Independent learning for independent cinemas

A new online platform from the Independent Cinema Office is bringing a range of cinema-related training to a global audience — perfect for smaller exhibitors, as the ICO’s Kate Ottway explains.

Now in its 16th year, the Independent Cinema Office (ICO) has run numerous training courses and programmes covering business planning and advice, programming, audience development, marketing, technical skills for digital projection, management development, distribution, strategic income building, cinema management and more. Extending this broad portfolio even further, the ICO is now taking its training expertise online with a new Online Learning Platform launching in November 2019. Here, trainees unable to attend ICO training in person or who want to expand their knowledge further can access invaluable teaching from leading industry experts via a series of carefully curated online programmes.

The ICO hopes that these online programmes will both provide people with affordable and flexible training opportunities and widen access into the industry. Making its training accessible has always been a priority for the ICO, with the majority of its courses already offering bursaries towards fees, travel, accommodation and childcare. This new platform ensures that cost is even less of a barrier — removing many of the above costs entirely — with both free and paid-for courses available online so that everyone is able to participate. The courses will also be accessible worldwide, greatly expanding the reach of ICO training.

How does it work?

From November, those looking for training are now able to head to to start their online training. Content on the platform will be updated regularly, with the first online course based on the ICO’s popular Developing Your Film Festival programme (see panel, right). Participants will be able to watch a series of videos from expert speakers, alongside written content expanding on the detail discussed in the videos. Each video will also be subtitled. The courses allow participants to monitor their progress, how far they’ve come and how long before they complete the session. The courses will be available to subscribers free of charge for a limited period of time, after which a fee can be paid to enable access to the content for an extended period.

The platform was developed through the use of LifterLMS, a WordPress-powered learning management system. As more online courses are launched over the coming months, its functionality will be expanded to encompass the variety of tools available through the software. Those who subscribe to the courses will be invited to discuss the content during the course, in order to create a virtual classroom. There is also the potential to include assessments and exams as part of the online courses, whether as part of an entry requirement in order to access a course, or to assess learning as participants progress through each stage of a course.

The speakers featured in the course videos (see list right) have been carefully selected to talk across a range of topics, and provide clear, concise insights into their field of expertise. The content offers lots of examples and practical tips for people to take on board within their own professional development and organisations.

Rather than using a third-party system in order to host an online learning programme, creating a bespoke platform allows for a more versatile process. There is scope for the design of simple courses, consisting of a handful of lessons made up of text and images, all the way through to programmes that consist of the complexity required from industry recognised qualifications.

Early next year participants will be able to access an online version of the ICO’s longstanding REACH: Strategic Audience Development Course. With development funding from the BFI, the online version of this course is for independent film exhibitors who seek to develop the sustainability of their businesses by stimulating attendance, attracting new customers and deepening the connection between venues and the communities they serve.

Join the training

Head to to start training! For any questions or further information, contact ICO on +44  (0)20 7636 7120 or email the organisation on



The first online course: Developing your film festival

The Developing Your Film Festival course is the world’s only intensive development programme for film festival professionals, launched by the ICO in 2011 and funded by the Creative Europe — MEDIA Programme of the EU and the British Council. To date more than 250 participants representing no less than 197 film festivals worldwide have taken part in the course, all of whom reported they would recommend the course to others looking to develop their own events. A participant of the course in July 2019, Andhika Annas Satria, festival manager of Indonesia’s Europe on Screen, even commented afterwards: “The most unforgettable training I’ve ever had!”. High praise indeed. The Online Learning Platform therefore provides a fantastic opportunity for more film festivals worldwide to be able to access resources and insights from the course’s high calibre of speakers.


What is the Independent Cinema Office?

The ICO’s mission is to develop an open, challenging and thriving film sector. The ICO wants everyone to have access to cinema that changes lives. The ICO works across the film exhibition sector by:

  • Programming a network of over 20 cinemas, festivals and arts venues in the UK so everyone can access a shared experience of cinema.
  • Offering training so that independent cinema professionals benefit from high-level knowledge to ensure the sector is successful and progressive.
  • Offering consultancy to help start, save and grow cinemas, making sure they stay economically viable and helping build their capacity.
  • Distributing films that make a contribution to the diversity of cinema culture in the UK.
  • Offering free advice to make sure everyone can show films and take part in the sector.
  • Running events for cinema professionals that help encourage collaboration.


Speakers Include

  • Olle Agebro Göteborg Film Festival Editor, Programmer
  • Sarah Boiling Independent Consultant and former Deputy Director of the Audience Agency
  • Catharine
    Des Forges

    Director, Independent Cinema Office
  • Jennifer Frees Vice President, Partnerships, Toronto International Film Festival
  • David Sin
    Head of Cinemas, Independent Cinema Office
  • Wendy Mitchell Contributing Editor, Screen International and delegate for San Sebastian & Zurich Film Festivals