In the first of a new series of guest posts about DIY / emergency screen culture, researcher Jade Evans writes about Carol Morley’s #FridayFilmClub, one of the joyous hashtag movements to emerge out of the cinema shutdown.
March 2020. The UK went into sudden lockdown, and film fans everywhere were disheartened as disaster struck and the cinemas closed their doors. Film theatres that should have been filled with people munching popcorn, excited for the big new releases or experiencing classic films on the big screen, would remain desolate for months, and big-name films, including the latest James Bond instalment and BLACK WIDOW, postponed their release dates, many films switching to on-demand releases.
No one was able to predict the severity of the pandemic on the world, and indeed on the film industry. The cinema-going experience is a communal one. Cinemas bring people together to experience the excitement, the joy, the tears, and the anger that films have the power to invoke in us all. After the final credits have rolled, we often find ourselves discussing it with others in the cinema foyer, with family and friends, or online, often with total strangers. When the cinemas closed their doors, and many film fans switched to streaming films on demand, could the cinema experience be emulated in the virtual world?
One person who believed it could be was filmmaker Carol Morley (OUT OF BLUE, THE FALLING, DREAMS OF A LIFE) who wrote a tweet one evening that would mark the beginning of a virtual cinema-going experience, community, and friendship group unlike any other. She created the #FridayFilmClub.
The #FridayFilmClub was formed on the basis that whilst the UK lockdown continued and the cinemas remained closed, every Friday at 8pm, anyone and everyone could take part in watching a film together. The excitement built up as we eagerly awaited Carol Morley’s tweet each week announcing the film we would watch that Friday, tweets frequently ending with #WeAllWatchTogether – a hashtag reinforcing and reminding us of the communal experience of the #FridayFilmClub. Over the course of 20 weeks, films included classics such as CHARADE (1963) and A STAR IS BORN (1937), recent hits such as PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2009, the screening held in collaboration with Mubi who provided a large number of #FridayFilmClub members with free trials), live festival streams such as TREMBLE ALL YOU WANT (2017), and more obscure choices including SITA SINGS THE BLUES (2008). The diversity of the film selections led to post-film discussions that were engaging, with films that we may not otherwise have seen.
As the weeks passed, familiar names popped up on Twitter, with an increasing number of tweets incorporating the #FridayFilmClub hashtag. The word spread, and the #FridayFilmClub became the focus of news articles, featuring on Anna Smith’s Girls on Film podcast. During the post-film discussions, Carol Morley enthusiastically and diligently retweeted and replied to everyone, and the #FridayFilmClub hashtag became a way to connect us all in discussion. Whether members enjoyed or disliked the film, comments were respectful. The post-film discussions became the virtual lockdown equivalent of meeting in the cinema bar after the film, and friendships quickly formed. Threads of thought continued week by week. Members began making connections to previous films, referencing the theme of the lovable and inspiring grandmother characters we felt deserved their own spin-off films. We tweeted about the numerous iconic cats appearing in films over the weeks, and formed a tradition of thinking up queer alternative endings to many of the films. #FridayFilmClub became a time for collectivity when many of us were separated from family and friends, or spending lockdown alone.
The connections made with other members of the #FridayFilmClub, and the ways in which it eased the bleak reality of isolation is what I cherished most about Carol Morley’s gift of the #FridayFilmClub. She brought us all together in a way that no other virtual film club could. She connected us all. As a way of thanking her, I suggested that we celebrate the work of our club’s founder, Carol Morley, with an all-day marathon of her filmography.
The word spread as the #FridayFilmClub prepared to spend an entire day together watching through Carol Morley’s films. We connected with each other in discussion with the hashtag #MorleyMarathon before ending the day with an interview between Carol Morley and myself, with many members of the #FridayFilmClub in attendance. The event took the virtual world of the #FridayFilmClub outside of Twitter and provided our first form of get together when restrictions still did not permit meeting up in large groups.
During interview, Carol Morley summarised the #MorleyMarathon as extending the communal experience of the #FridayFilmClub. It was an event which brought people together, and was filled with hope and optimism, something she believed was a political act.
Just a few weeks later, as the cinemas announced their reopening, Carol Morley announced the final #FridayFilmClub screening. On the 31st July 2020, the final film screening would include a double bill, starting with a short film entitled DOOMSDAY (1934, from the East Anglian Film Archive), followed by the main feature, COLLECTIVE: UNCONSCIOUS (2016 – featured image). These dreamlike, surreal films were an apt choice for the final screening, celebrating the end of a film club which in itself had become a dreamlike experience during a very surreal time for us all.
