THE VIEW FROM ROW E: Celebrating the social side of cinema 
[PART TWO] We’re inviting audiences to submit a #LDNindieFILM Love Story to support London’s alternative cinema scene at this time of crisis. In the second part of our celebration of the social side of cinema, our Barker-In-Chief shares some of his favourite ‘brief encounters’ in the dark from the last two years.
By RADIANT CIRCUS
Twitter @radiantcircus | Instagram @radiantcircus
> SUBMIT your #LDNindieFILM Love Story to help keep London’s alternative cinema screens open.
As exhibitors across London face an uncertain future, we’re inviting audiences to show their support for London’s alternative cinema scene by submitting a #LDNindieFILM Love Story. Tell us about:
- your favourite venue or event;
- a film night that blew your mind;
- a film tribe you’re proud to be part of.
To inspire your creativity, here are some of my favourite ‘brief encounters’ from the two years between March 2018 when we started our Patron appeal at RADIAT CIRCUS and March 2020 when the screens went dark. They continue a theme I started exploring in PART ONE: the potent ritual of gathering together in darkness to watch stories projected on the wall. Two of them are about porn… but there are very good reasons for that.
Until we can gather together again,
STAY AT HOME ? PROTECT THE NHS ? SAVE LIVES
& we will get through this.
Richard – Barker-In-Chief, RADIANT CIRCUS
16 NOV 2019 // FRINGE! QUEER FILM & ARTS FEST
Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest is one of the highlights of my indie screen year. Not just because I’ve taken to volunteering as part of their tribe, but because Fringe! radiates inclusive queerness. No other night comes more alive than their annual programme of sex-, queer- and body-positive short films which tends to travel under different names (in 2019 it was (DEEP) INTO YOU). For anyone of a nervous disposition (and in 2019 that included an audience member yelping in shock at a particularly voluminous female ejaculation…), this joyful event is a thoroughly NSFW celebration of queer bodies from relatively straightforward on-camera couplings to subterranean kinks (another memorable film included an object lesson in how not to get your pancakes delivered at this time of social distancing…). But what makes the event so special is Fringe!’s loyal and loud audience. This is their #LDNindieFILM Love Story, turning each screening into an interactive encounter as the sex on screen is enabled by cheers from the packed auditorium.
[IMAGE: DEEP CLEAN | dir. David Wilson | UK 2019 | 4min]
28 SEP 2019 // SMARTPHONE FILM FESTIVAL
RADIANT CIRCUS exists to promote the audience perspective on London’s alternative cinema scene, but occasionally we get to step behind the projector. Last year I had the joy of being a judge for the second time at Last Frame Club’s Smartphone Film Festival. That meant judging and then witnessing one of my favourite horror shorts of the last few years throw audiences out of their seats (well, deckchairs as the screening was upstairs at The Birds as part of Leytonstone Loves Film). SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH DAD is a homemade father and son horror, that won them Best International Film at the festival and had a similar propulsive effect when we showed it at our own pop-up cinema project, LUNCHTIME FILM SOCIETY, later in the year. I won’t spoil it for you, but SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH DAD always makes me smile and has to be seen on a screen far larger than the one it was filmed on.
[IMAGE: SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH DAD | dir. Cooper & Nate Torrence | USA 2019 | 16min]
26 to 28 APR 2019 // LONDON PORN FILM FESTIVAL
Sadly, the virus isn’t the only time I’ve seen screens go dark in the last couple of years… This #LDNindieFILM Love Story is about learning something very humbling regarding freedoms of speech and expression when huddled in the corner of a secret venue in South London with a bunch of jittery audience members and exhausted organisers staring at a blank screen. Blank because hate had seemingly – if only fleetingly – won.
London Porn Film Festival had been shut down by organisations complaining about the content and threatening to blockade the venue. Following a rapid relocation, and with the help of some sturdy legal representation to get local authority approval for each title, the festival screened their entire programme as intended (just a little later than scheduled). As a result, I didn’t get to see a single frame, but I’m very glad to have been there in solidarity.
