Film Hub North members report back from This Way Up 17 Film Hub North members blogs

Sam

It's been almost a month since This Way Up 17, our members at Film Hub North have had time to reflect and report back on their findings from This Way Up 2017. Read below for our members thoughts on the conference. 

If you missed any of This Way Up 2017 or you simply want to relive it, you can now watch the stream of both days here. For summaries of the sessions, highlights from panels and more please click here.

Day One

Keynotes:Moira Sinclair

Loren Slater, Signal Film and Media

Moira Sinclair’s engaging keynote on resilience and the ‘What’s Your Story’ session also resonated with me, its core message echoing our belief that you need to know, believe in and be passionate about what we do. The ‘What’s Your Story’ panel gave very useful tips and insights on being clear to yourselves and others about what it is you do, and being able to define that clearly as part of reaching your audience. They were honest about how hard that can sometimes be, as often we try to do too much. I took away some good tips for case studies around marketing our events and perhaps streamlining our offer - as well as not just marketing for one event each time but thinking about promoting the ‘whole’.

Keynotes:Jenny Sealey

Kezz Turner, Signal Film and Media

Right from the get go, I found Jenny Sealey’s call-to-action so compelling. She was such a fantastic speaker, even if she felt like the proverbial fish out of water coming from a theatre, rather than film-based, background, it didn’t show once. It was clear to see why she has those letters after her name! My brain was firing on all fronts as I muttered furiously under my breath to my Director Loren seated next to me about all the different things I hope we can achieve going forward with Signal Film and Media. We have already begun the conversation as soon as we returned in our first steps to challenging our privilege, raising better awareness and finding more ways to be as inclusive as we can be, especially with regards to our deaf and disabled communities.

Roxy Van Der Post, Picturehouse at National Science and Media Museum, Bradford

Inspired by the How Can We Make Our Cinemas D/deaf-Friendly? session as well as Jenny Sealey’s brilliant keynote speech, I will dedicate a portion of our next Staff Briefing to reiterate key messages from these sessions to our staff, while local charity Bradford Media Talking has offered to help us review our cinema’s accessibility again. Although, as the Access Champion of our cinema, accessibility – in the broadest sense of the word – is always on my mind, it can easily end up at the bottom of my to-do list. I now feel invigorated to keep accessibility on the foreground of all our work and continuously develop it with the help of local partners and audiences.

Rebekah Fozard, Hebden Bridge Picture House

Truth telling was at the fore of Jenny Sealey MBE’s keynote, I came away from her speech thinking about the ‘more’ we can do to platform and embrace creative and film work by d/Deaf and disabled people, and how, whilst we try to cater for all audiences in our programming (subtitled and autism friendly screenings, audio description headsets) and our welcome (staff training and our physical space being accessible), we have given little thought to the content of our films being programmed, and the common practice of using able bodied actors to portray characters with a disability – this is something we need to address with our programmer at the Independent Cinema Office and / or think about accompanying any such films with a panel discussion examining the pitfalls of such casting compared with the positives of the message of the film and the themes it explores.

Loren Slater, Signal Film and Media

The part that has stayed with me most is Jenny Sealey’s compelling keynote speech. Her passion, dedication, talent and commitment was tangible and she brought to life the real and urgent issues around diversity and inclusivity, and how nobody is doing enough. I’m going to make this a key issue back at Signal now to really push diversity and inclusivity as far as possible. Jenny made it clear that it is not easy to affect change, as she starkly highlighted when she shared with us that her hopes for even a slight change in opportunities for disabled performers would increase following the fantastic Olympic opening ceremony, only to find that even that changed absolutely nothing. She expected her email and phone to be jammed with people wanting to book the performers, but no – a pressing reminder that we still have far to go in inclusivity and that we need to keep at it.

Keynotes: Simran Hans

Rebekah Fozard, Hebden Bridge Picture House

On day one, the three keynote speakers and the panel discussion they participated in, chaired very effectively by Gaylene Gould, were inspirational and provided much food for thought. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Simran Hans, a writer, film reviewer and film programmer, who examined many unsettling truths about the film exhibition arena, and how free and volunteer labour are marshalled to achieve great things in an under-funded sector. I am lucky in that our owning council was one of the first in the country to pay the real Living Wage, and we don’t rely on volunteers at all, but I have been a volunteer in the past, in both a theatre and a film society, and I understand the pressures many organisations are under to keep going, and for them this means great reliance on unpaid workers. I don’t have the answer, but it was good to hear some of the things said aloud.

