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Exploring the soft power of film in Nottingham

Thomas Humphrey gives us the background on Nottingham Alternative Film Network, their mission to bring great film to the East Midlands, and how they’re using film to fight xenophobia.


 

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The Nottingham Alternative Film Network was established late last year, out of frustration more than anything. We had become fed up of seeing great films by critically-acclaimed directors pass like fleeting comets between international film festivals, without ever making it onto the big screen in Nottingham. These cosmic apparitions filled us with excitement and hope, but sadly they almost always remained out of reach: they almost always played only in London.

And whilst these glorious cultural mirages played out on the horizon, we were stuck with crap films like Foxcatcher (with its woefully white, male-centric plot). We didn’t want this any more. Nor were we sure we ever did. So we tried to see whether we could bring different kinds of films to the city instead, and we began to look for where we might show them. We wanted to cut out the cowardly distributors, whose lack of courage meant that even outstanding films like the now Oscar award-winning Ida have to do the rounds on the festival circuit twice (this film was at the London Film Festival in 2013!) before somebody picks it up.

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A still from Ian Waugh’s stunning As He Lay Falling, which we’ll be showing on the 4th

Sadly, we found the film industry was somewhat shaped to prevent us to do that. Even if we were able to crowdfund the extortionate money necessary to hire the DCP for unique features (which often don’t become available through great organisations like Cinema For All for at least a few years), then we would find ourselves squeezed at the other end by the cinemas themselves. Often venues, even those intended to support independent film, would ask us for hiring costs which were simply unattainable or expect us to prove ourselves for at least a year before they would work with us.

Faced with this, we’ve quickly become one of Nottingham’s best guerrilla film groups. Like a rag-tag scratch company, we’ve learnt to move swiftly through the city and embrace HD files sent to us via Dropbox. So now we’re able to screen films wherever there is a projector and some chairs. What’s more we screen films when we feel there is a need for a particular audience to be reached or a particular issue discussed. Which has lead us to passionately try to increase the on-screen representation of those who are underrepresented, and of types of films (like shorts) which are overlooked. And we believe this is a great way to use culture’s soft power to slowly promote the equality and fairness we want to see in our society.

NAFN's first event. Photo: Urban Edge Films

A photo from our first event, where we screened Alexander Thomas’ Beverley

This has also lead us to have a very organic relationship with our audiences. We like to join forces with pre-existing groups, and expose their followers to new things. And we like get a sense of what Nottingham wants to see, hence we use channels like crowdfunding so that people can effectively vote for what want. With our short film screenings, we also invite the audience to vote for their favourite short, and then the profits go to the winning film so that together we can challenge the belief that short filmmakers shouldn’t be paid for their work.

This is exactly what we hope to do in Hockley on the 4th May. Except this time we’ll be flexing some political muscle too. We currently receive no external funding and we aren’t a charity either, so we can take the risks and express opinions that others can’t. So we’re exploring the potential film screenings have to operate as a hub for political resistance. In this instance we’re taking a stance against the xenophobia we believe UKIP are promoting.

The Interpreter New Poster

This has lead us to put together a programme filled with shorts from many different cultures and countries. These are award-winning films from many different film festivals, that all focus on the topic of migration. And again, we believe these stories have tremendous power to make people think again about migrations. So whether you’re for or against UKIP, we urge you to come and discuss these issues with us. And because we don’t want to exclude anyone, we’re inviting you to ‘pay what you want.’ So you get to decide how much the winning short gets. We hope to see you there!

To reserve a place at NAFN’s screening in Hockley or Beeston, or to send us films for future consideration, please email: nafn@mail.com

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Shipwreck, dir. Morgan Knibbe

 

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