This Way Up 2019 Journeys Festival International report back

Journeys Festival International attend the UK's conference for innovation in film exhibition.

2020 sees Journeys Festival International embark on an exciting new project focused on taking film out of the cinema and into the community to reach refugee and asylum-seeking audiences in Greater Manchester. In preparation for their upcoming season of grassroots film events, Journeys’ new Community Film Programmers Mandla-Rae Nkomo and Reba Martin headed to This Way Up 2019 to get up to date with the latest conversations going on in the UK exhibition sector. 

In our latest guest article, Mandla and Reba report back from their trip, supported by Film Hub North’s Bursary Awards, and share insights from a productive two days in Nottingham where they found inspiration in Rabab Ghazoul’s new vision for the future of community outreach, solidarity with organisations working outside of conventional cinema spaces, and an industry willing to engage in the urgent discussions facing film today.

This Way Up 2020

By resilience we mean the vision and capacity of organisations to anticipate and adapt to economic, environmental and social change by seizing opportunities, identifying and mitigating risks, and deploying resources effectively in order to continue delivering quality work in line with their mission. Arts Council England

After several early morning train changes, and several more coffees, we arrived in Nottingham for This Way Up 2019. New to film programming, neither of us had attended before, and the two-day event opened our eyes and minds to the many possibilities to consider as we undertake our own film programme for Journeys Festival International.

The first indication we were in the right place, and with the right people, was during Rabab Ghazoul’s opening talk. We were especially excited to hear from her as distant fans of her work with Gentle/Radical in Cardiff, and her ideas and kindness exceeded our expectations. Ghazoul re-examined Toni Cade Bambara’s statement: “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible,” and made a series of provocations to the audience. What would a revolutionary way of working look like? How can engagement work centre each individual? How can you change the dynamics of power in your outreach work? And finally: how can film play a role in making the revolution irresistible? Rabab’s points about bringing film and the arts into the heart of the communities we want to engage with really resonated with us as we are organising most of our screenings in community gathering spaces and libraries.

Despite some clashes elsewhere in the programme, with two of us attending we were able to cover more ground and compare notes – even if the speed of our writing could not keep pace with the ideas we were simultaneously hearing and having; it would have been wonderful if the talks were recorded. This Way Up opened a space for UK film programmers to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats they face. Hearing perspectives from big, small, independent and local organisations was illuminating, as much for the commonalities as the differences.

The words 'statistics-based-research’ aren’t exactly enchanting, however the Beyond the Multiplex team came to their session with such a personal approach to audience analysis. Their work aims to understand national viewing habits and trends through individual interviews and anecdotes: stories of family members igniting a love for film, personal insights into the joy of experiencing films on the big screen, and accounts of people discovering community at the cinema in times of large life changes - from moving out of home, to losing a loved one. Community was again the focus of a delegate sharing session led by New Notions Cinema’s Aaron Guthrie. It was wonderful to hear of people’s successes in curating film in non-traditional cinema spaces, and there was a valuable discussion on the struggles that can come up where we shared ways of overcoming difficulty and practising resilience. One recommendation was to “reconnect with the work, with film, as part of the audience in order to keep the love for the art going when it might be burning out.” It’s an important reminder.

Jamie Beddard is an Agent for Change. He started his workshop by asking everyone to introduce themselves and to share a time when their world view changed. It was a great way to break the ice and a reminder of the power of storytelling as a key to understanding, empathising and reimagining. Jamie then shared the Agent for Change principles, which include: embedding diversity and disability into organisations; prioritising and developing access across all activities; and developing and programming disabled artists and companies. We should all be Agents for Change, he argued, nurturing talent that is representative of society and challenging tokenism where we see it. We ended the session by splitting into groups and writing the issues we felt our organisations faced while other organisations responded with ideas of how to overcome them. Sharing knowledge is an important part of programming and we were glad to meet colleagues we had emailed from the JFI office who had always been supportive.

Following this, the More Than a Cinema session picked up the theme of thinking outside the box and – importantly – outside the cinema. Presentations from Luke Emery (Watershed), Elizabeth Costello (Leigh Film Society) and Eavan King (Nerve Centre) all encouraged locality, enthusiasm and good craic as being essential for events outside traditional cinema spaces. However, the most local to us, the Leigh Film Society stood out as a triple threat as an organisation that arranges cinema therapy, supports community cohesion, and gives opportunities to young people.

The outside the box theme was continued first thing on day two by We Are Parable and Flatpack Projects who shared their knowledge of offsite film screenings. They discussed this format’s popularity with young audiences, with immersive events presenting an obvious draw to younger people – though not always to older programmers. As young people, we have so much competing for our attention; immersive events make it worthwhile to get out of the house and put your phone on silent.

Going into the conference, Karena Johnson’s session was one of Mandla’s top picks. Karena – Artistic Director and CEO at Hoxton Hall - led a workshop looking at Diversifying the Cultural Landscape, an important conversation to have in every cultural organisation. She discussed the need for diverse leadership, particularly in Board Members, and the importance of bringing people to the table. We heard about her successes in nurturing communities as the foundations on which arts events and organisations thrive. And, at the end, we split into groups to explore the core challenges in diversifying various areas of culture: organisations, audiences, content, funding and communications. Discussing organisations, our group raised suggestions such as training boards in diversity awareness, creating overt statements of allyship within our organisations, having young board members, raising expectations and shortening the term of board members to three years so there’s more opportunities for other people to have a seat at the table.

After this, we went into a conversation on representation within repertory cinema programming, and how our work takes into account how the history of film is imperfect and, at times, problematic. Chaired by Melissa Gueneau (Programme Coordinator at our host cinema, Broadway) with contributions from Robin Baker (Head Curator at the BFI National Archives) and writers and curators So Mayer and Karen Alexander, we knew we had to be in the room for this when we read the programme in advance. Karen Alexander talked about “working against the canon” and “asking where and why are you making interventions,” while So Mayer explored who gets to make programming decisions. The room was keen to decolonise the canon, the way we work and the language we use. From Rabab’s opening speech, to the various talks and workshops we attended, as well as the conversations we had with our colleagues, it felt clear that there was an interest in intersectional practice and encouraging rigorous discourse at This Way Up 2019.

Overall, it was a fruitful and empowering two days in Nottingham. We left feeling giddy about the connections we made and the hints and tips we had picked up to help curate our migration film festival in Manchester, with intersectionality and communities at its heart. During the sharing session on day one, Mandla discussed our mission and the approach we’ve taken in co-creating our programme with people seeking asylum in Manchester and holding screenings in community spaces where they gather. Aaron Guthrie asked us to come back next year and share our experiences in a short presentation, so… see you next year This Way Up?

Mandla and Reba, Community Film Programmers at Journeys Festival International, attended This Way Up 2019 with support from our Bursary Awards.

Journeys Festival International's community cinema programme takes place in 2020, visit their website for more information.