Panel:Ethics in Technology & VR

Jordan White, Sensoria Festival

Catherine Allen presented a forward thinking discussion about the ethics of VR and technology in general, referring to her time working for BBC Taster, the beeb's lab for innovative content. Referencing ethics, duty of care and content certification for a platform that is still in development, it’s proactive discussions such as this that gives developers and legislators a better view of the impact of their decisions, whether opening testing out to a wide demographic or licensing VR content availability.

The point of a wider demographic was made poignant with the availability of products for all budgets (such as the Google Cardboard at £3 right the way through to the Oculus Rift) and the need to break the stereotype of young people being the only 'early adopters' of new tech. I found particularly engaging, the concept of behavioral change when in the 'VR realm'. Certain actions by the individual or responses given by the content may trigger emotional distress, which could have potential impact outside of the headset - just as point and shoot games do back in the real world. It's in-depth research and feedback whether an exhibitor or a developer that will allow us to understand the impact of this still embryonic but exponentially growing technology.

Panel:Exploring European Innovation

Kezz Turner, Signal Film and Media

On Day One, I really enjoyed the session on Exploring European Innovation that afternoon. I found Tara Judah a wonderful and articulate host who reflected warmly on the differing projects ran by young programmers in case studies in Bucharest, the importance of collaboration to create the most inclusive atmosphere for everyone to feel involved and also challenging our assumptions as exhibitors about where people look to find out about events.

Jo Wingate, Sensoria Festival

Tara Judah set the tone: to embrace innovative approaches (which aren’t always necessarily productive) and achieve your goals, you have to believe in what you’re doing and be passionate about it. Referencing recent reports such as the 2016 Europa Cinemas Innovation Survey, the top priority was to engage young audiences (47%). Examples and case studies discussed between Tara and Boglárka Nagy (Elvire Popesco and the French Institute of Romania) also covered some specific hints and tips:

• The discussion demonstrated the need for clear and detailed information for parents or teachers. Boglárka gave an example of creating a very specific brochure with relevant and useful information for parents - and promoting ‘come with a group’ bookings. This had resulted in improved attendance levels and engagement at screenings.

• Engaging young and new audiences can mean giving up a degree of control. It’s easy to make assumptions about what engaging young audiences might entail. One case study mentioned that, given the opportunity to promote their work, a group of students took to a bike with a megaphone around the city – not to social media as might have been assumed.

• Short film programmes and festivals were mentioned that had workshops and special activity related to each film. Collaboration was also key as opposed to treating the experience as a ticket sale/transaction.

This was a fairly lively session with lots of contributions from the audience (summarised briefly) including:

• questioning what innovation is - surely innovation includes adaptation rather than constantly striving to latch on to the ‘next big thing’ ?

• a successful discounted ticketing scheme launched by Broadway Nottingham was mentioned. This award-winning scheme had been given prominence across all publicity and media from brochure covers to stickers on doors - and had significantly increased attendance by young people.

• an equally enthusiastic contribution stated that it’s all about the data and we’re all sitting on hugely valuable information.

• a further point (that referenced certain statistics displayed in the session) was the threat relating to current viewing habits. Unless we rethink our models and approaches, that many young people may not be coming through the doors in the future.

• Further comments had acknowledged that to adopt successful initiatives needed everyone on-board and for the longer term.

Panel:How Can We Make Our Cinemas D/deaf-Friendly?

Dan Mitchelson, ARC Stockton

ARC is in middle of the Cultural Shift, a three year programme of artistic activity created to challenge perceptions, create new opportunities and introduce new people to the work of disabled artists. It’s been eye opening, exciting, rewarding and challenging. We offer a programme of subtitled features in our cinema, but because of the work undertaken in the cultural shift project, our eyes have really been opened as to how much work there is still to do.

