Our first commissioned collection of new writing is all about the DIY/emergency screen culture that was created during shutdown. We introduce the series by asking ‘what happened?’.
Our mission at RADIANT CIRCUS is to ‘promote and preserve alternative screen culture in London’. We’ve taken our linguistic cues from some of the old online resources dedicated to sideshow carnivals in the USA, a shared tribal burial ground that also resonates with how we think about film exhibition:
“Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism.”// Werner Herzog
‘Promoting’ may be obvious given all the screen guides and event listings that get pumped out from radiantcircus.com, but ‘preserving’ takes a little bit more explaining.
We’re not trying to hold onto old forms of cinema, like reactionary archivists clutching our faded index cards. We are much more interested in preserving what happens when we go to the movies as it’s the event – or, rather, the experience – that all too frequently gets lost. This is a tragedy for two reasons. Firstly, it tosses a huge part of our shared social history onto the scrapheap of memory. Secondly, it overlooks the very acts of ‘showmanship’ that brought ‘the film’ to the public’s attention in the first place. This issue of showmanship is one that we consider to be vitally important, particularly when cinema itself faces an(other?) existential crisis.
If we are to ‘promote and preserve’ alternative screen culture for the future, we need to pay even more attention to how films get out there, how they are given new meaning, and how ownership of that meaning is transferred to, and amplified by, a film’s audiences. We think that’s all about putting on a show.
When the pandemic hit, that show took a pummelling. This isn’t the place to explore all of the impact of this deadly period in our global history. Instead, we use this series of articles to focus on one part of it: the enormous amount of creative energy that was poured into salvaging what could be saved and creating new opportunities with the tools at hand when our world got shut down.
It’s already too easy to forget what shutdown was like. The empty streets, the even emptier shelves in the supermarkets, and the fear that contact with those close to us could be deadly. For too many, it was. But out of the distress came stories of people trying to connect, of online screenings starting to happen, of camaraderie and, dare I say it, cinema. No, we weren’t in a building having our ears assaulted by the Dolby Atmos, but we were starting to see films with strangers again, we were witnessing their broadcast responses to the event, and we had scheduled times to be somewhere that had meaning (even if that ‘somewhere’ was our kitchen table, or wherever else we could perch a laptop for some shared solitude).
For this first collection of new writing about cinema (published IRL as our first WunderKammer Zine and distributed to attendees at our first WunderKammer Live), RADIANT CIRCUS went looking for insider accounts of what actually happened when London’s indie and alternative film exhibitors swerved the shutdown and went online.
Using #ReviveTheDark funding from our monthly subscribers at Patreon, we put out an open call for paid commissions and hoped to hear back from films clubs, festivals, lone wolf curators and diverse community collectives alike. We wanted to know what was done, what it was like, and what, if anything, is worth hanging onto now the world has started up again? We were particularly interested in receiving accounts of the shared experience of online screening events. What did this emergency cinema feel like as a communal event? What did audiences love, and what did they ignore? And to help focus minds, we pushed our contributors even further into a corner: was the cinema shutdown actually a crisis, or was it a renewal?
What you will read in this series are the answers that were pitched successfully and selected by RADIANT CIRCUS for publication. They all originate from London, but you’ll see that the collaborations stretch far further afield. They aren’t and could never be the entire story of what happened in this time. Our contributors are, in many ways, self-selecting and only representative of their own experience and those of their immediate collaborators and audiences. But what’s interesting is the extent to which they all focus on the opportunity to gather in the darkness in the midst of a crisis, because that’s where cinema has always played its part.
COMING UP IN THE SERIES:
- Jade Evans on Carol Morley’s #FridayFilmClub
- 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.
DISCOVER MORE FILM // SUPPORT INDIE CINEMA // REVIVE THE DARK
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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. //.