Run by a group of young people in Norwich, Film East aims to educate and inspire the next generation of film enthusiasts through screenings, events and unique opportunities that connect younger audiences to thought-provoking cinema. We spoke with Shelby Cooke about film programming and Film East.
Tell us about your group. What makes it stand out?
Film East is a Norwich-based film programming group that provides a platform for young audiences to experience cinema through immersive and interactive film screenings. We’re members of the British Film Institute’s and Film Hub South East/Independent Cinema Office’s Young Film Programmers Network in the East of England.
We’re supported by the not-for-profit community art organisation, Reel Connections, who provide us with mentorship; they essentially get the show rolling. We would be nothing without them – literally!
We’re a small group – there’s only five of us. We’re made up of ex/current students of film and art, who just love cinema unconditionally. We’re ultimately an educational group, looking to increase our audience’s knowledge and appreciation for the art of film. Film East is a group that allows people to feel comfortable exploring ideas around films, and encourages them to think deeper about the art and philosophy related to the craft, in a safe environment where they won’t be judged. People who attend a Film East event or take part in our opportunities, don’t feel like they’re being lectured to; but rather, they feel like they are with friends – because they are!
Film East strives to not just get young people to watch films, but to get them passionate about films. We offer a variety of ways for people interested in film to develop their passion. From our in-person event screenings, to our film criticism website, or our meme-driven social media, Film East is designed for young people to see what the film world has to offer beyond production. We’re dedicated to creating a space for people to explore and learn about film and to understand that it is more than just mass entertainment. Between our social media, screenings and website content, we expose young people to new films in specialised categories that they may not have heard of before. We believe in the power of a transformative cinematic experience, and we want people who come across Film East to find a film that helps them discover themselves.
We don’t just offer film screenings – we provide an online and in-person platform for people to discuss and debate film on a more critical level, allowing them to appreciate the influence cinema can have on our culture and society. We value the cultural and artistic importance of film, and we want to share that with everyone who interacts with us.
During my time in Norwich – albeit a short amount of time – I never came across a group like Film East! But maybe I’m biased!
How did you get involved with Film East?
I first started with Film East in November 2019. Being a part of the Young Film Programmers network, there was a call out for anyone in Norwich who was interested in film to come to the meeting. I had just finished my masters in Film Studies and was interested in getting into programming – so the planets were obviously aligned that week.
I am now a programmer for our event screenings and the editor-in-chief for our online platform. I also run our social media and marketing, so all complaints about our terrible jokes and bad graphic designs can be cc’d to me.
As the EIC for Film East Online, I work one-on-one with anyone who wants to write for us. From the initial pitch to the final piece, I’m there to help writers produce the best work they possibly can. We’re really keen on giving anyone who writes for us the ability to learn and explore about both film and criticism, giving them the opportunity to try something new or build up their portfolio.
How do you reach out to your audience?
Our main audience is 16-30 year olds. Hopefully, since we’re all aged between 20-30, we can easily connect with our audience. I mean, we’re still down with the kids! We know the lingo!
We’re quite active on social media, which has been a huge way we’ve been able to connect with our audience. I honestly love film memes and internet culture, and we all really need a good niche film meme to make us laugh in 2020. We love being able to interact with our audience and other members of the community one-to-one and also being able to get their ideas and comments about different films. We’ve had some great interactions with people in the industry on our social media too, such as Mark Jenkin (director of Bait), Asif Kapadia (director of Senna and Amy) and Paul Mescal (Emmy nominee for BBC’s Normal People – big swoon).
I also hope our friendly disposition helps to draw people in. We really advocate that any film is important to someone; we don’t want to be pretentious or make people feel insecure because they don’t know every new arthouse film or haven’t seen all the “classics.” That’s why we set up our website, so young people can explore the films they’re passionate about in a non-judgemental space.
At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of film nerds that want to talk to other film nerds about films!
How do you engage with your community?
We have two community outreach paths: one, our event cinema and two, our film criticism website.
Our screenings aren’t just your average screening; they’re events! When you attend a Film East screening, you’ll enjoy all the film has to offer and more! From panels and performances to workshops and more, our events are tailored to enhance your viewing experience. Plus, you’re likely to see a film you’ve never seen before (or one you love)!
During lockdown, we introduced an online site that allows up-and-coming film critics, journalists and creatives to sharpen their skills and improve their writing, all the while fulfilling their love for cinema. With Film East Online, we nurture new writing talent by helping them find their voice in film criticism. We seek out budding writers to dive deep into film analysis, assisting them in expanding their understanding of cinema and its place in our world. All Film East articles are long-form, asking both the reader and the writer to think critically about the media they are observing. You don’t have to be from Norwich or Norfolk to write for us, but most of them are, which is great because it allows us to build up a network of people who can also come to our events! We’re super proud of the reaction we’ve received after our website launch – and the pitches for articles that have come in to us are just *chief’s kiss* masterful! I love reading every article!
If you want to write for us or find out more about how you can submit an article idea, visit: film-east.com/submissions.
What exciting things have you got scheduled?
We are committed to screening and promoting specialised films that perhaps might not be as well known, but serves a purpose in teaching people about new cultures, lives and ideas. When programming our films, we choose from specialised film categories, such as foreign language films, documentaries, experimental/ art, classics and British films.