However, in looking to become more accessible for D/deaf audiences, we’ve begun encountering numerous issues when presenting (or trying to present) films with descriptive subtitles. Some of these issues have been audience focused, audiences complaining about the subs for example, and some have been more industrial, DCP’s arriving without the subtitles included, or no version of the subtitled film even available.

The session was led by David Ellington and Duncan Carson, and took us right from the basics of what BSL is, through a project David runs at Watershed, to responding to some of the issues.

It was really fantastic to hear how other venues had approached the issue of descriptive subtitles, and to realise that the difficulties we were encountering were industry-wide, rather than specific to our audiences and our organisation. Obviously, the industry wide issues remain, but we have already begun identifying ways in which we could tweak our programme and our processes to make ARC more accessible for D/deaf cinema audiences, watch this space…!

Panel:Rewriting the Rules of Exhibition

Rebekah Fozard, Hebden Bridge Picture House

One of the other sessions I found most rewarding (but not necessarily conclusive) was a panel discussion and question and answer session called ‘Rewriting the Rules of Exhibition’. The usual challenges of theatrical windows and other release platforms was discussed and many in the audience voiced the same feelings as I have: that the big six studios and, to an increasing extent, exhibitor-distributor chains, wield a great deal of power over the smaller independent cinemas and what they can screen and when, despite the flattening of the theatrical window, and the challenges all exhibitors will be facing of VOD platforms and a crowded market place for film content.

David Doepel of Demand Film Limited was part of this panel. Demand Film is a distributor with a new business operational model: they work in partnership with exhibitors, following exhibitor or end customer request to screen a title, and will only screen films at their fixed retail price if there is sufficient pre-sales. This model is entirely inapplicable to a cinema like mine, effectively closing their body of acquired titles from our customer base. I was able to ask a question of David, about whether, given the inflexibility of Demand Film’s terms, there was a plan afoot to look at as more flexible or alternative set of terms and distribution model when working with film clubs, single screen cinemas and community cinemas like mine, where we have lower prices, and cannot book a film on a contingency basis since I will be committed to (a) having a defined screening that night in my printed programme (9,000 copies per month) that has been booked and marketed 8 weeks in advance and (b) pay our staff the living wage and can’t have an empty cinema and still pay the staff. Doepel’s response was that they (Demand Film) were working on it: good! Too often the faithful work horses like us (55,000 audiences per annum, around 680 screenings per annum) are disadvantaged when the terms of engagement are so immovably fixed, and fixed in favour of the multiplexes and city audiences.

Jo Wingate, Sensoria Festival

Host Rachel Robey (British Council) set the scene for this panel about how we can do things differently, how we connect our work to audiences and whether we should allow the opening weekend to tell the whole story. Mandy Berry had set up Cinegi, (a digital distribution service) to ensure more work could get out to a wider audience. Her intention is that any venue can become a cinema whether rural or urban. Rachel Hayward from Manchester-based Home, reflected on the broad range of people who can’t book films on date, the reasons for this traditional model of releasing have gone - but the industry is slow to change. The ability to screen on date could be game changing for smaller venues. Audiences don’t care about industry conventions; there is just an unnecessary frustration in having to wait to see a film. Mandy also wanted to smash the windows, she felt the old studio system, which is what many releases are based on and many ‘chain cinemas’ tied into, was out of date. A screening in the middle of nowhere will really not hurt a metropolitan cinema. Her concern was that old models just keep getting copied.

David Doepel however enjoyed the primacy of the cinematic experience vs. any other sized screen. His company Demand Films have contractual obligations for 17-week windows and are comfortable with that as they slow build. Doepel had enjoyed particular success with documentaries. He felt that recently films had benefitted when the filmmakers worked to build an audience, no longer keeping information under wraps but making audiences already aware and anticipating the release.

David also responded to audience queries about the length of contracts with the willingness for a degree of flexibility. David did also comment on viewing habits, that the largest demand for a live event (at the time it takes place) is sport, apart from that example, viewers expect to view content at their convenience. There were plenty of interesting points made from delegates around the room with people seeking out both changes and solutions. This included the call to lobby for community cinema with no minimum guarantees. It will be interesting when we return next year to take stock of any changes made.

