Colinsburgh Community Cinema Case Study

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Colinsburgh Community Cinema is a not-for-profit community organisation run by four friends and based in the Scottish village of Colinsburgh. It is in its sixth season [2013-14]. The village is situated in rural Fife and has a population of 250 although we also draw our audience from the Fife coastal villages along the Forth and some farming hamlets inland. Our nearest cinema is fourteen miles away at St Andrews, the independent ‘New Picture House’. Working on the twelve mile rule (that folk are reluctant to drive more than twelve miles to a cinema) we decided to set up our own in the Victorian village hall. We got in touch with Ian Kerr at BFFS Scotland and he explained what was involved and helped us get started by organising our first screening and thereafter loaned us equipment for our first year.

We have a committee of five, which includes; secretary, chairperson, technician, treasurer and one other who helps us with film choices. As we are close friends the roles tend to get blurred at times, although the treasurer and technician are discreet.

We screen seventeen films a year screening on the second and fourth Fridays of each month between September and May, finishing in the second week of May. We select our programme in two phases. The first from September to the first week in January and the second from the second week in January until May. The reason for this is so that we can include more recent films in the second half of the programme. We have also noticed that films going for BAFTA and Oscar glory tend to be released in the Autumn and thus can be included in the second half of the programme. We produce a brochure in September and another at the end of December.

We operate with a membership which currently is £35 per year for the seventeen films. Non-members also can attend at £4 per ticket (£2 for under 16s) At present we have 62 members and average 16 non-members a screening. The village hall is owned by Colinsburgh community and thus is cheaper to hire than Council Halls.

Over the last six years, with funding from ‘Awards for All’, ‘Fife Council’ and ‘Regional Screen Scotland’ we have slowly upgraded our equipment. We screen with a Panasonic HD long range projector onto a fixed 18x10ft screen. We started with a borrowed 12x8ft screen and a short range Sanyo situated half way down the hall. Our initial audiences were however excited at the thought of local cinema and thought the cinematic experience pretty impressive. As a majority of them have stayed with us throughout the six years they feel a sense of ownership and pride over the progress we have made. A major improvement was getting the wiring underground. At that point the enterprise seemed to become more professional.  We now project from a shelf at the back of the hall. The fact that the audience can enter the hall, get a drink and chat to friends unaware of the equipment except for the screen is a major plus factor.

Of an evening the audience will arrive from 7pm on, get themselves a drink and chat with friends and acquaintances. This we consider one of the most important aspects of our evenings. A significant number of our members live alone and have said that they love going to see films but would not go the cinema alone. At Colinsburgh however they are guaranteed to meet friends.

Over the years we have provided film notes, back copies of ‘Sight and Sound’ to be borrowed and a growing library of DVDs, both on loan for free. Although we don’t have formal discussions the audience tend to hang around after the screening and chat about the film and those they would like to see or have read about. We also have a button vote where the audience place a button in a dish, choosing from 5 – excellent to 1 – I wish I hadn’t come. We average out the vote and it is published next screening on the noticeboard. This is important on two counts, it involves the audience and promotes discussion but also it helps us programme as we become immediately aware of films that are very popular and those that bomb.

What are the aims of your organisation?

 Colinsburgh is a village with a strong tradition of community involvement. The village hall is used on a weekly basis for youth club, badminton, dog training, cookery classes, and frequently for ceilidhs, discos, coffee mornings and annually for the horticultural show. The primary school also use the hall on a daily basis. In this respect the community cinema fits into an on-going pattern of community involvement. Obviously our main aim is to show great films for the audience’s enjoyment. Our other aim is to provide yet another occasion to bring our community together so that folk can get out and meet and make friends in a safe and convivial atmosphere. The screenings help fund the hall and also provide a vehicle to promote other hall activities.

How are you funded?

As we have built up a loyal membership we are at present self-financing. However to get to this point we have to acknowledge the generous help of many institutions. Regional Screen Scotland gave us grants for our projector and also blackout curtains.  A grant from ‘Awards For All’ paid for the rest of our equipment and new chairs for the hall. Fife council have given us Culture Grants to help with our involvement in The Middle Eastern Film Festival and our ‘Film Extra ‘ programme which allowed us to screen ‘Cadillac Records’ along with a music night and to get the cameraman Keith Partridge in to talk about filming ‘Touching the Void’. These events provided excitement and were instrumental in helping us build up our audience base.

Last Year we won the ‘Filmbank’ national ‘Audience Award’, a cheque of £1,000! This enabled us to put into place the final piece of our equipment jigsaw – the fixed screen.