We want to make our audience aware of how film functions in our society beyond simply entertainment. Since we haven’t had much time in the actual cinema showing films (thanks, miss rona), we use our Instagram to highlight films that are more arthouse and independent in nature and that deal with social issues (such as human rights, race, LGBTQ+, class and so on) or are related to a national cinema (like British cinema, American independent cinema, French, Italian, German, Russian, Asian, Middle Eastern and African cinema). We diversify our film promotion so our followers become more aware of unique and challenging films, pushing them to step into new worlds and new lives through cinema. We also provide film recommendations selected by our programmers: posted on Fridays, these lists are curated by our programmers to reflect three films we believe our audience should see to enhance their viewing experience.
With cinemas starting to open back up, we’re hoping to be able to start screening films again! The events we planned for April were inevitably cancelled, so we really want to get back to our roots and connect with people through physical cinema. We’ve been looking at the films provided in the Relaunching Cinema scheme; contenders include Rocketman (our programmer Niamh is obsessed with Elton – but not as much as me with Bowie), Moonlight, Spirited Away and Twilight (this is a hill us Film East programmers will die on – Twilight is peak noughties culture, and we will forever stan). Nothing is official yet, so don’t quote me on this. But we definitely want to programme something for the autumn!
What challenges have you faced?
We officially launched Film East in February 2020, and our first individual event – a screening of Franco Rosso’s Babylon with a Q&A panel about sound culture in Britain – was scheduled at the Norwich Theatre Stage 2 for April. Due to the restrictions on screenings after its release, not many people have seen this extremely impactful film. Babylon was revolutionary for its time, showing a part of British culture rarely seen on screening. We were beyond excited to be able to show this vital and powerful film that is just as relevant and timely today as it was in 1981. Inevitably, our event was cancelled due to COVID-19. 🙁
That was a huge disappointment for us because we were so excited to show the film to the Norwich community, as we had spent months planning it. But we’re still hoping to screen Babylon and have our panel at some point. We’re holding out hope!
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on community cinemas. How are you keeping your volunteers and/or audiences engaged during this time?
We have been more active during lockdown than before!
We were lucky to be a part of Reel Connection’s and the Film Hub South East’s Intermissions Series. The initiative, which was a series of online screenings and industry talks, extended across South East England and was aimed at keeping young film programmers and enthusiasts engaged and connected during the challenges of the recent lockdown period. As the series progressed, young people from across the network where invited to propose film choices with accompanying reviews. The films included: Local Hero, Bait, Elephant Man, Made in Dagenham, Top Hat and Election.
The programme also included a series of online industry session talks, which gave young film programmers and others the opportunity to talk directly to people working in the film exhibition sector and related professions, to find out more about what their work involved and their career paths thus far. We worked with Reel Connections and Film Hub South East to promote the sessions, which included career advice from professionals working in programming, distribution, criticism and filmmaking (featuring Slow West director, John Maclean).
We were kindly asked to programme two events at this year’s Young Norfolk Arts Virtual Festival. We offered a family-friendly screening of My Neighbour Totoro, along with a live storyboarding session with creative writing tutor and illustrator Ian Nettleton. It was honestly the purest thing I’ve seen in 2020. Our second event was a Master Class with Norfolk locations specialist, Crispin Buxton. We discussed three particular films on which he was Location Manager, all with scenes shot in Norfolk and Suffolk; Possum, The Souvenir and Yesterday.
And, of course, we launched our website, which provides a different type of opportunity for people who want to be more hands-on with cinema and want to be able to produce something they’re proud of!
What is your favourite cinema experience?
By far, my favourite cinema experience was being able to see The Man Who Fell to Earth on the big screen at Cinema City, our local Picturehouse. They were showing the film last summer as part of their classics on screen series. I was in the midst of working on my MA dissertation, conveniently about said film, and was so excited to see it on the programme. I had seen the film many times for my research, but it had only ever been on my laptop. Being able to see David Bowie’s beautiful face on that massive screen reminded me how powerful and wonderful the cinema is! And how absolutely gorgeous Bowie was – swoon!
Also, the time I got to walk down the red carpet at the London Film Festival during the premier for Their Finest – that was pretty amazing!
Finally, what advice do you have for anyone considering starting a community cinema?
Getting involved with the Norwich Young Film Programmers has been a life-changing experience! I never thought when I attended the first meeting that, less than a year later, I would be running a film criticism website, building up a network and experience in this career field and gaining some fantastic friends and mentors! But most importantly, being asked for an interview on BBC Radio Norfolk about our group!!
Being involved with community cinema has provided me with not only fantastic career experience and networking opportunities, but it most importantly, helped to build up my self-confidence and allowed me to produce something that I’m beyond proud of! I’m an introverted personality, so I find great solace in watching films and experiencing the world through art. And it’s just such a pleasure to be able to share those experiences with other people and to watch them fall in love with films too.
I would absolutely say to anyone to take up the opportunity to get involved with your community cinema or local film group. Get in contact with your local independent cinema or art organisation and see if there are any groups going on. I’m sure there is a young film programmers group near you!
And to think, I was so terrified of stepping out of my comfort zone that I almost didn’t go to the first meeting! Incredible what happens when you do!