Jordan White, Sensoria Festival

As a newcomer to the industry, I found the Rewriting Rules of Exhibition discussion very engaging. Speakers from HOME, an independent arts centre with cinema in Manchester, to streaming distributor Cinegi and commercial distributor Demand Film presented a wide range of differing opinions about the way film is released and licensed. The audience didn't hesitate to join in, provoking opinions and innovative ideas about how the release window model could change and whether a concurrent release to a large theatre-chain and a small village cinema club would have an impact on one another. It was a wonderfully interactive forum for delegates to discuss the issues that affect them on the ground. I believe the idea of simply baking a bigger cake rather than us all sharing small pieces stood true with most of the room. I walked away from the session with a broader sense of how much planning goes into film releases and how independents are just as important to the industry as the large chain cinemas.

Day Two

Panel:Safety Not Guaranteed – Security & Safeguarding Cultural Events

Jo Wingate, Sensoria Festival

This panel was prompted by the recent allegations about Harvey Weinstein and reports and comments that film festivals were potentially part of the problem. Helen Thackery of Hull City of Culture 2017 provided a very common sense context and impressed the importance of safety and safeguarding, providing an overview of ensuring all people were safe, communicating and working with the relevant safety advice groups. Mat Steel, Doc/Fest production manager, gave an outline of working methods, reporting policies and practice used by the Doc/Fest and areas they were looking to improve on.

Tracey Ford from Sheffield City Council reported on the ‘Ask Angela’ initiative that had been adopted across much of the city’s night-time economy. She had had very positive feedback from partners and just the clear presence of the campaign seemed to be creating a positive impact. It was raised that maybe some general guidelines could be created and circulated, whether by UK CEA’s website or another channel. Tracey had commented that additionally bespoke guidelines and policies should be adopted by each individual organisation eg each venue would have a different approach if a concerned customer wanted to leave the building via a discreet exit. Maxime Rowson from Rape Crisis was also present and whilst welcoming broader guidelines, re-iterated the need for bespoke solutions too. Safe Gigs for women was mentioned as an example of good practice in the music industry.

Helen also raised the issue of duty of care in looking after the lone worker. We all need to ensure we’re not leaving any staff in a vulnerable position. This in turn led to the point of empowering staff to state if there are responsibilities or tasks they are not comfortable with (and for senior staff to check).

There was also a key point raised about screening films with specific content and by figures in the industry with allegations made against them. Maxime prompted everyone to think clearly about what their organisation stands for and the values with which they would like to be associated. Helen also added that there are many triggers for those who had endured some form of abuse and sensory experiences could be part of the problem.

It’s a fair assumption that everyone in the room came away with food for thought. The conversation certainly continued beyond the session. Personal safety has for a long time featured as part of Sensoria’s staff care and in our risk assessments but we aim to keep questioning and improving on our work in this area. We came away with some clear actions to pursue and keenly aware of our duty of care.

Panel:Vaults and Voices: Archiving, Past, Present and Future

Jo Wingate, Sensoria Festival

Anna Kime (Film Hub North) led a discussion on archive material with Will Massa (BFI) and Tara Judah (writer and programmer) focussing on curatorial questions around what is preserved and what contemporary collections do and might look like.

Will Massa talked about his role as a curator for contemporary material (1990 to present day) and the immense responsibilities in making decisions about what is saved and what is seen. He had identified certain gaps and talked broadly about the need to capture the essence of current filmmaking. Anxieties included, for example, first films from directors such as Ben Wheatley and the Young British Artist’s work, plus the need to ensure that the collection is a much more diverse reflection of filmmaking work and culture across our society (he was currently working to plug the gap in work by disabled filmmakers and BAMER filmmaking). Tara talked broadly about the need and ability to access living, working parts of our cinema heritage rather than something ‘untouchable’ - and the need to see the material. Will referred to the fact that film is replaceable and the archive could be considered almost like a seed bank.

There was also discussion on capturing new forms including VR and gaming. The BFI were working with partners to find best practice in acquiring and capturing the current VR experience and make it meaningful for the future. They were considering providing extra documents about how the content was used, experienced and allowing future users to recreate it. Questions also arose on gaming and the challenges of archiving in such a sector.