Film programme

Two years ago I insisted on screening ‘Archipelago’. I think it is a great film. The Colinsburgh audience however do not go for art-house movies and although there was a small constituency that applauded my choice even I could see that it was a line in the sand. We have over six years got to know our audience and it is important to show films that they will enjoy. This does not mean to say that you stick with middle of the road ‘safe’ movies. What we hope that we have built up is a trust that what we choose will have value even if it seems a little strange when it appears in the brochure. From the first we were determined to include some foreign language films, simply because so many of them demand viewing being great films. In our first full season of ten films we included four foreign language films. To our delight they were well received. In our third season the top three films on the button scores were foreign language films; ‘Vitus’, ‘Departures’, and Katyn’ in that order. We have come to the conclusion that a great film is a great film regardless of where it is made.

We do however screen mainstream films such as ‘An Education’ ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Made in Dagenham’. In our present season we have ‘Quartet’, ‘Philomena’ and ‘Captain Phillips’ the last two being good Oscar material. But alongside these films we have slipped in the German film  ‘Lore’ and the challenging but brilliant ‘Take My Eyes’ and last year we screened the stunning and disturbing ‘Incendies’ that was met with an awed silence followed by animated discussion. Maintaining a balance is the key.

One year we had a Christmas draw where the winning member’s ticket allowed them to choose a film for the second half of the programme. The winner almost had a breakdown due to the burden of responsibility in such a public space. Since then the committee decides the films although we ask for suggestions and faithfully watch (through ‘Love Film’ ) as many of the suggestions that we can. Our rule of thumb is that a film should have a strong credible story, well acted with good imaginative camera work. We want our films to look good. There are however a great number of films that we have seen and loved yet do not have the ‘Colinsburgh factor.’  It is important to get to know your audience so that they in turn will learn to trust your choice.

Most successful cinema activity and why?

The three standout events were the screening of ‘Touching the Void’ accompanied with a talk by Keith Partridge on filming in extreme conditions. Keith lives locally and was involved in the filming of ‘Touching the Void’. He started the evening with a short film and talk about his various filming projects in challenging conditions. He studiously avoided ‘The Void’, as he called it, but took questions after the screening. He is an extremely witty and engaging speaker and allowed us all to live vicariously for an evening.

The second stand out was the screening of ‘The General’ with the jazz pianist Dave Watt providing accompaniment. The addition of live music turned the screening of a great classic film into a memorable event. The silent classic with live music is now a pre-Christmas tradition.

In May 2011 we decided to screen ‘Vitus’, A little known Swiss film starring Teo Gheorghiu and Bruno Ganz. It’s a great film but tracking down the licence was a trial that took me via e-mail to Montreal. I was told that we were the first cinema in the UK to request a licence. So we rolled out a rather worn red stair carpet, donned our best togs and had a British Premiere night. It scored 4.9 on the button score.

How you dealt with challenging situations? 

During our third season the village hall went through a refurbishment. Unfortunately we were given very little notice. We needed to find a venue in roughly the same location. It was annoying as we were beginning to build a regular audience of 50+ which we consider our break even figure. We approached the local Masonic Hall who luckily could fit us in for the three months that we were footloose.

We have always been careful to keep contact details of members and regular non-members. We e-mailed and wrote letters to everyone on our list, put up notices in the local libraries and village notice boards. Our tone was that it was a bit of an adventure and as a group we would overcome this little inconvenience. The strategy worked and audience numbers were not affected.

What marketing do you currently do?

Our publicity is mediated through e-mail, our web-site and more conventionally through posters on village noticeboards, and in the local libraries and cafes. We are also lucky enough to have a local journalist as a member who writes copy for the local papers. We also had two twelve foot banners made announcing that there was a film this Friday at 7.30. Our hall has a large Victorian portico to keep the gentry dry when they alighted from their carriages. Four days before a screening the banners are put up on either side of the portico so they can be seen by the main road traffic in both directions. We noticed that audiences rose by an average of ten once they were in place, combatting the ‘Oh damm I forgot’ syndrome. .

What audience development are you currently doing?

We don’t have a particular group that we aim at. We make the equipment available for other community groups and Colourful Colinsburgh (the local Fife in Bloom group) has screened sing-along nights a la ‘Mama Mia!’ and ‘Grease’.

Essentially we hope to engage with people who want to see great films in a local environment.

Any tips to pass on?

Our main tips would be:

1. Get to know your audience;

2. Don’t trust the critics but trust your instincts;

3. Make every effort to develop the community side of things so the audience feel welcome and look forward to the evening almost regardless of the film.

Where can we find out what films you’re showing?

 Where can we go for further information?

 British Federation of Film Societies UK

Unit 320The Workstation

15 Paternoster Row Sheffield S12BX

Tl: 0114 2210314

And your favourite film/director is…

 My favourite Director is/was Robert Altman, but the most recent great film was ‘Incendies’ by Denis Villeneuve.

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