Scalarama — a festival of cinema across the 30 days of September takes over auditoria film clubs across the UK every year. Michael Pierce explains the dream to fill the land with cinemas.
Welcome to Scalarama, a month of cinema heaven that takes over the UK every September. It’s an opportunity for cinemas and film clubs to work together to show the movies they love and encourage others to get involved in screening films. Across the 30 days of September, venues of all shapes and sizes are united in a celebration of why we think showing films on a big screen with an audience is the best way to enjoy a film, and also that cinema can really start new conversations, transform areas and bring like-minded people together. Anyone can put on a Scalarama screening and there’s no cost for submitting events to the season — the motto is Fill the Land with Cinemas!
Scalarama is now in its eighth year after kicking off in London back in August 2011. That initial edition began as a tribute to the Scala Cinema (hence the name), a legendary cinema most memorable for its Kings Cross location in the capital.
The Scala had a real sense of identity, a swagger and a style that has outlived its closure in 1993. It had such a wide programming range, a real dynamic approach to the design of its publicity and also cats, and its legacy is still felt today, especially for the numerous British filmmakers, such as Christopher Nolan, Peter Strickland and Carol Morley who counted it as a vital part of their film education. That original tribute season in 2011 was conceived as a way also to showcase the range of film clubs across London which in some way kept that Scala flame burning. People were free to choose whatever films they wanted to screen, some keeping in the Scala tradition and doing double bills and all-nighters, whilst others thought about what the Scala might have shown if it was still around. The range was so wild and widespread, that it felt like an innovative way to make cinema exciting and accessible to a new generation.
The ambitions just got bigger
After a successful summer in 2011, the organisers thought that was it. But film fans from across the UK such as Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham had come to London for the events and wanted to know if it was happening again and if organisers would tour films around the country. The tribute was conceived as an open source format that could take place anywhere, so the most important thing was for people to do it at the same time, the next year Scala Beyond was born and the tradition was started with over 30 different cities and towns taking part. In 2013, the name Scalarama was coined and the whole month of September chosen as an easy way to avoid having to choose beginning and end dates. Since then Scalarama has evolved to include as many cinemas as possible and to keep it fresh each year.
From the beginning, Scalarama has been inclusive to a wide range of exhibitors and is not snobby about venue or projection format. The initial season started as an idea by Philip Foxwood who was running the Roxy Bar and Screen in London’s Borough, a bar with a huge cinema screen and high-spec digital projector in the back, with plush seating and red velvet curtains. He wanted an idea for a programme that would take place across the quieter months of summer when there were no big sporting events or major independent film releases that would usually make up the screening schedule. Andy Kimpton-Nye, a fan of the space, mentioned that a previous season had reminded him of the Scala Cinema in its range of programming, so the idea stuck. A tribute to the cinema was planned. Successfully acquiring funding from Film London, Phil’s idea was to invite film clubs to the Roxy to screen what they like, or do screenings in other venues and have a London wide “fringe” style festival, like the Edinburgh Fringe but for cinema. That first year saw events from Cigarette Burns Cinema, the Cinema Museum, Filmbar70, Rio Cinema, Passengerfilms, ICA and the Prince Charles Cinema to name only a few. Screenings ranged from DVD screenings in pubs to full 35mm double bills in picture palaces. There were even screenings on boats, in cemeteries, under motorways and in garden sheds.
Scalarama — it’s about amplification
Since then, that energy has multiplied and Scalarama has seen new clubs start up in September, using the season as a platform to amplify their activity and connect with similar organisations. One aim is to build a collaborative environment in exhibition and move away from a competitive atmosphere that can sneak in when the film community feels threatened.
In the first year, Phil recruited me. I co-founded the Midnight Movie events at Curzon Soho and produced the first
season. I’ve since moved into directing the shape and ambition of the season, alongside various coordinators in cities such as Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Brighton, who work in organising local activity and create meet-ups for exhibitors to share ideas and plan together. From that first fringe festival, Scalarama has transformed into a wide-reaching initiative that makes cinema exciting and adventurous for audiences. People try new genres or venues and hopefully discover the spark that ignites a passion.
Over the years, highlights of Scalarama include a UK tour of the Hungarian 7-hour arthouse smash “Satantango” on 35mm (which translates to 36 reels of film!), a reproduction of John Waters’ scratch-n-sniff Odorama cards for a new digital re-release of “Polyester” and a partnership with Directed by Women encouraging screenings of films made by women throughout the month. Over 700 different exhibitors have shown films during Scalarama and an increasing number of distributors (such as BFI, Dogwoof, Altitude and Second Run DVD) have started to offer discounts on back catalogues in September. Formats range from DCPs, Blu-rays, DVDs, 35mm and 16mm. Even VHS has made a comeback, at the annual VHS Trashfest in Scotland.
A crowd-funded future?
There are some challenges, especially around funding. A lot of it is down to volunteers and people putting their own money in, however, Scalarama has been supported by the BFI and the Film Audience Network, and hopes to move towards local crowdfunding so that people can connect to what’s going on in their area. Scalarama produces a newspaper with articles about film, participants and themes which brings in some advertising revenue. Our website has a listings service for events and in future this will expand to include advice on putting on screenings, as well as a rights database which can be tricky to navigate for people starting off in cinema.
Reflecting on technology, it is clear the digital realm and the internet have allowed events of this type to flourish — from discovering cinemas and film clubs on social media, to being able to afford a decent projector and setting up in remote locations. Organisations such as the BFI, Cinema For All and the Independent Cinema Office have created a collaborative and progressive community of cinemas that is leading the way globally. When technology makes it easier to watch films at home, it still does not beat the personal choice of a curator or programmer who can also introduce the film, tell some anecdotes and recommend other films.
Scalarama doesn’t exist in antithesis to YouTube, Netflix and the other ways people discover films now. Instead, it asks how we can make film-watching communal. That’s why Home Cinema Day was created for the last Sunday of September. It’s a way for friends and family to connect over cinema in the comfort of their home. They share discoveries on social media as a way of showcasing a range of films and make others appreciate that choosing films isn’t simple!
This year, Scalarama returns to its roots and celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Scala Cinema. Jane Giles, former manager of the cinema, has dug into the archive and with FAB Press, will release a massive book with all of the amazing iconic programmes. Even with today’s digital design tools, the original three-colour screen printed posters are feats of eye-popping artistry that haven’t been bettered. And that’s the great thing about Scalarama and cinema in general. If you respect the history, film is a combination of analogue and digital and can be the best of both worlds, and an ambition of Scalarama is to make a time and place where celluloid can be shown off, much like how Record Store Day now prizes itself on exclusive vinyl releases.
For more information
For information on Scalarama, visit www.scalarama.com. The event runs from 1-30 September. This year’s themes include a look back at 1968, a retrospective of Agnes Varda’s films as part of the Directed by Women celebrations and National Lottery Cinema Day on 30 September. Event submissions stay open throughout, but if you’d like to put on an event next year, follow @Scalarama or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Fill the Land with Cinemas and May a Million Movies Bloom!