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Sheffield’s Independent Film Programmers

by Now Then Sheffield

The Showroom Cinema is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary as Sheffield’s beloved independent film institution, and Sheffield’s independent film programming community is one of the city’s most tightly-knit, collaborative cultural scenes, with numerous independent film clubs, societies and festivals, including Celluloid Screams, The Film Unit, Magic Lantern Film Club, Sharrow Reels and Handmade Cinema. As a network, however, it is one that has remained largely unnoticed outside its own sporadic meetings.

I found myself becoming a part of it two years ago when I co-founded the cult film night, The Five and Dime Picture Show. Our desire was to show a spectrum of cult titles that we felt deeply passionate about and surround them with immersive ‘event’ elements. Matt Risby and I put our money where our mouths were and programmed an initial six films, co-financed with the Film Unit, taking the risk of licence fees from our own pockets. Since then, we have organised over 20 events and have collaborated with institutions including the BFI, Doc/Fest and Drafthouse Films, as well as filmmakers, local businesses and artists.

The ‘programmer’ title describes someone choosing to licence and facilitate a film event, united by their passion for film and a desire to share what they consider to be worthwhile cinema. Behind the scenes, this takes considerable research and each club has its own niche. Rob of Celluloid Screams brings horror screenings and a continually growing festival to the Showroom, Melanie, Jenny and Alison of Magic Lantern have been programming classics and world cinema around the city for five years now, and Craig of It’s Only a Movie promotes free cult screenings at Sheffield Hallam University, to name a few. I have witnessed their collective knowledge and continuing passion for film, which is a huge part of their lives.

Choosing which film to show is not easy. With legally required film licences costing a considerable amount - £100-£200 on average, depending on the format - the prospect of covering costs must be considered. There's also the small matter of where to show the film and you may have to think about paying for venue hire and providing equipment. Add to this any of the extras that you wanted to bring and it’s a considerably expensive endeavour. So why bother breaking the bank, sending hundreds of emails to find licences for obscure films and reaching out to artists across the globe in the modern age of Netflix?

Firstly, there is a shared belief in the power of the collective cinema experience, which nothing can replace. To watch a film with others, share emotions and discuss the work afterwards is a powerful connection. We not only bring films to the screen, but also have formed a community. Outside of working together, we take care to work with each other, promoting events and keeping an eye on what everyone is doing. Many of us have worked together or plan to work together in future, but we also work with other institutions, bringing cultural diversity to the city. Celluloid Screams attracts international filmmakers in person, Film Unit held 44 special screenings in 2014-15 with companies including Warp, Handmade Cinema co-founded Girl Gang to promote the empowerment of women, Magic Lantern are now working with Red Dot Cinema to promote Asian cinema titles and, importantly, numerous screenings are for charity.

We are very lucky to have Cinema for All, the Sheffield-based national support and development organisation for community-led cinema, providing assistance and advice, and the formation of the BFI Film Hub North has injected valuable funding. Regardless, the legwork and vision comes from the individuals I’ve become proud to know.

My own experiences will mirror those of my fellow indie programmers. At times it’s been testing, often there is a lot of hard work with sometimes very little to show for it, and we put expense and time ahead of our personal wellbeing, but I would still recommend it to anyone. It’s an unbelievable thrill to have someone tell you that they fell in love with a film that you introduced them to and, at the very least, if you believe in what you’re showing, you get to go to the movies for free and see something dear to your heart on the big screen.

I support community cinemas because they are driven by passion and knowledge, whilst bringing value outside of the mainstream to their cities. It’s easy to become tied to the multiplex routine of Friday's new releases, but there are many homes in Sheffield for anyone looking to find something extra, whilst supporting and becoming a part of a community of film lovers.

Ryan Finnigan

Five and Dime Picture Show | Celluloid Screams | Film Unit | Sharrow Reels | Handmade Cinema | It's Only A Movie | Magic Lantern Film Club

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Hosted by Samantha Holland

THIS IS OUR CITY: SHEFFIELD ON FILM
Mon 11 May | 6pm | Showroom | £5
Presented in partnership with Storying Sheffield, This is Our City is a showcase of films “telling remarkable stories of everyday life and documenting diverse communities in Sheffield”. The film will be followed by a talk from landscape archaeologist Dr Bob Johnston on community heritage.

WILD TALES
Damián Szifrón, Argentina, 2014
Fri 15 May | 7.30pm | Sheffield Students’ Union | £2.50
Six short films connected only, apparently, by a “violent sense of humour” and breaches of cinematic convention. Hosted by Film Unit.

LANTANA
Ray Lawrence, Australia, 2001
Sun 17 May | 7.30pm | 215 Sharrow Vale Road | £3
Sharrow Reels present a mysterious title based on Andrew Bovell’s play Speaking In Tongues, centred around a murder and the effects it has on the relationships of four couples in suburban Sydney. As usual, price of admission includes a slice of cake.

FILM/MUSIC/COFFEE AT #9
Mon 18 May | 7pm | Café #9
Now it's springtime, we're focussing on food and how it's grown. We'll be showing a short about Abundance, the Sheffield scrumping innovators, as well films about coffee and other global crops. Come along, have a cup of coffee and a snack, and think about where it comes from.

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by Now Then Sheffield

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