Scalarama: An annual celebration of cinema
We look ahead to the annual festival that brings together the UK's film clubs and indie exhibitors for a month of cinema celebration
Scalarama simultaneously looks back and looks forward. It was initially conceived in honour of the Scala cinema, a London repertory theatre renowned in cinephile circles for its eclectic programming, where the classiest of European arthouse film would rub shoulders with the trashiest – zombie-movie all-nighters, biker films, Roger Corman knockoffs, and the odd porn movie (hardcore sex comedy Thundercrack! was a Scala stalwart). Despite it selling its last ticket stub over two decades ago, London-based cinephiles kept the old fleapit close to their hearts.
“There wasn’t an anniversary or anything, but there were enough people bringing the Scala up in conversation – its programming and its atmosphere – that we knew we could do something interesting,” says Scalarama co-founder Michael Pierce. What was most innovative about the festival was its form: it harnessed the energies of existing film clubs, film societies, festivals, pop-up cinemas and other indie film exhibitors to create a wide-reaching season inspired by the rep cinema.
Since this nostalgic, London-centric inaugural edition in 2011, called Scala Forever, Scalarama has evolved into a month-long, UK-wide celebration of cinema. “The thing that stuck from those early events is that there’s so much going on – and not just in London, there are great film clubs across the whole of the UK,” explains Pierce.
“I hope that the more people are able to watch films by themselves, the more they’ll start to miss that communal aspect” – Michael Pierce
The Scala cinema remains the festival’s touchstone, and its anything-goes attitude to programming informs Scalarama’s philosophy, but the festival is also imagining cinema's future in the age of film-on-demand and illegal downloads. “It’s not so much the big screen and hi-tech cinemas that are important,” suggests Pierce. This has been anti-piracy campaigners’ chief tactics for encouraging people to swap their HD TVs for the big screen. “I think it’s the element of watching things together,” he continues, “how that shapes people's appreciation, not just of the films but of the venue and being with other people enjoying something or debating something.” Pierce understands the temptation of watching movies alone on your laptop, and he's been slowly weaning himself off doing just that. “I hope that the more people are able to watch films by themselves, the more they’ll start to miss that communal aspect.”
As Scalarama has grown, it’s gained more clout with distributors. The festival has become an attractive arena in which to launch some movies. “Because we had lots of different film clubs involved, we’ve been able to bargain with the distributors to convince them if there is a DVD company interested in releasing something straight to DVD, they could – in September at least – do so at a lower risk by making it available to clubs and societies taking part in Scalarama.” The distributors' enthusiastic response to working with indie film clubs has convinced Pierce that they’re pretty simpatico. “I’ve begun to realise that the attitude and make-up of the distributors are very similar to the independent film clubs: there’s a lot of passion behind them,” he says. “For example, Second Run DVD exist because they really want the films to be seen rather than thinking of a massive commercial venture, which is a similar ethos.”
Pierce also highlights the importance of curation. Anyone who’s spent hours trawling Netflix for a decent film to watch will likely agree. “You still need people to open up cinema,” he reckons. “To say, ‘You might never have heard of this, it’s not easily found online, but here’s a really good film.’” It’s not about lofty cultural gatekeepers: it’s about enthusiasts passing on their love for watching movies. “When you talk to people who really enjoy cinema they usually have an experience of going to a cinema and seeing something that just blew their mind, and there are some people who haven’t had that moment yet, but it’s those personal touches that help elicit that response.”
Pierce’s message is clear. Seek out your local Scalarama screenings and have your mind blown.
Scalarama runs throughout Sep in various cities and venues across the UK, here are a few of our highlights:
A Tribute to Cannon Films (London, Various Venues)
Recent doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films was a lively study of the film company under Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ 80s reign. The Israeli producers specialised in exploitation cheapies where quality control was not of paramount concern; Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson were their go-to actors. It wasn't all exploitation, though. Golan and Globus also backed the likes of Jean-Luc Godard (who made his version of King Lear with Cannon) and John Cassavetes (they financed his penultimate film, Love Streams). Film exhibitors Badlands Collective tell the story of Cannon's duality with three unmissible 35mm double-bills. First up is two underrated indies, Barfly and 52 Pick-Up (Prince Charles Cinema, 14 Sep); next is a brace of films from Russian auteur Andrei Konchalovsky, Runaway Train and Shy People (Regent St Cinema, 20 Sep), a filmmaker whose talent has slipped through the cracks of critical opinion; and finally Christopher Reeve double-bill Street Smart and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Ritzy Cinema, 27 Sep), the latter epitomising the over-reaching that brought about the Cannon Group's demise.
Mad Scientist Double-Bill (Liverpool Small Cinema, 6 Sep)
Think Cinema present a perfect pairing: Georges Franju's 1959 film Eyes Without A Face and Pedro Almodovar sicko thriller The Skin I Live In. The latter is much indebted to Franju's elegant horror about a plastic surgeon who attempts to rebuild his daughter's disfigured face, with Almodovar taking the themes and imagery of that chilling, black and white fairytale and bending them to his own interests in gender and submission.
Zombie All-Nighter (Z-film Studios, Manchester, 5 Sep)
Grimmfest's zombie movie marathon would have fit right into the Scala's wheelhouse. The five film lineup takes in the whole gamut of zombie movies, from the fast-moving zombies of the 00s (28 Days Later, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake), to the slow-moving zombie studies in existential dread (Day of the Dead, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) via an outrageous comic take on the zombie movie from the 1980s (Night of the Creeps).