We Speak to Sheffield-based Interactive Film Club Handmade Cinema

Based in Sheffield, Handmade Cinema is a new interactive film club which aims to create immersive cinema events that transform the way in which films are seen and experienced. Run entirely by young people, the organisation aims to bring a wide selection of screenings, events and workshops to locations around the city. Working with local schools and community groups, Handmade Cinema offers an alternative perspective on film through an exploration of various themes and cultures. Workshops span from creative writing to photography and animation. We speak to founder Ellie Ragdale about how to set up a film organisation, future projects on the horizon and the importance of collaboration.

ASFF: Handmade Cinema is an interactive and immersive film club. Where did the idea for the organisation come from?
ER: After moving back to Sheffield from University and visiting multiplex cinemas, it really became apparent how impersonal the cinema going experience now is. It’s very expensive, there is very little human interaction with the advent of ticket machines, and add ons such as premier seating leave a bit of a commercially driven sour taste. Going to the cinema should have charm, excitement and be affordable for everyone, and it’s such a shame that it seems to have mostly disappeared.

I attended a Cinema For All roadshow about “How To Set Up Your Own Community Cinema” and was inspired. I loved the interactive experiences created by cinema organisations such as Secret Cinema in London and wanted to create something that was immersive, affordable and involved the audience in a way that gave them a sense of ownership and active involvement in the film.

I am incredibly passionate about cinema. Having studied film at University, in my final year I began to specialise more in animation, learning about various techniques and making my own short stop-motion films. After re-watching several classic Disney films, I was amazed by the artistry that went into them: each cell hand drawn and hand painted, a real labour of love. I realised that children may not get the chance to appreciate the art that goes into cinema, so I set about finding a way to encourage people to look into film a bit deeper – where it is set, musical styles and accompaniments, and the culture it is reflecting, rather than watching something on a tablet or smartphone for an hour and then forgetting about it. I feel that by having a handmade aesthetic we are able to bring some of the magic back to cinema and create new worlds with our screenings.

ASFF: The club works with young people. How do you engage with your target audience?
ER: We decided straight away that we wanted to start off working with families, so that adults and children can come together and create something with one another. Typically we work within a specific area of Sheffield, and after deciding on a venue and our chosen film, we will research and contact local schools, community groups and organisations that work with young people and families. We run workshops in the lead up to a screening with these groups, where we choose an area or theme of the film and explore it artistically, creating large scale props, set pieces and artwork which will be used to transform the screening venue and allow the audience to step into the world of the film.

For our first screening, The Aristocats, we worked with three different community groups, exploring different themes of the film: jazz music, Paris and French cuisine. Here artists helped families to explore a variety of art practices and they created some fantastic large scale props, including a giant model Eiffel Tower. The screening itself then featured a live jazz band from a local school, and French cuisine from a nearby delicatessen, offering the audience a chance to experience Paris for the day in Sheffield. It has been really fantastic to have such a warm welcome from the organisations and communities that we work with and to see parents being so actively involved. In some cases, we find that the parents become more engrossed in the crafts than the children! It is great to be able to provide the space and the opportunity for families and communities to come together, as well as for adults to be as creative as their kids.

ASFF: What advice can you offer to people looking to set up their own film organisations?
ER: Firstly, they should talk to Cinema For All, who provide phenomenal resources on setting up your own community cinema – particularly information and support on obtaining film licences, which can be a real headache. Secondly, they should get to know organisations, venues and community leaders in their areas of interest, in order to see what is needed, what is already present, and what they would like. It is not that you can’t challenge perceptions, but you are competing with the access many have at home for viewing films now, so you need to provide for and attract the audience that is out there. Lastly, you can’t do it alone! Approach local universities and your local voluntary action group, and they can assist in spreading the word. We are fortunate to have a lovely group of volunteers and artists who assist with our workshops and screenings. They contribute so much – from additional artworks, to designing posters, running workshops, helping with event promotion and finally the screenings themselves.

ASFF: Can you talk about any of handmade cinemas recent or upcoming projects?
ER: We have a very busy and exciting year ahead of us! For our next screening we are taking over a traditional Scout Hut in Sheffield for a Scout themed double bill screening of Pixar’s Up and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. As well as artwork created by the local scouts, cubs and beavers being on display, there will be plenty of opportunities for people to get involved – designing their own scout badges, balloon modelling and some outdoor scouting crafts.

We are also currently finalising details for an Easter screening with another community in Sheffield, as well as our first screening for adults, in which we are teaming up with a fellow young entrepreneur, who runs Sheffield based clothing company The Creeps Store. Later in the year, we are returning to The Montgomery Theatre, following last years sold out Jungle Book Jamboree workshops and screening. We are excited to be doubling in size this year, with more workshops planned and two screenings of the chosen film.

ASFF: Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
ER: Collaboration is such an important part of our work, whether it is with local artists, such as Yorkshire Artspace’s Mike Scown, or with venues such as The Montgomery. We are always on the lookout for who we can collaborate with next. We have been in contact with the National Trust for a while now, and we are overjoyed to be working on a collaborative screening with them, which will take place at one of their properties later in the year. In terms of future ambitions, we would like to work with local schools and create an entirely self-contained project in which every student can contribute. We have a great relationship with Woodseats Primary School, holding two screening events at the school in the last year, and we would like to replicate that relationship with other schools in Sheffield.

Another future goal is to create a large scale screening event as part of one of Sheffield’s fantastic festivals, involving as many people and artists as we possible can. We want something we can really go to town with, that people will remember for a long time to come!

To find out more, visit www.handmadecinema.co.uk.

Keep up-to-date with events at Handmade Cinema at www.facebook.com/handmadecinema and @handmadecinema.

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1. Still from Moonrise Kingdom.