‘Receiving advice, guidance, support and recognition from ‘Cinema for All’ has given Leigh Film Society the credibility and confidence to drive forward its mission to deliver a wealth of film and film knowledge. Delivering film screenings that has benefit to all that live, work and visit our Community’ – Paul Costello – Chair of Leigh Film Society CIC

‘[These sessions] have given me so much to think about and so much to do that will enhance our profile. I always tell people that we are a not for profit organisation run entirely by volunteers, but [you] have made me realise we are more than that, we provide our community with professional film delivery and a real alternative to the mainstream. So much to shout out about.’ Leigh Film Society’s Development Director Elizabeth Costello, speaking at the Community Cinema Conference 2016

Leigh Film Society, established October 2013, was named Cinema For All’s Film Society of the Year 2017. We caught up with them to talk about their work, and Leigh Film Society’s plans for 2018 and beyond.

How and why did your community cinema come to be?

The idea behind Leigh Film Society came in October 2013, with a café in Tyldesley and some friends who started a Film Club. We regarded ourselves as film enthusiasts, but we found that if you wanted to see a film that wasn’t a CGI blockbuster and was maybe a little bit different, then it would mean a trip into Manchester. We decided to bring non-mainstream, art-house, foreign language films to our home town. It soon became apparent that the small café gave us no room to develop and grow, so when the opportunity came along to move to the Turnpike Centre in Leigh, we took it. In September 2014, we re-launched as Leigh Film Society.

Where is your group located? Does this affect how you approach running your group in any way?

Leigh Town, which falls within the wider Borough of Wigan Council, is historically an old mining town. We keep the history of our town in mind and think about films that will appeal to our industrial, mining, and cultural history.
Six of our Communities in Wigan rank within the top 10% most deprived in the Country.
Of these six, three are ranked within the top 3% most deprived in England. We take the cost of attending Leigh Film Society events seriously, as our town has many low-income families. For example, although we do sell refreshments, we also allow everyone to bring their own food and drink.

What is your ethos?

‘Providing Great Film for Everyone’

Leigh Film Society is a group of individuals who act as one ensuring the above Ethos is followed.
No one person will be given credit or kudos for the Film Society and Festival, as it is a team enterprise:

Leigh Film Society will ensure that the Society is welcoming and available to all. We implement an approach that is anti-oppressive, and focus on equality, respect and dignity, to ensure diversity and participation from all groups within the local community.
Leigh Film Society will ensure constant development and improvement of the Society as changing needs present themselves, maintaining an innovative approach and flexibility in meeting people’s needs.
Leigh Film Society will encourage all members/volunteers to attend meetings, be involved in decision making processes, and contribute to the Society’s development.

How would you describe your approach to programming? What influences you to choose the films you do?

Film programming is the most difficult task, and the one thing that we almost always disagree on. When we make selections, we look at what other groups near us are doing, what’s trending, Cinema For All recommendations, and what film critics are saying.

We can always tell when we’ve made a bad choice – by poor attendance. Some of our most successful film selections have been based on national commemorative events, or our annual retro comedy night. We know that our audience feedback will tell us if we get it right.

Monthly Classic Cinema Club (Afternoon) – Screening the all-time great classic films and musicals. This project is aimed at people who are socially isolated, living with Dementia, with Carers or anyone who loves classic films. Now in our fourth year we have opened a second Classic Cinema Club, due to popular demand. All Society volunteers have taken dementia awareness training.

Monthly Leigh Film Society (Evening) – Screening art-house, foreign language, retro comedy, documentaries and independent films. We aim to screen non-mainstream films that will challenge and push boundaries. We are also aware that a trip to the cinema should be fun and something you want to return to. With that in mind we provide a diverse and entertaining programme.

Annual Leigh Short Film Festival – A showcase and celebration of low budget short films.

Ad hoc Community screening events – Community screening events that are varied in programming, specialist and cultural interest, working with other community groups, local government projects, national commemorations and all to benefit community cohesion.

What inspired you to take the different approaches to the initiatives in your film projects: the elderly in Classic Cinema Club, for creatives in Screenwriting and LSFF, and for film aficionados in Discussion Club in addition to your regular programming?

Sometimes the simplest of ideas and encounters can be fundamental in inspiring other initiatives.

Classic Cinema Club
The afternoon classic cinema club came about as the venue was set up and technically prepared for the evening film society. As we needed to stay at the venue with our equipment we decided to open for an afternoon screening of the classics. It didn’t matter to us if attendance was low – we wanted to offer an afternoon to anyone who loved the classics. We contacted local pensioners groups and Age UK to promote this offer. We soon realised that there was a real need for this service as there was a lack of cultural provision for the senior community. Due to demand, we have now opened a second club and are looking to open a third mid-2018. We remain entirely volunteer led and offer an affordable alternative to multiplex cinemas.

Wigan Film Discussion Group
Following a film screening at our regular evening film society, people would mingle and talk about the film. The venue needed to close, but this always felt like a neglected and yet important part of any film screening. Two members who travel from Wigan offered to open a film discussion group and invite members to watch a film at home and then discuss at the monthly meeting. The aficionado of the group, Andrew Nowell, is a local reporter whose passion is for creative writing and film and the Media Director for Leigh Film Society.
This meeting takes place in a back room at a Wigan pub thus avoiding room hire and other costs. This group has developed slowly and has now set a programme for the year discussing films through the century. With our new partnership with Edge Hill University the invitation has gone out to film studies students to join the group, taking part in a community project outside of their educational environment.

