Kirsten Ed talks to Deborah Parker of The British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS), an organisation that nationally supports the film society and community cinema movement in the UK. Read more to find out what the BFFS is all about, why the internet is important for the local film scene and what Deborah’s ultimate film suggestion for you is!
So what is it that you do?
BFFS helps people set up film activities, so film screenings, film clubs, film societies, community cinemas… We’ve been around for the best part of 70 years and over that time we’ve helped hundreds of groups to get off the ground. They call themselves all sorts of different names; film clubs, film societies, community cinema, but essentially what they do is they show film to their communities. They respond to what the community wants, they help develop audience tastes over time, they bring film to parts of the country that would never have access to film any other way because there’s no commercial cinemas nearby. Basically what we do is help facilitate the expansion and enjoyment of film across the country.
What is a cinema?
From our point of view, it is less about the physical space and more about the shared experiences. So whether it’s open air, whether it’s in a pub, in a disused shop or in a physical space such as a cinema, it’s all about people coming together and having that experience of watching something together.
What do you think of the independent film scene in the North West?
Well, I am from Manchester originally and my first experience of the film world was in going to short film nights, and I started volunteering with Kinofilm. It’s always been a really vibrant scene, with things like Filmonik, and there have always been film nights happening. It’s a really great way of showcasing things that are a little bit unusual really.
Where are your members situated?
We have roughly 550 members all across the UK, from the highlands in Scotland all the way through to Cornwall, Northern Ireland, Wales… they’re everywhere. We have a lot of activity going on in the South-West, Scotland and Yorkshire. Everywhere!
What part do you think the internet has to play in local film scenes?
It’s crucial, really. One of the key benefits of what Sam is doing with the Screening Film project is just getting information out there to people, and allowing people the ability to explore and try things they would not necessarily be able to find before. I think it’s really helped with democratisation, because it allows wider access to a better range of stuff.
I mean, there is a generational aspect to this as well, sometimes some of our members struggle with the IT and web side of things, because it is a newer thing for them. Although I think the internet adds a fantastic ability to democratise, sometimes it doesn’t work as well for people who are less trustful or less confident with technology. A site like Screening Film that is really easy to use, simple, effective and does what you want it to do, will be a fantastic resource for those people that are maybe a little more technophobic.
In what way do you and your organisation support groups that wish to screen films?
We do everything from giving you the basic advice, so giving you an idea of what to look for in a venue, how to turn the venue into a screening space, where to get your equipment from… We also do things like offer discounts on insurance, equipment hires, we can lend kits and we also help you through the minefield of licenses. So, where you get the films and licences from.We run a non-theatrical distribution service with a catalogue of about 850 world cinema titles that people can hire from us if they’re members, so we basically help you through all the stages.
How about the awards that you run?
We advocate and champion the sector by trying to represent it as best we can on the national stage, and part of that is conducting the awards. We will be hosting the 45th awards in September in Sheffield, and what those do really is focus on the hard work that people do all year around; organising film screenings in their communities. We always have fantastic stories to tell about the work people are doing – the efforts people go to make the screenings special. One of our really impressive societies recently did a fantastic Ghostbusters’ event, where they got an old hearse and transformed it into the Ghostbusters’ car which they drove around their community, just raising profile for their event! So people really do go the extra mile, and what the awards do is try and recognise the achievements that people make in this sector.
What films have been popular within your organisation in the last year?
It’s really important for our member’s to screen new films- they’re really interested in what’s coming out. One of the really popular films that came out at the end of last year was the Chilean film called “No”, which is a Gael García Bernal pseudo-documentary by the filmmaker Pablo Larraín. That was incredibly popular. Other titles such as the Japanese film “I Wish”, which is a really fantastic story about two brothers that were separated. More recently “The Rocket” has done really well. So there’s an eclectic mix of films that our members like to screen.
If you had to recommend one film everyone should watch in their lifetime, what would it be?
Ooh God, just one film? That’s so hard. This isn’t a film we have in the booking scheme so my distribution officer will probably kick me for not recommending a film that we’ve got, but this is my all-time favourite film that never fails to make me cry. It’sa Fellini film called “Nights of Cabiria”, which is one of the films that he made as part of the ‘three films of redemption’ trilogy in the late 50s. It stars his wife Giulietta Masina. It’s the film that they based the musical “Sweet Charity” on, but this is a much, much better version and it’s about a Roman prostitute and the trials and tribulations of always being in bad situations and always overcoming them. It is a superb film. The final scene I think, is one of the most powerful in cinema.
I remember seeing it again a few years ago at Cornerhouse, and they were doing a retrospective of some re-mastered Fellini, who is one of my favourite filmmakers. I went to see about seven Fellini films in about three days, and it was just incredible to watch it again on the big screen.
Follow Deborah on twitter @cinemasina
Check out the BFFS website at http://www.bffs.org.uk/