Meet the people behind Welsh cinemas during lockdown

Film Hub Wales (FHW) has awarded National Lottery funding totalling £100,000 to 16 Welsh independent cinemas and film festivals that have been severely impacted by Covid-19. Forced to close their doors at the start of UK lockdown, these venues will potentially be some of the last organisations able to reopen as the pandemic eases.

Read the full press release here.

Meet the dedicated people working behind the scenes of local cinemas and festivals, who are striving to bring communities back together through film:

Feminista Film Festival 73 Degrees © Geraint Perry
Feminista Film Festival 73 Degrees by Geraint Perry

Meet Rob, Producer of 73 Cinema:

The latest 73 Cinema event, ‘The Feminista Film Festival’ took place as part of International Women’s Day celebrations at Ty Pawb in early March. Since then film screenings have been indefinitely postponed.

What have you been working on during lockdown?

During lockdown I have spent a lot of time ensuring that our current and upcoming projects are adjusted so that we can safely continue once restrictions are lifted. I have spent time developing new methods of digital engagement too, to ensure that we continue to keep in touch with our audiences during this time. For 73 Cinema we will begin a really nice Instagram project in July which I’m excited about. For other projects such as the FOCUS Wales Film Festival, we have now had to postpone until 2021. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to try out some ideas and spend time rewriting and refining others, so even though it has been extremely challenging, some positives have come out of it.


What have you been watching?

Rob Corcoran 73-Degrees © Geraint Perry
Rob Corcoran, 73 Degrees by Geraint Perry

As always, I’m trying to watch as much as possible and keep up with everything that people are talking about! I recently enjoyed Normal People and Gangs of London. I’m currently rewatching Euphoria and Succession (my 2 favourite shows from last year) to gain some writing inspiration. Film-wise I managed to watch several things that I missed in cinemas, including Lee Chang-Dong’s Burning and Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro. I also caught the premiere of a new Welsh-made feature called The End of All Things which should be released later this year, so that was exciting. I usually go to the cinema quite often, but because I was travelling so much before the lockdown I’ve only been a few times so far in 2020 (including an accidental German language screening of Knives Out in Austria)! I’m very excited to see Tenet on the big screen soon for (hopefully) my next trip.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

TV as usual, especially Succession and Euphoria as I mentioned. But more generally, I’m inspired by the creative digital work that so many arts organisations are carrying out. I’m a huge supporter of making arts activity digital and trying to innovate on new methods of connecting with audiences. Before lockdown it was sometimes difficult for me to explain to funders the benefits of spending time and resources on digital engagement – now it seems that moving forward this won’t be so tough.


How have you been keeping in touch with your audiences?

We’re passionate about driving innovation and increasing audience engagement in new and exciting ways. This award will provide us with the opportunity to try out a brand new digital project which we believe has the potential to revitalise our outreach and build on the brilliant sense of community that 73 Cinema has created in Wrexham – Robert Corcoran

Last Witness Screening 73 Degrees © Geraint Perry
Last Witness Screening 73 Degrees by Geraint Perry

We’ve been keeping up with our audience using social media. We’ve been steadily sharing content that we had remaining from our previous screenings, so it’s been nice to take our time putting that out and reminding people of some of our events. We’ve also been speaking with people to see what type of films they might like to see once we’re back open. Next up is our Instagram project in July, so we’re really looking forward to launching that.

How will FHW support you?

As part of the award the team will be creating a series of innovative film-related projects through Instagram. These are set to begin next month on the 73 Cinema and 73 Degree Films pages. Plans will also be put in place to ensure that physical screenings can return to Ty Pawb at some point in the near future. A draft programme will also be created, so that activity can resume as soon as it is completely safe to do so.

 

This award will allow us to try out new ways of screening independent and world cinema for audiences. We’re excited to begin working with Ty Pawb to see what will be possible. Despite the difficulties that lie ahead, we’re extremely positive that we can make our events as safe and enjoyable as usual. – Robert Corcoran.

