays, a raised profile for certain films and shorts, and, perhaps most vitally, “raised awareness of the themes, language, names and model immigrant trope serve in life and in film.”
If that all sounds too much to resist, Isra ended by announcing that BUT WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM? is going on tour! Watch out for a screening at a venue near you soon…
Next up, Sarah Kathryn Cleaver from Zodiac Film Club spoke about about how a double act became a solo performance during lockdown as her co-founder – Jordan Storm Louise – moved on, throwing Sarah into the joy and challenge of working to her own strengths: “but I still haven’t managed to stop saying ‘we’, and I don’t intend to work on this alone forever, so if I sound like I have multiple personalities during this presentation that’s why.”
Zodiac Film Club started as an Instagram post in February 2018, reflecting a conversation the co-founders had “about our shared dream of opening a cinema in central London that only showed horror films”. Adopting the more manageable path of establishing film club, the Zodiacs (we’ll persist with that plural…) remain dedicated to “good looking films and complex female characters”. From cinema venues, to bars and boutique hotels, the philosophy behind their screenings remains driven by the same desire to watch films in a group with friends and talk about films with an audience. What’s fascinating about Zodiac film Club is how far that audience has grown: “We envisaged this happening after screenings, but ended up happening in a completely different way with a much larger group of people, all over the world, online via our Instagram.”
Like all of the presenters at WunderKammerLive, the Zodiacs’ work started off in humble settings “in the basement of a bar in Dalston, with a projector screen we thought was constantly in danger of falling off the ceiling and a projector just sitting in the middle of our audience, screening the 1971 version of THE BEGUILED to about 8 people.” Regarding themselves as starting out beyond the film industry, they have become increasingly connected through networks and collaborations that have enriched their community and events.
One of the core drivers of the popularity of their work – beyond the signature visual aesthetic which remains female-centred and focused on lesser-known titles – is a determination to make film culture accessible, not just in terms of their events but by opening up the conversation so their audience feels uninhabited to take part. Sarah describes two vital dimensions to this: “We didn’t want anyone to feel not clever enough or sophisticated enough at our events, and we were often drawn to films that were overlooked upon release, often simply because their audience was female.”
Writing about film has played a key feature in bringing that female audience together, both by generating content for brands and other content creators, as well as writing long form posts for their own Instagram about standout characters in films the Zodiacs love. As self-confessed “analogue-to-digital millennials”, the growth of their Instagram audience – 22.9k at the time of WunderKammerLive! – is now foundational to their work curating a community of film fans. And as Sarah says, this goes deep: “I’m not just talking about an audience or customers here. We’ve made actual friends doing this, we’ve met potential collaborators, mentors and colleagues.”
Successful strategies for growing their Instagram community have included take-overs, tapping into the collective consciousness of the internet by asking for film recommendations from their audience, and a newsletter that gives Zodiac Film Club a greater degree of control over their content (as opposed to always “being at the mercy of what Instagram deems worth showing our audience”). Watch parties were a key feature of lockdown but one of the surprising transitions that illustrates their approach was the recent launch of a second hand bookstall on Etsy. This involves Sarah finding and selling books about films and film culture that fit the Zodiac audience and aesthetic: “It’s not a huge money maker but it makes me connected to people in a different way to the screenings, and the Instagram, to choose things that I think are really interesting and to have other people be interested in them too. It’s totally worth the hours I have to spend wrapping and posting everything.”
The bookshop reflects a notion that is fundamental to their relationship with their audience: “I always have this in the back of my mind when I work on Zodiac – it’s an exchange”.
After a suitable break for more networking – and a chance to sample the generous craft ale selection across 18 taps at the Filly Brook! – Jonathan Ali from The Twelve30 Collective spoke about the history of their work and how, like T A P E Collective, a small scale programming partnership got lifted up by when given a chance to showcase their work on a (much!) larger screen and stage at BFI Southbank.
The Twelve30 Collective showcases classic and contemporary films from the Caribbean and its diaspora. Their stated aim is to “change the way Caribbean cinema is viewed within the global film landscape” and they do this by partnering with cinemas, festivals, academic institutions and community groups in the UK to programme and screen films, both in-person and online. In case you’re wondering (we certainly did!), their name is inspired by the “past days of watching movies at the old Caribbean cinema palaces – 12.30pm was the time each day the first feature screened in most cinemas across the region”.
Their first screening in London was at Birkbeck Cinema in November 2019 with programme Dreaming To Change the World: The films of the Victor Jara Collective offering a rare outing for two films from Guyana, THE TERROR AND THE TIME (1978) and IN THE SKY’S WILD NOISE (1983). Their profile has been rising ever since, gaining multiple ‘featured attractions of the week’ at radiantcircus.com, including for an online streaming of “the first film ever written and produced in San Andres-Providencia creole”, BAD LUCKY GOAT (22 AUG 2020)* and an in-venue screening of NO PLACE LIKE HOME at Screen25 Cinema as part of their Jamaican Independence Day weekender (06 to 08 AUG 2021).
Having secured the UK theatrical distribution rights for Perry Henzell’s second and once-thought ‘lost’ film, Twelve30 Collective’s own long journey with NO PLACE LIKE HOME was cemented with a preview screening for other independent film exhibitors organised by the Independent Cinema Office in December 2019. This was their chance to get the film out there, to share its glories with potential exhibitors and find screening partnerships to revive the film’s fame and fortunes… but we all know what happened next. Their next moment in the sun was the official UK premiere at the Cinema Rediscovered Festival at the Watershed in Bristol (01 AUG 2021) followed reasonably quickly (in the context of the many delays caused by the pandemic…) by a screening at BFI Southbank (11 SEP 2021), both featuring Q&As with Perry Henzell’s daughter, Justine.
