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It began with Townes Van Zandt

TOWNES VAN ZANDT

My interest in cinema ecology started during my first trip to Berlin in 2008. I was there for a week and keen to find things to do, and so was flicking through a listings magazine. I came to the cinema section. What struck me was how big it was – so many cinemas, each showing on the whole very different films. Not only that, but there were 3 cinemas apparently within walking distance. This baffled me –  I’d spent a few days walking round the area already and hadn’t seen anything like a cinema at all. So I decided to go to  the nearest one – the Eiszeit Kino – which was showing a documentary about a country singer called Townes Van Zandt.

I made a note of the address and struck out in search of the Eiszeit. I didn’t have to walk far before I found the right street, though there was nothing immediately obvious to say there was a cinema here. Then I noticed an an alley, and inside a quad poster. I followed the alley down, into a courtyard, and then through an unlikley door, up 3 flghts of stairs, to a landing, and another door for the Eiszeit Kino. Through the door there was a bar and reception. I bought a ticket and a beer from a friendly chap, who then showed me into the auditorium – an extremely small but plush rake of cinema seats with curtains and a fantastic screen. The barman went to the projection booth, put the film on (35mm), and I had my mind blown by Townes Van Zandt.

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I listen to Townes Van Zandt a lot now, thanks to that film. But what really stuck with me was the experience, first of discovering the multiplicity of cinemas and films on offer in one city, and then being able to see a film in such a small space. I realised that cinema can actually work on a number of scales, and take a number of forms. I loved the idea that it could be small enough for one person to operate. I loved the idea that one cinema might show one film, and the other 40 cinemas might have all different films. It made me very aware of an alterntive model of cinema ecology – far away from the dominance of the chain multiplex in the UK.

What I’ve since learned is that the UK might does infact have a number of fantastic independent cinemas. More interestingly though, it also has a growing number of film ‘events’ that happen in unusual spaces, across all scales. All of these events – whether a special one-off festival screening of Robocop on a screen made from shipping containers, or a regular kids club at a local library, or a monthly cult film night in a bar – all of these make up an ecology of film events that resides alongside the programming found in establish independent cinema venues. Screening Film is my attempt to begin to map that, as it happens, and to provide the tools for events organisers to share their screenings with others, in the context of film culture.

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