Meet Lauren, Director of the Cardiff Animation Festival + team:

Meet Rhys, Coordinator at CellB:

Meet Owen & Aron from Clwb Clink:

 

Mike repainting The Commodore cinema kiosk
Mike repainting The Commodore cinema kiosk.

Meet Mike, Proprietor of Commodore Cinema, Aberystwyth:

I have tried to take advantage of this period of closure to undertake some overdue maintenance work and to make sure we look our best when we do eventually re-open. To this end I have managed to complete some painting and re-decoration projects including a completely new facade on our sales kiosk in the foyer. I have also undertaken some  repair work on our roof and to the seating, re-organized my office and updated all my accounts. Further re-decoration, new flooring and deep cleaning is planned before we re-open. 

My family and I have tried to maintain a weekly routine by having a regular film night on Tuesdays, when we take it in turns to choose a film to watch, as this is normally the night when we all work late and watch a film together in the cinema. Titles have ranged from old classics like The Big Sleep to more recent titles like The Brothers Sisters and Fruitvale Station which didn’t play at The Commodore. Commodore popcorn is mandatory. 

Mike outside The Commodore Cinema
Mike outside The Commodore Cinema.

Unfortunately it is not easy to be optimistic for the future as when we can re-open it will be difficult to encourage customers to return in sufficient numbers to remain viable although we have received many messages of support from our regular customers. In the short-term safe – distancing measures will also have a negative effect. 

We have been trying to keep in contact with our customer base through regular competitions and features such as old photos on our social media platforms and have been encouraged by the popularity of these and by the reservoir of goodwill shown towards The Commodore in customers comments. Their attachment to the cinema and enthusiasm for returning is abundantly clear. 

 

 

The financial support we received from the Hub has enabled us to meet our essential overheads, specifically insurance costs, at a time when we have no other income. This means that we should be able to re-open without debts hanging over us and therefore giving us a fighting chance of being able to remain open during the difficult times ahead. 

The Dragon Theatre, Barmouth during lockdown:

Eiko at Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival

Meet Eiko, festival director of Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival:

What have you been working on during lockdown?

This year is the 10th anniversary of our festival and we were planning different things, but we had not expected a global pandemic to happen. However, thanks to Film Hub, we received a grant to host our first online screening on YouTube. It is exciting to try something new as a festival.

In July we are going to host a screening focussing on Japanese female directors. I am not sure if you know, but the majority of the animated feature films in Japan are directed by male directors and, as a female festival director, I have always wanted to try to balance the gender ratio of the films we screen at the festival but this has been very hard.

So I am really pleased to host this first female focus screening.

We have Yusaki Fusako, she is an Italy-based award winning stop motion animator who has directed many amazing TV series and short films. She has kindly agreed to give an interview and have her works screened by the festival. We are also in touch with other film makers in Japan such as Miho Yata, Arisa Wakami and university graduate Mone Kurita. We are hoping to show the real diversity of films directed by female directors of all ages.

What have you been watching?

I really wanted to watch lots of online screenings and Q&As by festivals but it is hard for me to sit in front of the PC in the daytime due to family responsibilities. In the end, I was watching films and anime on Netflix. Ok as Otaku I tried out the TV series ‘Violet Evergarden’ , BEASTARS’, ‘Erased’, and ‘March Comes in Like a Lion’ at home! 

I am also watching lots of short films on YouTube to find Japanese talents which we haven’t screened, such as the work by Mone Kurita which we will screen next month. 

“Killing Eve” is also very interesting. And don’t forget “The Great British Sewing Bee”!”

What does the future hold?

© Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival

This is a very tricky question. We are not sure if we can even have a physical festival this year at our partner venues. Whatever happens we will continue to do what we can to screen diverse Japanese films to audiences in Wales. If our July online screening is successful, we would like to continue this event. There are so many great Japanese animated films you haven’t seen yet!!