The session provided an interesting insight into the challenges facing archivists of recent and contemporary material, some debate on the possibilities for access and audiences including working and partnering with the regions and considering notions of place. The Britain on Film project was mentioned many times for enabling public access to archive material and interesting recent examples to check out included Arcadia.

Panel:Impact, Campaigns and Data

Dan Mitchelson, ARC Stockton

I attended TWU17 with my colleague Patrick Hollifield, ARC’s Marketing Manager. Together, we had previously attended the UKCA Technology and Data Conference at the BFI in London (2017) and had both found great inspiration in the power of Data. We both really like Data. As such, we identified the Impacts, Campaigns and Data session on Day 2 (run by Sarah Mosses of Together Films) as something which might refresh our thinking, and provide us with new ways we could use the data at our disposal.

The session did exactly that. Sarah Mosses spoke quickly, clearly, confidently and with great aplomb about campaigns she and Together Films have run. It was fascinating, inspiring, and I left with my brain fizzing at the possibilities before us.

The session has, already, led us towards interrogating our data in a way it has perhaps not been before. We have identified some key, but very simple, questions about our audiences that we really want to know, and by asking our data, we are going to find out…!

This Way Up was a really fascinating few days, and the two sessions discussed above have already proved incredibly useful. I did come away with what I set out to gain from the conference, though, I wish there had been more opportunity to meet and speak with other like-minded organisations, though. Hearing from other venues about how they have gone about practically tackling the issues at hand could have been really useful. Networking is really hard, and I found it even more so than usual at TWU17. I think I would have benefitted from something more structured, perhaps organisational speed dating…?! Next time…

Roxy Van Der Post, Picturehouse at National Science and Media Museum, Bradford

The outstanding session of Day Two, in my opinion, was ‘Impact, Campaign and Data’ with Sarah Mosses of Together Films. Again, she discussed good marketing practices in a wider sense before moving on to the ‘Unrest’ case study, and also provided easy-

to-implement tips and examples of software to help with data collection and social media scheduling. Even though Picturehouse Cinemas already use Movio and Hootsuite, two of the pieces of software recommended by Sarah, I now feel encouraged to explore how these programmes can help us obtain data rather than simply sending messages out. Furthermore, with a new – likeminded - cinema opening in our city soon, Sarah’s discussion of strategy, objectives and target audiences will come in handy when developing a plan to compete with our new neighbour; a task which, before This Way Up, seemed rather daunting.

Panel:The Case for Internationalism

Kezz Turner, Signal Film and Media

There were also some really illuminating statistics about foreign language films getting UK releases in 2016 as part of the panel on The Case for Internationalism which sparked lots of future programming ideas and reinforced the idea that it absolutely has a market where we are in our small corner of Cumbria. The panel also included the Executive Producer of the Hull UK City of Culture 2017 programme, who turns out to be from our part of the UK! We were very lucky as Sam Hunt very kindly showed us round parts of the city we would otherwise not have had chance to see, showcasing some wonderful parts of the arts quarter & giving us a great insight in what Hull has to offer: all of which was hugely inspiring.

Jo Wingate, Sensoria Festival

The session looked at developing audiences, especially young audiences for foreign language films. Reluctantly I had to leave after the first speaker from Curzon who had successfully worked with partners in event cinema to attract young audiences.

The journey home left me reflecting on many issues from our customer experience to working lives in the sector right now. There is much inspiration and good practice in our community but there is also clearly a need for change, and hearteningly, overall I’d say there’s a mood to make it happen.

1960’s Vintage Mobile Cinema

Rebekah Fozard, Hebden Bridge Picture

Aside from the sessions at the conference I was charmed by the presence of Audrey, the 1960s vintage mobile cinema, parked outside Hull Truck Theatre for two days, offering free screenings of short films to those at the conference (and I think, the general public too). I never quite timed it right to enjoy a shorts screening in her small but perfectly formed interior of just 22 seats, but my interest has been piqued and I’m now thinking about when an event in our town might call for Audrey’s services.