Bringing the story right up to date, RADIANT CIRCUS is delighted to be sponsoring another screening of the film at Rio Cinema on Sunday 26 September as part of our #ReviveTheDark campaign. The Twelve30 Collective will be telling the film’s extraordinary backstory in a special introduction. We look forward to seeing you there!
The talks were given their grand finale by So Mayer from Club des Femmes speaking in the many rich and wonderful voices of the queer feminist collective. We don’t mean So was literally speaking in tongues, just that their presentation cleverly wove together contributions from across the collective, a tapestry of voices that spoke in harmony about their work.
Club des Femmes has been programming at independent venues across London since their Dykesploitation weekender at Curzon Soho in summer 2007. Recent years have seen the collective strengthening their relationship with the Rio Cinema and their “long history of supporting radical film culture” as part of Club des Femmes’ co-founder Selina Robertson’s Ph.D. research into its feminist and queer programming history.
And it was the literal framing of that history – through Selina’s discovery of a “a t-shirt with a 1986 programme cover featuring PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN, George Butler’s documentary, hanging beside the Rio’s box office” – that ultimately led to Lesbian Camp… In an act of venue and film fandom, Selina “bought it, wore it constantly until the colours and shapes started to fade. I told myself that one day Club des Femmes would host a new screening of the film at the Rio.”
Club Des Femmes’ plans for in-venue screening events were temporarily put on hold due to COVID and, like many clubs and collectives, they transformed their operating model choosing to work as an unfunded online webzine. Inspiration from some of the published pieces helped find a way to re-think their ideas of screening PUMPING IRON II – “Looking back at the wilder fringes of the 1980s and finding them trans-inclusive, sex-positive, anarchic and political” – and give rise to the full Lesbian Camp concept.
After the initial traumas of the pandemic (ongoing we know…), the theme of camp was chosen “because we wanted to not take things seriously even as we took them seriously; but also camp because we wanted to hang out together and mark the arrival of summer.” Lesbian Camp would also be the time, after some additional online events, when CDF once again had the opportunity to “offer queer joy in the physical place where so many of us first found our desire or belonging: the cinema.”
In addition to PUMPING IRON II, Lesbian Camp included a programme of shorts by trans filmmakers, and “the ultimate lesbian camp classic”, BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER, screening in a special 20th Anniversary Director’s Cut complete with a Zoom Q&A with the director “chatting away while seated in her car wearing a big sun hat”… The gathering was given physical form with new artwork in the form of a poster, flyer and badges by Javie Huxley. So/CdF generously dished out small doses of lesbian camp in a badge giveaway that delighted the WunderKammer crowd.
What was clear throughout So’s talk and Club des Femmes’ practice as a whole is the vital importance of collaboration and, through that, giving recognition and respect to every contributory voice. It’s not surprising therefore that So ended their talk with a quote from Hannah Hamad, winner of a Twitter ticket giveaway:
“The Club Des Femmes screening of the evergreen BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER was my first chance to experience happiness in a cinema in almost a year and a half, and it was truly joyous.”
The explosive conclusion to our evening was the reveal and screening of our secret film…. Which turned out to be John Waters’ 2000 cult action comedy, CECIL B. DEMENTED… Our founder and Barker-In-Chief introduced the film by saying “What better way to celebrate an evening dedicated to independent cinema than an offensive film that both loves and satirises independent cinema?” After reading out a lengthy content warning, was this a wise choice? The film went down a storm.
Here’s what people had to say:
What a great evening! The MC was fantastic and warm, and the presenters gave us such great insight. Then closing with CECIL B. DEMENTED was a stroke of genius! Well done all :).
It was so useful to have a space for such unique visions of cinema to come together and share their stories… CECIL B. DEMENTED was an inspired choice, it just made us light up!
We all got demented with a surprise screening of John Waters’ brilliantly bonkers takedown of cinephile pretentiousness/Hollywood vacuity, CECIL B. DEMENTED.
Was such an amazing evening and blow me, took me two days to recover and say it x
Well this was wunderbar! Leytonstone Loves Film indeed. Here’s to more zines & spoken word! More films finding the screen 50 years after completion! More lush Insta stories! & to more #WunderKammerLive!
Thank you to all our contributors, to the proud indie team at the FillyBrook, and all our backers and partners at the Barbican for #LeytonstoneLovesFilm. Particular thanks to our venue manager Georgia and tech manager Malcolm (who accepted our request for CECIL B. DEMENTED to “play it loud”). Until we get to host another WunderKammerLive we have just one thing to say: #DementedForever!
*As our founder heckled Jonathan during his presentation at WunderKammerLive, “Put a goat on the back of a motorbike, and we’re gonna list it!”
The first volume of our new WunderKammer Zine CRISIS? will look at the emergency screen culture that was created during shutdown featuring new commissions from some of London’s finest indie film clubs.
The second volume REVIVE THE DARK will look at the kind of DIY/diverse cinema that is emerging now that venues are (re)open and includes pieces from all of the contributors to our first WunderKammer Live.
Copies of the zines will be on sale soon from our e-shop.
DISCOVER MORE FILM // SUPPORT INDIE CINEMA
RADIANT CIRCUS is powered by monthly subscribers. Get great rewards & help #ReviveTheDark. JOIN US!
*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. //.