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

It was really inspiring to watch what Cardiff Animation Festival was doing. Even though their festival was cancelled, they quickly hosted many online screenings and workshops such as “How to Animate at Home”. It was really fascinating!

Nippon Connection just announced the great films available for online screening, including Independent animated shorts by women. I am going to check their programme.

How will FHW support you?

© Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival

We are so grateful to receive the grant for hosting online screenings. I know so many artists/companies are desperate to get the grant because they are struggling to support themselves. As COVID-19 struck us, we all realized we are so lucky to simply be alive, have enough food to survive and somewhere to live. However, to have a happy life sometimes that is not enough, we need something to look forward to, something to keep us entertained, keep us motivated. 

Our online screening will not be on the same scale as the physical festival we normally have, but still I am sure our audience will be happy to be able to view interesting and exciting films from wherever they can.

Meet Sara, Co-Director of the Magic Lantern:

 

Meet Annie, Co-Director of the Magic Lantern:

“Here at the Magic Lantern, most of the team have been furloughed with a few left to hold the fort.”

What have you been working on during lockdown?

Some of the team have been really busy, as before lockdown Co-Directors Geoff and Sara set up Tywyn District Corona Support group and together with the Town Clerk pulled together over 100 volunteers with a system for supporting those in our community unable to leave their homes – shopping, collecting prescriptions, walking dogs, or just talking to people isolated at home.

In between this, we have managed to see some films – we’ve been posting regularly on our f/b group about films available on TV / streaming. For us it’s been great to catch up with films that we’ve previously shown but not had time to watch – like A Monster Calls – wonderful film but Sara’s daughter had to give her a cuddle afterwards!

I’d personally have watched a lot more films if the broadband connection here wasn’t so temperamental, – Curzon and Mubi have both had great films on offer. I guess that’s something to look forward to in the future!

Mostly we have remained determined and optimistic about keeping our fabulous team together and bringing the Magic Lantern back to life – but lacking a crystal ball it’s hard to feel any certainty about what’s ahead for us and I think it’s fair to say that with news and rules and regulations changing so fast, some of the corona-coaster has felt like looking into the abyss! As Geoff keeps saying – “if it were zombies we were having to deal with, he’s seen the movies, – he’d know what to do!” As none of us have seen Contagion however, Covid 19 is a new one on us!

 

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

So what has been inspiring and wonderful is, as always, our amazing team and our community. We are at some stage going to be obliged to throw a massive Magic Lantern party – safely distanced of course – for them all.

With all this going on it has been great to check in every now and then with Film Hub Wales – and especially through them [Film Hub Wales] to access some support through the BFI FAN Resilience Fund – thanks to them and National Lottery Players we have a new online project starting in the next few weeks to bring together a social history of the Magic Lantern…

Meet Kate, CEO – Director of the Memo Arts Centre, Barry:

 

Meet Chris, Director and General Manager of Monmouth Savoy:

Meet Dilwyn, Manager of Neaudd Ogwen:

 

Meet the Gerda and the volunteers at the Phoenix Ton Pentre:

What have you been working on during lockdown?

The Phoenix closed on March 17th which was halfway through our week of showing Sonic the Hedgehog and Military Wives was on the bill the week after. We were a few days ahead of other venues and it was hard to disappoint the avid Sonic fans but it was heartening to see that most of our audience supported us straight away and shared the sense of responsibility we felt to keep our community safe.

It’s now hard to remember those initial days, we were busy securing the building and equipment and hoped that lockdown would only be for a few weeks. When we realised that lockdown would be much longer we decided to give our kiosk stock to the Valley’s Kids foodbank knowing the blue Panda pops would go down a treat!!

How have you been keeping in touch with your audiences?

Our social media savvies realised straight away that we needed to make sure we kept in touch with our audiences. We’ve been sharing a variation of information; links to virtual activities and events – from visits to the donkey sanctuaries, Planet Watch and links to the National Theatre events – even sharing community notifications like the re-opening of the local recycling sites! 