Another society member named Abigail Henry, whose passion and qualifications are in scriptwriting and film-making, approached Leigh Film Society for support in setting up a local group of scriptwriters. We could support this group financially, and use our website and social media for promotion. The idea behind the group is that local scriptwriters meet, talk through their individual projects, and support and encourage each other. The aim is that one day their films might be made and submitted to the Leigh Short Film Festival.

Leigh Short Film Festival
Leigh Film Society was part of another group that met quarterly to discuss arts provision in Leigh. Where people with passion for film and community meet with no other agenda than to provide the best possible cultural offering in the community, anything is possible. Together with creative writers, local filmmakers, and volunteers, the idea to showcase and celebrate local filmmakers came about in September 2014. The festival is a joint venture of volunteers from many other arts groups and individuals and continues to go from strength to strength.

Over the years you have been operating, what would you say have been your biggest successes?

When we started in October 2013, we didn’t know what to expect. We had an idea, but no aspirations or targets other than that we wanted to provide great film at an affordable cost that would bring people together. Now, over four years later, we have received many awards and nominations. None of this could have been achieved without the hard work, passion for film and commitment of Leigh Film Society volunteers. To be Film Society of the Year is the ultimate accolade for what we do. Its says to everyone we’re getting it right in delivering quality community cinema.

Volunteers are normally unsung heroes of the community. In November 2017, we were honoured to be nominated for the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Without a doubt there is no higher accolade for a volunteer to win.

Everyone on the team will have a favorite film or event. One of best community screenings was when we screened Life of Brian in our local Parish Church. The people attending this sold out event totally engaged with the film and many people dressed up. A fully immersive cinema event enjoyed by so many people in a venue that you wouldn’t expect to screen this religiously controversial film.

It is always great when a community groups appears on TV. When we were approached by ITV News who had heard about our work with Classic cinema, it was an immensely proud moment for Leigh Film Society.

We are honoured to have two Patrons who support our work with community cinema – award winning actors Christopher Eccleston and Ben Batt, both originally local to the area.

How do you promote your screenings, and how often are they?

We screen three times a month: two afternoon Classic Cinema Clubs, and one evening Film Society. We also do about six ad hoc Community screenings throughout the year.

The best marketing and advertising is anything that is free. We use social media daily, through Twitter and Facebook, and our website is maintained by a volunteer who is a qualified digital technician.
We also send out a monthly newsletter to over 1000 email addresses. Many senior citizens are not on the internet and the only way of communicating is through leaflet drops, local newspaper articles (free) and, most importantly, word of mouth. We regularly visit local care homes and day centres to deliver leaflets and to put up posters.

Tell us about your links with the local community, and connections with local groups and organisations?

After 4 years of delivering community cinema we feel that our name, brand and commitment is well known in the community. Where there was no film focus in Leigh, we have now provided four film projects and various ad hoc screenings in different venues. We believe a success is measured in the number of people attending and then coming back and recommending us to friends.

We have taken our plans to be a community cinema seriously and carefully selected films that have wide appeal. We have carefully chosen venues that have community focus and can help us make further connections with the people and community groups that use them.

After all costs are taken into consideration (such as film licenses, room hire, etc.), we believe in giving back into local good causes and supporting grassroots clubs.

What’s coming up at Leigh Film Society? How can people get updates on you, and get involved?

Our website is updated on a regular basis, there you will find special events, memberships, film information and how to get involved.

We agreed dates for another year in partnership with French Angers – Wigan Twinning Town. These French film nights are very popular with the French-speaking community who live in the Borough.

We are immensely proud to be working with Edge Hill University offering work placements and work experience opportunities. Edge Hill Film Production students made a short video about the LSFF 2017, and really captured the young vibe of the event. We will be working with Edge Hill PR students on a campaign to get young people involved in community projects like a Leigh Film Society. This campaign will run for several months giving the students real practical public relations experience.

Within the regular evening film society, we will continue to screen and deliver a diverse programme. In August 2018 we’ll commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Manchester’s Factory Records with a screening of the iconic film 24 Hour Party People. This screening, along with our film in November Journeys End, will compliment art exhibitions at our monthly venue the Turnpike art gallery. Working and screening in partnerships is important to our development. 2018 will see collaborations with Autism awareness groups and an ex-servicemen’s charity, screening films that are of benefit to their members and families.

How did you find out about Cinema for All, and how has being involved with us helped your group?

When we first started out we were not aware of the help that was available. It wasn’t until we successfully applied for BFI Neighborhood Equipment Fund that we discovered the wealth of help and support. Cinema For All has provided Leigh Film with advice, guidance and support that has helped us stay on a pathway to a successful community cinema project. We have been successful in funding through the Sustain support scheme and find someone from the team is always there to answer a question. Nothing is ever too much to ask. Without Cinema for All’s guidance and support we would not be Film Society of the Year.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone who has just started up or is thinking about starting up a community cinema?

Think about sustainability as funding is great if you can get it, but it is not guaranteed.

You’ve been operating for several years now. What would you say is the key to your longevity?

We always say you cannot operate a film society without a passion for film and a love of community. However, listening to your audience is paramount.

All the above questions were answered by Elizabeth Costello – Development Director of Leigh Film Society