A guide to Scottish DIY film nights
How DIY film nights and community film clubs are enlivening Scotland’s film scene
Every night, in every town across the UK of any significant size, you’ll find DIY gigs taking place in dingy pub basements and spartan back rooms, playing to healthy, enthusiastic crowds, and breathing life into their local music scene. But stumble into that same venue another night and you might find a different artform being celebrated: cinema. This is particularly the case throughout September, when indie exhibitors throughout the land unite under the collective banner of Scalarama, the annual festival inspired by the eclectic programming of the Scala cinema, a legendary grindhouse in London that sold its last ticket stub 25 years ago.
One such indie outfit is Matchbox Cineclub. Sean Welsh, who runs Matchbox, describes the current DIY film scene as thriving. “Since Matchbox Cineclub started, there’s been a huge growth in film clubs and indie exhibitors and there’s now a great mix of really interesting stuff,” he tells us, before reeling off some examples of DIY nights in his hometown of Glasgow. “There’s film clubs like She’s En Scene, who specialise in women-only screenings/discussions; Burnt Church Film Club, who focus on cult favourites and Q&As with special guests; Pity Party Film Club, who screen just cool stuff, but often with an American indie focus; Cinema Up Collective focus on 'radical home cinema' screenings in people’s living rooms and other spaces; and Medieval Film Club who’ve had Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and The Canterbury Tales in their programme.” And that’s far from an exhaustive list. Just this month, three more Glasgow clubs will pop up: Close Up Cineclub, Desperate Living Film Club and Southern Exposure, who specialise in Kiwi cinema.
Morvern Cunningham, who manages VHS Trash Fest among many other creative projects, suggest this DIY film scene’s rude health might be down to the fact it has become much easier recently to navigate the complicated vagaries of film exhibition licencing. “Umbrella licencing organisations such as Filmbank have emerged as a first port of call for many starting out,” she tells us. “There's also more mutual support among exhibitors, particularly in the run-up to Scalarama, which encourages people with no prior experience to get involved and share a film they care about with others.”
While the viewing experience at DIY nights can leave a lot to be desired (dodgy sight lines, backbreaking chairs, tinny sound), they more than compensate with their diverse content and inventive presentation. “DIY programmers can bring films you won’t see on a screen, or on a screen with other people, otherwise,” notes Welsh. There’s also the personal touch of a DIY night: “When GFT launched,” he says, “they used to introduce each screening personally. That hasn’t been the case for a long time, but it is at a DIY show.”
Cunningham argues the necessity to use spaces not necessarily designed for cinema presentation can be a virtue. “Community cinemas and film clubs can offer audiences unique film experiences,” she says, “whether it be screening films in local venues such as pubs and church halls, or programming films to be screened in site-specific locations that have a relevance to the films on screen."
As a concrete example, Cunningham points to her recent A Wall Is a Screen event in Leith, a guerrilla film night in which short films are projected on to residential and commercial buildings. One of the films screened that night was The Banana Republic, and it was projected on to a wall next to its subject: Cables Wynd House, aka Leith's iconic Banana Flats. "Screening this short film that documents some of the inhabitants of Cables Wynd House back where it was originally filmed was a truly special experience for everyone in attendance. I believe site-specific screenings can add additional layers of meaning, narrative and significance to the experience of film going, and it's an aspect of film exhibition that programmers and film festivals are increasingly incorporating into their repertoires.”
If the DIY scene in Scotland is to continue to grow, Welsh notes that sympathetic venues will be vital. “If you’re legitimate, you have to pay a licence for each film you screen, and your venue also needs a licence to screen films generally,” he explains. “That starts to become prohibitively expensive and difficult to sustain if you don’t have a supportive venue.” Support among the programmers themselves is also key, says Cunningham: “It’s a case of knowledge sharing about licences, venues and equipment among folk who are interested and the scene will continue to grow. I'm always happy to give folk pointers if they're interested in knowing more too.”
And these DIY film nights also need enthusiastic audiences, so why not seek out your friendly neighbourhood film club this Scalarama.
As part of Scalarama, Matchbox Cineclub screens , 9 Sep, The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, and VHS Trash Fest takes place 21-22 Sep, VideOdyssey, Liverpool
For full Scalarama listings, head to scalarama.com