Our resident youth theatre group Act One, had to cancel their VE day concert but treated us with a brilliant and moving video rendition of Vera Lynn’s We’ll meet again on Facebook, which had over 5000 views. Take a look at the video below…

Watch “We’ll meet again”

What have the Phoenix volunteers been up?

Many of us took time to catch-up on films we missed and to widen our horizons, we were also feeling the nostalgia with the Josh Gad’s “Reunited Apart.” 

We‘ve been reminiscing and making plans for future nostalgia – shall we show all the Terminator films or have a Clint Eastwood Fest?

Just before the lockdown we were able to finish our screening programme of Welsh films and this had attracted a larger audience than we expected – we’ve  since been making use of the Welsh Film catalogue on the Film Hub Wales website to invite people to go and find out about more Welsh films to watch.

What next for the Phoenix?

Now that social distancing rules are starting to relax, we are risk assessing our venue and developing plans for the future. We are in consultation with our volunteers, audience members and we’re currently developing proposals to support schools and other groups to have access to relevant film screenings at our venue. We’re trying to be resilient and flexible in the way we respond to the “new normal”.

We’re also thinking about what films will be available to show when we re-open? How have filmmakers/distributors been affected? Will film licence costs increase? Time will tell.

We very much want to acknowledge all the support of Film Hub Wales who, over the years have provided expertise and advice to help us put on a wider and  programme of Welsh films – and now they’re here again to help us with funding to keep our equipment and venue safe in these difficult times. Their recognition for help with those essential and specialist costs has been vital to us.

Meet Ben, Founder of Snowcat Cinema:

Coming soon…

Coming soon…

Meet Rhiannon, Festival Director / Cinema Co-ordinator of Wicked Wales:

Meet David, Director of the WOW Film Festival

What exhibitors say...

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on Cardiff Animation Festival, as it has on so many arts organisations. Having to make the decision to postpone our festival three weeks out from our scheduled dates could have meant the end for us as an organisation. Film Hub Wales have been massively supportive throughout this time. This new relief funding is a lifeline that will enable us to support freelancers and contractors, to develop new and exciting work to serve the community that has built around our activity over the past five and a half years, and to help our audiences feel connected through independent animation while we're all apart.

Lauren Orme - Director of Cardiff Animation Festival

Recently, we’ve faced the surreal threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, and thanks to Film Hub Wales and BFI FAN support, we see this plucky independent cinema fighting back once more, stepping into a new and different world driven by our young creatives, who we call ‘The Quaran-teens’. We are ready for the next chapter in our drama

Rhys - Coordinator at Cell B, Blaenau Ffestiniog

Having the support and funding from the BFI and Film Hub Wales means a great deal to our team of young volunteers who run the Wicked Pop Up Cinemas at Rhyl Little Theatre in North Wales. With Film Hub Wales support we started our community cinema 3 years ago bringing affordable cinema back to some of the most deprived communities in Wales. This period of lockdown meant losing contact with the audiences we had worked so hard to build up. This funding will enable our volunteers to continue to have a place to work from and an opportunity  to reach out to our existing and new audiences ready for when we open the doors again.

Rhiannon Wyn Hughes - Festival Director/Cinema Co-Ordinator of Wicked Wales Film Festival and Cinema, Rhyl

Past events at Blaenau Ffestiniog’s CellB cinema have at times rivalled the drama usually seen on our cinema screen. We’ve seen our community and Hollywood stars lining up to support a bright future for this most precious of our shared community assets. Recently, we’ve faced the surreal threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, and thanks to Film Hub Wales and BFI FAN support, we see this plucky independent cinema fighting back once more, stepping into a new and different world driven by our young creatives, who we call ‘The Quaran-teens’. We are ready for the next chapter in our drama.

Rhys Roberts - CellB
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