With many cinemas still closed due to COVID-19, we’re continuing to celebrate independent venues and exhibitors across the UK in our series Cinemas that Made Me. Below we spotlight Pauline Williams from Off y Grid (Off the Grid), a multi-venue cinema project supported by Film Hub Wales, that aims to reduce isolation and increase engagement with British and independent film.
The Off y Grid project connects a collection of venues across North Wales, catering to rural audiences and celebrating a sense of place and heritage. They provide seasonal programming, with the venues working together to attract audiences. Project Manager Pauline Williams explains how this great collaborative effort benefits audiences and venues across North Wales, and reminisces about the early cinema experiences that continue to inspire her work today.
What does Off y Grid offer audiences?
More people. More films. More spaces. That’s the aim of the Off y Grid (OYG) project. OYG coordinates a unique partnership between seven venues in North Wales that work together in order to promote independent films, British and world films to audiences in rural areas. OYG also offers an array of classic films as well as celebrating Wales’ heritage through film archives.
The seven centres – CellB, Galeri, Pontio, Neuadd Dwyfor, Neuadd Ogwen, Tape Community Music & Film and Theatr y Ddraig – offer different experiences in terms of their location and spaces but share the same mindset with Welsh language culture, heritage and accessibility being central to the provision. By collaborating, we can offer more challenging films to a wider audience. By sharing ideas, we can create new cinematic experiences in the area.
Funded by Film Hub Wales, the project increases activities across North Wales in areas that often suffer from a lack of funding and a lack of artistic events. Our events forge links with the community and offer an artistic provision, encouraging and broadening horizons through film. As well as showing films we offer extra activities (like Q&A sessions) and we coordinate with film festivals and cinematic events in Wales and beyond.
We collaborate with many regular partners, but we are also ready to broaden our horizons with new partners in order to promote films. Recently we have been arranging a pop-up cinema to local communities with the aim of expanding our provision in this field as well as continuing to develop an audience of all ages in the area.
What was your first job in the film industry, and how did you end up managing the Off y Grid project?
After starting my career at the BBC in Cardiff and being trained to work on drama and television series, I moved on to work freelance before joining Gaucho as a producer and collaborating with the director Endaf Emlyn. The production company was a key contributor in the Welsh film industry, and I was responsible for the production of such successful films as Un Nos Ola, Gadael Lenin, and Y Mapiwr as well as individual dramas and series for television.
It’s my love for film and the urge to share that enthusiasm that drives my energy on the OYG project.
Did film and the cinema have an important impact on you earlier in life?
As a child, attending the weekly film club on Saturday mornings at the Majestic in Caernarfon was a magical experience. There was nothing better than waiting in the auditorium for the lights to go down slowly and the curtain to be fully opened to reveal a giant screen. Being in that darkness feeling as if in another world was such a memorable experience. I remember going with my mother to see Summer Holiday and the colours blinding my eyes. But more than that was the feeling that was stirred inside me by such powerful films.
Later I would regularly go the Coliseum in Porthmadog and Forum in Blaenau Ffestiniog (unfortunately none of these cinemas exist now). Nothing can compare to being partly in darkness and being whisked away to another world. There are no limits to the imagination. Cinema’s influence on my early years was most definitely key to my career choices.
How have those venues affected how you work today?
The experiences I had watching films on the big screen and losing myself in another world in local, community cinemas inspires me to offer similar experiences to today’s audiences. Going to the cinema was a regular, affordable experience and the programming was varied in such a way that meant that audiences could enjoy all types of films, and all on their doorstep.
Watching a movie on the big screen is a magical, enchanting experience. Being part of an audience that experiences a common emotion is an inclusive, mystical feeling. A film can make us marvel. It offers a key to other worlds. It evokes emotions. It is inclusive and transformative.
While Off y Grid venues have been closed due to COVID-19, have you begun any new initiatives to reach audiences at home?
CellB have been working assiduously to maintain and promote Gwallgofiaid (a not-for-profit that provides training for young people) by arranging online sessions with Rhys Ifans as a mentor for a short film making project.