[IMAGE: ELEPHANT THE ALLISON | dir. So Yarli | Hong Kong & UK 2018 | 12min]
25 MAR 2019 // ABOUT A WAR
Sometimes the power of a film is amplified by the conversations it starts… ABOUT A WAR is a doc by academics and filmmakers Daniele Rugo and Abi Weaver. It looks back at the 15-year Lebanese Civil War from the perspective of three ex-combatants – Ahed, Nassim & Assad. Each from a different side of the conflict, they spend much of the film talking to camera about how war happened in their lives and what hasn’t changed in their country as a consequence. Instead of neat, verified narratives, ABOUT A WAR awards audiences the rare, if uncomfortable, luxury of time. Time with three men who picked up weapons to kill.
The Q&A that followed at ArtHouse Crouch End was full of passionate audience input. Similar screenings in the Lebanon have seen some audience members take Rugo and Weaver’s responsible record as an opportunity to start their own reconciliations. My own personal conversation continued with the filmmakers in a fascinating interview after the screening, making this #LDNindieFILM Love Story about the power of staying around for the special features.
[IMAGE: ABOUT A WAR | dir. Daniele Rugo & Abi Weaver | Lebanon & UK 2019 | 84min]
06 MAR 2019 // STOP
In some ways this #LDNindieFILM Love Story didn’t start too well. Following frequent drops of “materiality” in opening remarks with artist/curator Ghislaine Leung, Jeff Preiss introduced STOP as a film “about its aboutness”. Now, these are the kind of gnomic utterances about artists’ films that get me twitchy. When Preiss left the stage cheerfully admitting STOP won’t be the easiest of watches but “I think we’ll get by”, the audience braced for impact.
It got much better… If you get a chance to see STOP, I recommend going in knowing nothing but preparing yourself for a jarring journey. Preiss splices together sequential home movie scenes – shot daily on a handheld Bolex camera over 17 years – without much dialogue or narrative continuity. Each cut is marked by static noise and a number card noting the reel change.
Like TEAROOM that I’d seen at the same venue as part of London Short Film Festival earlier in 2018, the really memorable moment here was stumbling back out onto The Mall amongst a shell-shocked audience… The folk I left with had lost patience at title card 200. The film gets somewhere near 350. STOP is quite possibly the most challenging, beautiful and rewarding film I’ve seen in ages.
[IMAGE: STOP | dir. Jeff Preiss | USA 1995-2012 | 120min]
16 to 17 FEB 2019 // THE BITCH/THE STUD
I wanted to avoid every #LDNindieFILM Love Story being about the film events I’ve been involved with, but it would be a shame not to mention the return of very late night movies to the wonderful Rio Cinema. Ranjit S. Ruprai’s MIDNIGHT EXCESS is a project born of a lifelong passion for consuming movies that fall far from the mainstream and spooled in a series of collabs with some outstanding guest curators. Opening night was a double dose of Collins c/o Ranjit and Zodiac Film Club. An eager crowd – some queuing early to see favourite films they’d never seen on the big screen – quaffed complimentary Cinzanos in Rio’s Art Deco splendour until the early hours. Leaving the cinema at 4am never felt so fresh.
Read more about Ranjit in our 2018 interview (Part One – we’ve had so much fun since we never got round to Part Two…).
[IMAGE: THE STUD | dir. Quentin Masters | UK 1978 | 95min]
04 FEB 2019 // WOFFF ON TOUR
Sometimes the smorgasbord of a short film screening can leave you wanting more, but these shorts from the Women Over 50 Film Festival’s ‘Best Of The Fest’ pop-up touring event delivered all the calories. But much more than that, after venturing into the wilds of Waltham Forest to watch the films and imbibe warming spirits at Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace, the standout satisfaction was being with a really great crowd of people who loved the films, loved the event and really loved WOFFF’s mission of showing great films made by or featuring women over 50. You know when you’ve found your film tribe and this was one of those moments.
Read more about WOFFF in the 2019 interview I did with co-founder/director Nuala O’Sullivan.
