Considering what really matters - a blog post about the importance of shared audience experiences at the cinema.

THE VIEW FROM ROW E: Reviving the darkness

As independent cinema exhibitors of all shapes & sizes start to navigate their emergence from shutdown (however long that may take), it’s time to revive regular posting at RADIANT CIRCUS. Here’s a few reflections from our usual seat in the auditorium (virtually of course…).


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Following the immediate shutdown of public film exhibition, I put RADIANT CIRCUS into temporary intermission, hoping some clarity would emerge. As more time has passed, we have no greater clarity, many tens of thousands of people have died from the virus in the UK alone and all kinds of businesses are on the brink of collapse (if they have not already fallen).

To the many indie exhibitors – venues, festivals, film clubs and beyond – who have kept sharing stories with their audiences throughout this period, you have my intense support and admiration. You will have shared artistry and entertainment whilst also providing valuable company and a reassuring focus for people who have, in many ways, lost everything that our familiar lifestyles entail.

We sometimes forget that the joys of company and the thrill of finding a new film together (even if we hate it!) provide a really powerful boost to our mental health and wellbeing. If we as a society are ever to fully understand the importance of both our mental and physical health, we need to recognise that humans shut down and go into decline when we are devoid of contact and stimulation. This is true across our lifespans, from our earliest years to the still-smouldering embers of our later lives.

I’m never one for forcing a sense of equivalence – our understanding of the world rests on embracing complexity – but increasingly my Thursday night claps were for everyone who brings health, security, joy and comfort into other people’s lives.

I don’t know about you, but for the last of our shared Thursday rituals, I really went for it, raising my ancestors with a riot of noise. I have a broken kitchen spoon, rendered asunder as I expressed my profound appreciation on an old saucepan.

I’ll keep the broken shards. As a token of these curious times.


Emerging from the confusion of shutdown, one thing has become much clearer for me. That the usual British sense of apologising for the arts needs to be put behind us. Culturally we have it deep within ourselves to shrug our shoulders and pretend the arts are frivolous affairs: that, whilst nice, they are not really that important.

If I sit here having learnt anything after extended lockdown on my own, it’s that what’s really important is a profound sense of joy. Joy comes from being with our families and loved ones. From food and friendship. But joy also comes from sitting in a dark room with strangers and seeing stories projected on the wall. The absence of joy is a reliable marker of depression and we must not allow the things that feed our sense of joy to be trivialised and marginalised ever again.

If I leave lockdown with anything, it’s a renewed sense that I will never compromise on the communal power of cinema as a force for good.


As the world around us starts to open up, it’s also time to reanimate the sleeping giant that is my lifelong love affair with seeing films with audiences. I simply hadn’t understood how much this ritual means to me. Which means it’s also time that RADIANT CIRCUS returns to regular posts.

It will take a long while to rebuild comprehensive event listings, not just because of the likely absence of screened content but the familiar routines of compiling and promoting weekly screen guides will need to be remodelled around other changes caused by the crisis. It’s also time to recognise that London needs more than one voice to cover its increasingly diverse alternative cinema scene. Collaborations with other contributors will help bring joy back to my 365 vigil on these pages. More of that soon.

I’ll get things re-started by trying to keep abreast of news as London-based exhibitors emerge from shutdown and start preparing for public screenings (in any form). It is likely that this will be a rapidly changing scenario as mainstream exhibitors, and some smaller indie venues and events will inevitably find it easier than others to open up. By ‘easy’ I mean they will have found ways to be reliably and reassuringly COVID-secure for their staff, volunteers and audiences, to manage socially distanced and thus drastically reduced box office revenues, and juggle the always unforgiving economies of film exhibition. Not every exhibitor will re-open but new ones will emerge. And I want RADIANT CIRCUS to be on top of that for you.

According to a recent ICO report, many independent venues and exhibitors aren’t contemplating returning until September, or maybe even next year. Given that the government has yet to publish relevant guidance for the sector, every aspiration to resume public exhibition remains a tangled knot of known unknowns. This uncertainty, and the inevitably long lead times required to open any event or venue securely, changes the landscape considerably. I’ll look more at the ICO’s invaluable report, along with other sector news, in another post soon.


Until we can gather again in darkness I want to thank all of my RADIANT CIRCUS friends and followers for sticking with me through a time of quiet and continued crisis. Particularly, my loyal monthly subscribers at Patreon. Not all of them have been able to continue their memberships, and given the challenges we face in every corner of society, I cannot blame anyone for stepping back. What matters is that I have greatly enjoyed your company. It makes a return to celebrating what really matters eminently possible.

Thank you for keeping me going.

Richard – Barker-In-Chief, RADIANT CIRCUS

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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