Next in our series of guest posts about DIY / emergency screen culture during shutdown, No Planet B founder & programmer Julia Brow writes about an online collaboration that led to new ways of creating screen culture together.
In early March 2020, I travelled to Birmingham for an event organised by Cinema for All for alumni of their funding and coaching programmes. Cinema for All is a charity dedicated to supporting volunteer-run film societies and community cinemas in the UK. No Planet B, an environmental film club I started in 2019, had benefited from Cinema for All’s Launchpad programme.
At the event, I met Denyce and Martha, the organisers of Caribbean Pop-Up Cinema in Birmingham and Sea/Film in Scarborough respectively. Later, over a drink, we realised we shared many of the same interests, especially in film programming. We all agreed we would like to work together in the future.
Fast-forward a couple of months and all three of us were locked down in our respective locations. Denyce had travelled home to Barbados during this time and was working remotely. We had no idea when we would next be able to screen films in a venue with a live audience. When Cinema for All announced their new Sustain: Collaborate programme, promoting collaboration between community cinemas, I reached out to Martha and Denyce.
Looking for a way to connect with each other and our audiences, we developed a funding application for a multidisciplinary online project consisting of a digital zine, a collaborative community film and an online short film screening. We wanted to create a project that joined our organisations on common ground. Based on our shared reflections of the duality of social and environmental vulnerability merging with strength, we decided on the theme of ‘Waves’.
Our application was successful and we received a bursary and coaching support for the project. Next came our call for submissions: we released a press release detailing the project, with a creative prompt:
A wave is a form of affection and greeting, a valuable gesture in our current times. But waves are also what define and shape the movement of the sea. This project aims to bring people together, to think about and celebrate the sea, and how it both separates and joins us.
The theme of Waves resonated with us as a way to reconnect during the isolating time of the pandemic. The online nature of the project allowed us to expand beyond our original audience bases.
We received around 40 submissions for the zine and the community film through our online submissions form and more via email. The submissions came predominantly from Yorkshire and London in the UK, which made sense, given the audience bases of Sea/Film and No Planet B. Even more exciting, we also had submissions from all over the world: France, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Guyana, South Africa, Denmark, Jamaica, Tortola, New Zealand and the United States. We received art, photography, poetry, writing and video clips of waves.
The curation of the short film programme was by research and invitation only. After a great deal of deliberation and discussion, we decided on a programme of 10 short films, with a few chosen by each of us.
The programme was eclectic, including animated shorts, experimental artist films and surfing documentaries. The narrative fiction short that closed the programme was Kibwe Tavares’ JONAH, starring Daniel Kaluuya. No Planet B’s contribution consisted entirely of animated shorts. Since No Planet B usually focuses strictly on films with environmental themes, working on this project was freeing in a curatorial sense, as I was able to share films with our audiences that moved away from environmentalism, yet maintained a connection with it.
Once the films had been selected, we invited the filmmakers to be interviewed as part of the programme. We had already decided that our film programme wouldn’t be a ‘live’ event –partly due to the engagement of audiences from different time zones and partly to avoid potential tech issues on the day. Instead, we pre-recorded the interviews and made them available alongside the short films on our platform.
Martha carried out her interviews via email and then recorded them as audio to make them more accessible. Denyce and I both recorded our interviews over Zoom and then edited them for length and clarity. We sent off the interviews and all the shorts with dialogue to Rev for captioning, to make the programme more accessible to D/deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences.
While I took on the technical coordination responsibilities, Martha pulled together the submissions and designed the zine and Denyce used her editing skills to create a collaborative, community film from the video clips of waves we had received.
We decided to use Vimeo Showcase as the platform for our shorts programme. Showcase allows you to display films in an on-demand layout, similar to a mainstream VOD site. As a result, our audience could pick and choose which films they wanted to watch and also engage with the community film and the filmmaker interviews.
The three components (short film programme, zine & community film) were made available through a free, week-long online event, ticketed through Eventbrite. Bookers were sent a copy of the zine, film programme details and access information for the videos, which were password-protected on Vimeo. We had 117 bookers on Eventbrite; perhaps unsurprisingly, our top cities for bookers were London and Scarborough in the UK and Bridgetown in Barbados, although we had engagement from across the UK and the Caribbean, with a few bookers from Europe and North America too. We made sure to negotiate with our filmmakers so the films wouldn’t be geo-blocked, as we wanted the programme to be available internationally.
When it came to online viewing figures, most views came from Bridgetown, Barbados and London, UK. There was understandably some drop-off between Eventbrite bookers (as is often the case with online and/or free events) and views on Vimeo. Not everyone who booked viewed all of the videos, which is also to be expected. That being said, we were happy with the audience numbers given the competition with other online events during the pandemic and the fact that when the programme was made live in September 2020, the UK was relatively open, so we had some competition from live events too.
We received some lovely feedback from our audiences, particularly those based in the Caribbean or the UK, likely because these audiences were most represented in the film programme and zine submissions. The documentary, SURF GIRLS JAMAICA (featured image), was particularly popular, as were the animated shorts and the community film.
Overall, the value of this project can be measured in its interdisciplinary approach and its origins in collaboration: Martha, Denyce and I developed the project entirely remotely, via email, Zoom and WhatsApp. We engaged with our existing audiences as well as reaching new ones, without the limits of geography and accessibility imposed by in-person screenings. The project wasn’t just made up of our curation, but also the contributions of artists, writers and filmmakers (both amateur and professional) from around the world. This collaborative effort is what made Waves so special and I’m not certain that it would have been as successful had the pandemic not forced us to develop it in this way. Inspired by other event organisers at the time, we were able to create a digital artistic community that was born out of the pandemic.
For No Planet B, the Waves project inspired future ways of working. With new collaborators, I developed a new funding application to Cinema for All to create a zine and short film programme on the theme of positive environmentalism.
After several months of working remotely through the third UK lockdown, this project was launched in London in June 2021. We hope to tour the film programme and continue to distribute the zine around the UK. We also look forward to collaborating with more community cinemas in the future.
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ALSO IN THE SERIES:
- RADIANT CIRCUS on DIY / emergency screen culture.
- 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
- 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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