Whilst a degree of optimism accompanied the knowledge that UK cinemas were preparing to reopen, the weekly club would be missed by all. Indeed, the final screening was marked with emotional tweets from members who expressed gratitude towards Carol Morley for having persisted in bringing us together each week. Tweets reminisced about favourite memories from the film club, through to thanking Carol Morley for creating the collective experience and inspiring us all with her generosity.
Whilst this would be the final screening as we knew it, the #FridayFilmClub was a community, and it would last long after the final screening. Carol Morley thanked members who had taken part each week by extending her kindness and gratitude to members in sending out badges emblazoned with the #FridayFilmClub hashtag attached to signed notes. We held a one-off #FridayFilmClub double bill of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) and Carol Morley’s THE FALLING (2014) on Sunday 1st November 2020, and a #FridayFilmClub Christmas special screening of PANTO on Friday 18th December 2020. Members have come together to live tweet to a screening of Morley’s OUT OF BLUE on BBC2 and continue to engage with each other via the hashtag, despite the end of the weekly #FridayFilmClub screenings. The virtual community formed by Carol Morley as a response to lockdown has continued for over a year since the final weekly screening.
As the UK lockdown began to ease, the time had arrived for us to plan an in-person event. Something to look forward to. A real world experience, where the virtual would become physical and members of Morley’s #FridayFilmClub could come face-to-face, without the virtual barrier of twitter. Determined to provide the opportunity for the virtual community to meet in the real world, I began to make plans for the #FridayFilmClub to come together, in-person, and put the call out on Twitter.
Carol Morley spread the word, and members were eager to join. Searching through the club’s hashtag, I contacted as many people as I could find. Keen to make the event special, and to mark our gratitude to Carol for the gift of community, I suggested we make a scrapbook to celebrate the highlights of #FridayFilmClub – a joint endeavour, where members could contribute their own creative submissions in order for us all to thank Carol Morley in our own way – a scrapbook celebrating what the #FridayFilmClub was all about – a way of coming together, with optimism at its very heart – Morley’s statement “optimism is a political act” echoing through us all.
In a time when virtual communication so easily becomes lost, the scrapbook was a way to preserve the discussions and community that were formed throughout Carol Morley’s #FridayFilmClub. Contributions from the #FridayFilmClub arrived, including collages, artwork, cards, letters and messages, all marking what #FridayFilmClub meant to us all. The scrapbook contained pages dedicated to every film, accompanied by tweets discussing them from members preserving the highlights of our weekly conversations. It contained a collage and list of films, and a section dedicated to the #MorleyMarathon, with a large chunk of the scrapbook dedicated to members sharing their favourite memories of taking part in the #FridayFilmClub.
On 17th July 2021, the #FridayFilmClub came together in person, meeting in St. James’ Park, London for a picnic. The virtual community who had bonded over the first 20 weeks of lockdown met in-person to celebrate the #FridayFilmClub, joined by its founder, Carol Morley. As we came together, discussions that had only been previously possible by virtual means could be held in person, and it was an opportunity for members to meet each other in the physical world. Gifting Carol Morley the scrapbook, members thanked her for what she had gifted us during the lockdown – community, friendship and film. What was initially intended as a collective film-viewing experience at the start of the UK lockdown became so much more. Out of chaos came collectivity, hope and optimism. The alternative experience of watching films during the cinema closure bonded us all through virtual film discussions. The #FridayFilmClub community continues to exist, long after the final screening’s credits rolled.
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ALSO IN THIS SERIES:
- RADIANT CIRCUS on DIY / emergency screen culture.
- Michelle Facey on Kennington Bioscope’s silent cinema channel KBTV
- Daniel & Clara on their Moving Image Salon for artists & experimental filmmakers
- Julia Brow of eco film club No Planet B on finding new content collabs
- Catriona Mahmoud on taking Screen25 community cinema online with Stream25
- Sarah Kathryn Cleaver on building Zodiac Film Club’s Instagram community
Vol:02 / REVIVAL?
Our next series of commissions will focus on the theme REVIVAL?, taking its title from our audience-backed #ReviveTheDark campaign. If CRISIS? asked ‘what happened?’, REVIVAL? will ask ‘what happens next?’. It will share a series of arguments for more diverse and distinctive cinema. And it will show how, rather than any single ‘great white film’ coming to save the cinema experience, the foot soldiers in this particular fight are the DIY exhibitors hacking the cinema experience to make it matter to them, and to the audiences who find their way to the light.
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