Everyone has been affected by Covid-19 and lockdown in the UK, causing all arts and community groups to temporarily close their doors in the importance of safety first. We’ve seen many community cinemas find new and safe ways to stay connected with their beloved communities and audiences during this time that have been truly inspiring. Deptford Cinema is a not-for-profit volunteer-led community cinema and they too have been innovative in their ideas in making great cinema available to their audience by creating Deptford Cinema On Demand. The online screening platform has become not only a wonderful place to watch fantastic independent films for their audiences but a way to spotlight excellent filmmaking talent that might not usually have the chance in the exhibition world. We spoke with Deptford Cinema to tell us more.
What made you start your DCOD?
When we took the decision to temporarily close the doors to our physical cinema the week before lockdown was enforced, we wanted to stay connected with our wonderful patrons and to offer them something like the same eclectic and exciting programming selections we pride ourselves on at Deptford Cinema. We also saw it as an opportunity for our volunteer programmers to stay engaged at a difficult time and to keep doing what they love to do. We offer the service free of charge to viewers to make it accessible to as many of our patrons as possible especially in the current economic climate.
What were the logistics in getting it started?
In practical terms, we utilised Vimeo to host our films and then embedded these into our Squarespace website, that way the films could be watched on our website itself or via our Vimeo channel thus increasing the potential reach.
Obviously we weren’t able to compete with the mainstream streaming platforms, so we decided to promote and champion independent films, local filmmakers, and student films in order to give them a exhibition platform that otherwise they may find difficult to find.
We are lucky to have quite a few programmers who are either well-connected with local and student filmmakers, or who work with film festivals and therefore see a lot of great content so we had these sources at our disposal. We contacted filmmakers to outline DCOD to them and sought their permission to screen their film(s).
Was it tricky or quite straightforward?
Once we created a manual to guide our programmers through the process of uploading and hosting the content via Vimeo and Squarespace, the process has been pretty smooth.
The biggest challenge was seeking out content and gathering agreements with filmmakers as unfortunately we were not able to offer them monetary imbursement for their work (as the service is free to view), but we set up an incentivised approach instead where we would promote the filmmakers via our social media, do Q&As to increase publicity, and offer free tickets to them for when the physical venue reopens.
What has the response been like?
We’ve been really happy with the response. Vimeo has an Analytics section that allows you to see the number of views your videos have had, the engagement rate, and where the videos have been viewed from. The most exciting thing we’ve seen is actually the geographical spread of viewership. We’ve put this down to the content on offer being very diverse and very international. For example we’ve had film subjects ranging from craft-making and storytelling in India, Syrian refugees living with mental health conditions in France, Chilean family life under oppression, and beauty pageants in Hong Kong.
This has been reflected in the viewing data. For example obviously our main region of engagement has been the UK, but we’ve also had great viewing figures from India, the U.S., Syria, Japan, South America and the rest of Europe. This is quite different to the physical limitations of a 39-seat auditorium in south east London, and we’re really happy viewers from around the world have engaged with our content.
Would you recommend this to other community cinemas to try?
With such a vast range of online content out there through the big players, and cinemas (chains at least) slowly reopening; getting engagement now in August onwards does pose quite a challenge. But with the right content and matching that content with the tastes of your usual patrons and followers, there’s no reason why it can’t be a viable option for community and independent cinemas to keep their presence active and keep that vital contact with their audiences in the absence of physical screenings.