I've been volunteering for Pendle Social Cinema for about 4 or 5 years now, from the early days when we were a pop-up cinema showing films in a different venue each month. As a volunteer, I help distribute flyers around town, put up the screen, set out the seats, help with front-of-house, and contribute to programming. Choosing the monthly films can be a big challenge in itself...should you choose a film that you like, or one that you think your audience would enjoy? Or both? Sometimes our screenings are sold out, other times we can have 5 people attend, but ultimately I feel we are being successful when we provide a warm and welcoming space for people to meet and enjoy a good film. Although I have an interest in film and enjoy sharing that with our audience, my main draw to volunteering with Pendle Social Cinema was to gain experience working within a community setting; working with people, and to facilitate conversation and healthy debate. PSC has enabled me to gain experience of this in a less pressured environment from, say, the workplace, and in a place of acceptance.
For our last film festival, I worked with students from Nelson & Colne College, as part of their work experience, to produce an immersive experience of Apocalypse Now and document the festival. I found facilitating students both demanding and rewarding in equal measure. This was my first time working with young people and it was a steep learning curve - trying to keep students motivated and encouraging them to stick to all important timelines. However, I did enjoy navigating this and was really happy with the final immersive experience they produced. I was also able to take the lead for PSC on a collaborative screening of Agnieszka Holland's 'Mr. Jones', when we linked up virtually with community cinemas from Brighton and Hammersmith with the aim to develop our audience and see how other community cinemas work. It felt like a huge accomplishment that, after a few months of virtual meetings and Whatsapp discussions between the cinemas, we had a fantastic turn out to the screening with lots of new faces.
Adapting to the lockdown meant that we were suddenly faced with a dilemma - adapt to new circumstances and move forward, or roll down the shutters and wait it out. Within a couple of days we had transitioned to Pendle Anti-Social Cinema, moving to weekly online screenings and pre-, mid-, and post-film discussions, and screening films from MUBI. The challenge now is to continue to make Pendle Anti-Social Cinema feel accessible and welcoming, particularly to new people - especially people who aren't used to remote meeting technology. While Zoom has been a great way to continue connecting with our audience, including bringing people in from further afield, it's certainly not perfect; we've got used to adapting, but I think for people who can feel socially awkward (I include myself here) it's one more hurdle to conquer, so we have to work really hard to make it as smooth as possible.
What I find challenging now is how to facilitate a casual chat over Zoom, getting people to talk about what they have watched, making people feel comfortable - this is so much easier in person when you can read body language, etc. For me it doesn't equate to seeing and speaking to people in person, gauging an audience's response, hearing people react and having the film enhanced by that sense of shared experience, but it's a start in trying to navigate this uncertain and ever-changing world we find ourselves in.