[IMAGE: GOOD GIRLS DON’T | dir. Ana de Lara | Canada 2017 | 15min]
09 DEC 2018 // LOVE, GILDA
I’ve enjoyed several screen adventures with The Celluloid Sorceress since starting RADIANT CIRCUS, but a personal favourite has to be her UK premiere of Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary LOVE, GILDA at the glorious Phoenix Cinema (09 DEC 2018). Niki always travels the extra distance to put her shows together, and traveling to LA to secure the rights to this marvellous reminder of one woman’s talents was just the start of a journey that included a season of Radner’s films projected from 35mm and the tantalising (and still to be realised….) prospect of Niki screening ANIMALYMPICS. LOVE, GILDA was introduced by the director and followed by a fascinating Q&A with The Sorceress herself. A filmed ‘phone message from Gilda’s brother, Michael, gave this special event extra blessing.
Read more about The Celluloid Sorceress in our 2018 interview (Part One & Part Two).
[IMAGE: LOVE, GILDA | dir. Lisa D’Apolito | USA 2018 | 88min]
31 OCT 2018 // TEXAS CHAIN SAW on Super 8
I had promised myself never to watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE again. For all my love of horror, it’s a film that gets under the skin and stays there like a stain. Why did I follow Sally, Franklin and friends into the slaughterhouse once more? Maybe it was the lure of Super 8, or maybe the realisation that RADIANT CIRCUS hadn’t visited Ciné-Real 16mm Film Club at The Castle… Either way, I found myself being dragged back through that sliding shutter…
The film’s visceral horrors had remained undiminished. Whilst a change-of-reel intermission (complete with adorable “win a Super 8 film” raffle…) helped slow the descent into hell, the domestic projection format added considerable rust to CHAIN SAW’s blade. More than forty years after its original release, Tobe Hooper’s film still had the power to pollute your eyes and ears. This was the perfect Halloween nightmare (thank heaven The Castle’s sturdy armchair seating…).
[Special mention: Ciné-Real’s famed projectionist Umit had a nightmare of his own with a 16mm screening of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL in late 2019. The sound was a problem throughout – as if we were listening to the film underwater – but the truly memorable bit came when the film jumped the reel near the end, requiring Umit to ‘hand spool’ the last few minutes onto the floor without missing a frame… remarkable!].
[IMAGE: THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE | dir. Tobe Hooper | USA 1974 | 83min]
18 OCT 2018 // DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME
There are many great reasons to travel to the Cinema Museum, and Kennington Bioscope’s jaw-dropping programme of silent film with live piano accompaniment is one of the standouts. However, the volume went beyond 11 for their special screening of Bill Morrison’s DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME, a film about the explosive power of film itself.
Director Bill Morrison was joined by silent cinema supremo Kevin Brownlow to discuss the 2016 doc about the loss and rediscovery of a hoard of silent films at the end of the Gold Rush tracks. We also got to see some of the actual salvaged films from Kevin’s own collection, shown with excellent live accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulos. The entire event was a labour of love from film historian and curator, Michelle Facey (read more about her work in our interview (Part One & Part Two). My writeup couldn’t do an event of this scale and substance justice…
[IMAGE: DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME | dir. Bill Morrison | USA 2016 | 120min]
DEPTFORD CINEMA x3
I spent some of 2018/19 connecting with the wonderful volunteer team at Deptford Cinema. Here are three standout encounters from that time:
> THE ONE WITH THE SIDE TITLES // 23 & 24 MAR 2019
Amos Levin and Deptford Cinema played host over two repeat screenings to Annik Leroy and a 16mm projection of her film, IN DER DÄMMERSTUNDE BERLIN DE L’AUBE À LA NUIT. An ambulatory tour of an eerily empty West Berlin in the late 1970s, the film was triggered by Leroy’s encounters with Berliners still haunted by memories of WWII, several of whom we hear off-screen. On screen, Leroy prowls through seemingly deserted streets and visits the haunted spectacle of Berlin’s “ghost stations” that led nowhere following urban division by the wall. At one point her voiceover observes “The whole city is lost in twilight” which pretty much sums up this beautiful film.
