Hannah Clugston, one of the Directors of Handmade Cinema, answered some of our questions about running a community cinema, catering for families through immersive screenings of childhood classics…
Tell us about your group. What makes it stand out?
Handmade Cinema is a community cinema for families, screening classic family films in immersive spaces all over Sheffield and even in Derbyshire, with themed activities, refreshments, music and live entertainment. We head out into the community and run workshops, where kids can make scenery that will appear at the final screening. Usually, our venue reflects the film in some way – so we screened Fantastic Mr Fox in the countryside and Mary Poppins in an old umbrella factory. We have a small team of volunteers who are amazingly skilled and make pretty much anything out of cardboard!
Specifically targeting screenings at kids and families is very rare in cinema. Our immersive décor, community workshops and friendly atmosphere help achieve this. Because we are aimed at children, our spaces are always colourful, bright and spacious, which makes everyone feel relaxed and the kids can react to the film as they’d like. When we screened Jungle Book the kids started dancing, which was so cute!!
How did you get involved with this organisation?
I am now one of the directors and I volunteer a few hours a week on marketing and community outreach, after getting involved right at the start in 2013 with our first ever screening of the Aristocats. I am a huge film fan, so the chance to create interactive environments for kids was an opportunity too good to miss! It is great to see the kids getting more out of the film experience through the décor and activities.
How do you engage with your audience and your community?
Our audience is infant and primary aged children, plus their parents and carers. We usually work within the community, running workshops and meeting people before we run the screening. This is how we involve our audiences: with the themes from the film and creating a sense of ownership around the screening by crafting bits of scenery. We make everything as colourful, as fun, as exciting as we can with regards to our marketing – so our posters are always hand illustrated. In addition, we have good press contacts too, which really helps!
With our workshops, we always run them in central community locations like libraries or community centres, where people are able to easily access them. These places usually have really good local links too, so we know that, by partnering with them, we will be able to reach the heart of the community.
What challenges have you faced as an organisation?
In the early days, it was hard to keep volunteers engaged but over the years we have built up a really great, reliable team that seems to be expanding all the time. We got over that hurdle by meeting up regularly and making things together so we became friends. Another struggle is equipment – because we are a pop-up cinema we have to rely on hiring and transporting equipment around, which is sometimes tricky. And then some venues have unreliable equipment that has tripped us up before. We pretty much always hire from Cinema for All now, or make sure the venue has tested everything extensively before the screening!
What exciting things have you got scheduled?
We usually choose classic films that are attractive to both parents and kids. We are big fans of Disney classics – like Jungle Book and Mary Poppins. That said, we do sometimes screen newer films too – like the Lego Movie and Up, and we like to screen Christmas hits in December too. We basically screen kids films that we love and that have the scope to produce lots of immersive content around.
We are looking forward to getting Christmassy at Sheffield Children’s Hospital this month. We usually go in around Christmas to host craft workshops and a screening for the patients. It isn’t open to the public but is always a really lovely, low key event, that the children really enjoy!
What is your favourite community cinema experience?
Our screening of Fantastic Mr Fox was pretty special! We went out to Longshaw Estate in the countryside at Autumn, so the colours were beautiful. The kids made foxtails out of leaves, had a go at firing pots and went on a nature trail. There was face painting and cake too. At the screening, they had to crawl through a giant cardboard tree to get in and then we screened a bunch of stop motion animation films that the kids had made the week before ahead of the film. The whole event was a joy and of course, Wes Anderson’s film is wonderful too!
Finally, would you recommend that other people join a community cinema?
Absolutely! It is a really fun way to enjoy film. It is wonderful to share that passion with the local community and help them to connect with each other. If you want to get involved with Handmade Cinema, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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