Film

Action: the rise of community film clubs in Northern Ireland

FOR many years, mainstream cinema was king. However, as purse strings were tightened and video stores felt the bite of online-streaming services, traditional cinemas started to close their doors. In response, there has been a rise in a new breed of film-watching vehicle: the community film club.

The Coalisland Community Cinema will be the first cinema in the town since the Lineside Cinema shut its doors in 1985, it had been open since 1922
Andrew Madden

FOR many years, mainstream cinema was king. However, as purse strings were tightened and video stores felt the bite of online-streaming services, traditional cinemas began to close their doors. In response, there has been a rise in a new breed of film-watching vehicle: the community film club.

There are around 30, mainly volunteer-run clubs, around the north, including Newry, Ballymena, Newcastle, Portrush. Co Fermanagh and everywhere in between.

Next month the Coalisland Community Cinema opens its door and it's the first of its kind in the area since the closure of the renowned Lineside cinema in 1985.

This new venture will operate out of the Craic Theatre in conjunction with the Belfast Film Festival and the NI Film Hub, who have been running a scheme focused on community-based cinema since 2013 that offers financial assistance to community film clubs.

Craic Theatre board member Oliver Corr said the thirst for cinema has always been in Coalisland, however, financial constraints stood in the way of starting a film club.

"When we saw Hub NI and the Belfast Film Festival were involved in this scheme, we saw it as a way we could run a club without being financially crippled."

A crowd gather at one of the north's smaller film clubs in Newry

Mr Corr said the Coalisland Community Film Club will also be a chance for the hidden gems of cinema to get their much-deserved time in the limelight.

"There would be a core of people that are interested in film and cinema that will get the opportunity to see films that they wouldn’t normally get to see on the big screen," he said.

"What we would hope to do is a mixture between mainstream and also more obscure, art house films. Irish films, for example, which don’t get shown in commercial cinemas, will be available."

Film Hub NI project co-ordinator Sara Gunn-Smith said the rise of community film projects is a response to a need.

"A lot of this places are run on volunteers and it’s their passion for showing world cinema and cultural cinema to their community and building community space," she said.

"One of our aims is to encourage programming that broadens horizons and makes people think a bit more about film, as opposed to just going to see one of the more mainstream films."

Newry Film Club volunteer Billie Tyndall said the club had "managed to outlive Xtravision, survive the rise of Netflix and exist alongside an Omniplex".

"Managing the cost of film and venue hire, and persuading people to take a chance on a film can present challenges, but with further support from film organisations and volunteers, we hope to plan more screenings for our 10th year."

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