Programmer and projectionist Amos Levin had to juggle manually advanced digital sidetitles along with the perpetually whirring beast of a 16mm projector (complete with its occasional sound losses…) before clambering onto the stage to host the Q&A. Thanks to Leroy for her warmth and generosity in discussion after the film. Thanks to Amos and Deptford Cinema for making all of this happen.
[IMAGE: IN DER DÄMMERSTUNDE BERLIN DE L’AUBE À LA NUIT | dir. Annik Leroy | Belgium 1980 | 67min]
> THE ONE WITH LLOYD KAUFMAN // 13 MAR 2019
You’ve heard of Troma’s movies and probably like me you haven’t paid enough attention to Lloyd Kaufman himself. Maybe you think Troma movies are juvenile, over the top, crass? An endless parade of gore, tits and excreta barely animated by borrowed plots, bad acting and plastic penises? And of course, you’re right… But after spending an evening with the man, the ‘uncle’, the legend… you also come away with other, radically different impressions.
You understand his fierce stance against contemporary streaming media and how its global brands are “killing the artist” whilst masquerading as the good guys. You witness the passion of his career-long commitment to freedoms of speech and, more recently, net neutrality. You get the real sense that Uncle Lloyd’s embarrassing plastic penises have become the canaries in the coal mine of an urgent battle against oppressive social shifts and unchecked political and corporate interference.
Throughout the evening, Kaufman flips between hilarious anecdote, effusive praise for the DIY venue, name-checking emerging artists and venting anger fuelled by his many just causes. Pat Kaufman – former New York Film Commissioner, Lloyd’s longstanding “first wife” (a joke the couple play on a lot…), and now producer of Troma’s latest, SHAKESPEARE’S SH*TSTORM – has her hands full keeping him on track. They are a delightful double act.
I went expecting just some dumb movie (although TROMEO + JULIET is way more enjoyable than that). I left with the impression that Kaufman is someone who really needs to be listened to. He’s the guy who has survived the shitstorm and spotted the next one coming…
[IMAGE: TROMEO & JULIET | dir. Lloyd Kaufman | USA 1996 | 107min]
> THE ONE WITH THE PEWS // 13 OCT 2018
Deptford Cinema’s volunteers stepped out of their intimate 40 seat venue to embrace the epic, screening all 205 minutes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s medieval artist biopic ANDREI RUBLEV in St Nicholas Church. Unlike the diminished spectacle often associated with the name – where you pay to watch other people have a great time – this truly was “event cinema”; from Deptford’s shift in scale to the monumental surroundings, and even more monumental film.
Augmented by excellent vegan food and an amply stocked bar, the space that Deptford Cinema created invited audiences to pay close attention to this incredible artwork, benefiting from a context also born of profound faith to bring out its many themes. This is then a #LDNindieFILM Love Story to the many volunteers who throw their passion into making great film events happen. I can’t sing my praises of this extraordinary evening loudly enough (literally, my singing voice is terrible…).
[IMAGE: ANDREI RUBLEV | dir. Andrei Tarkovsky | USA 1996 | 107min]
03 MAR 2018 // LABYRINTHS – THE FILMS OF PETER BURR
Showmanship gets a rough ride in the annals of film exhibition, as if it is somehow the schlocky country cousin of more refined film appreciation, mere auditorium trickery designed to rob already emptied pockets. But video artist Peter Burr understands the relationship between human physiology and the projector beam, and exploits – should that be ‘assaults’? – it mercilessly. Seeing LABYRINTHS – THE FILMS OF PETER BURR projected at Barbican Centre as part of 2018’s Edge OF Frame experimental animation weekender was one of life’s mind-blowing encounters in darkness (or should that be light, because there was so much of it?).
Head honcho Edwin Rostron gave good warning with his cautionary opening salvo: “If you have light sensitivities, this really isn’t the programme for you.” Glancing back from the screen into the auditorium to see the audience bleached beyond recognition in a whiteout of aggressive flickering light, this #LDNindieFILM Love Story is all about the raw power of the projector bulb.
And that’s the meat of it…
Please show your support for London’s alternative cinema by submitting your own #LDNindieFILM Love Story.
You can also browse our London Venue A to Z to find out how you can support your favourite indie cinema directly.
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