This Way Up Conference 2019

Mandla Rae is our Journeys Community Film Programmer. In this blog, she reflects on attending 2019's This Way Up Conference with fellow attendee, Reba.

“By resilience we mean the vision and capacity of organisations to anticipate and adapt to economic, environmental and social change by seizing opportunities, identifying and mitigating risks and deploying resources effectively in order to continue delivering quality work in line with their mission.”

-Arts Council England

After several early morning train changes, and several more coffees we (Mandla + Reba) arrived in Nottingham for This Way Up Conference 2019. New to film programming, neither of us had attended before, and the two-day event opened up our eyes, minds, and possibilities to consider as we undertake our own film programme for Journeys Festival International.

The first indication we were in the right place, and with the right people, was during Rabab Ghazoul’s opening talk. We were especially excited to hear from her at the festival, as distant fans of her work with gentle/radical in Cardiff, and her ideas and kindness exceeded our expectations. Ghazoul re-examined Toni Cade Bambara’s statement: “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible”, making the provocations to the audience “what would a revolutionary way of working look like?”, “How can engagement work centre each individual?”, “How can you change the dynamics of power in your outreach?” and finally, “How can film play a role in making the revolution, irresistible?”

Rabab’s points about bringing film and the arts into the heart of the communities we want to engage really resonated with us as we are organising most of our screenings in Community gathering spaces and libraries.

This Way Up opened the space for UK film programmers to discuss the cross-roads between strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Hearing perspectives from representatives of big, small, independent, and local organisations was illuminating, as well as hearing the commonalities.

The words 'statistics-based-research’ aren’t exactly enchanting, however Beyond the Multiplex came with such personal approach to audience analysis. Basically: understanding national viewing habits through individual interviews and anecdotes. Stories of family members and friends igniting film interests, to the joy of actually experiencing films in a big cinema as well as people discovering community at the cinema in times of large life changes from moving out of home, to losing a loved one.

Community Cinemas, Film Clubs and Pop Ups, was a sharing space led by New Notions Cinema’s Aaron Guthrie. It was wonderful to hear of people’s successes in curating film in non-traditional cinema spaces and of course very important to be aware of the struggles that come up and shared ways to overcome difficulties and practice resilience. It was recommended to ‘reconnect with the work, with film, as part of the audience in order to keep the love for the art when burning out’, I think this is an important reminder. We shared different ways to reach out to local communities who might not be engaging with cinema in all its varying ways of being presented.

Jamie Beddard is an Agent for Change. He started the workshop by asking everyone to introduce themselves and to share a time when their world view changed, a great way to break the ice! Jamie shared the Agent for Change principles, which include but are not limited to: embedding diversity and disability into organisations, prioritising and developing access across all activities and developing and programming disabled artists and companies. He reminded us of the power of storytelling, that it’s the key to understanding, empathy, contextualising and reimagining.

We should all be Agents for Change, nurturing talent that is representative of society and challenge tokenism. We ended the session by splitting into groups and writing the issues we felt our organisations faced and other organisations responded with ideas of how to overcome them. Sharing knowledge is an important and much appreciated part of programming and I was glad to meet fellow programmers I had emailed from the JFI Office with questions that have always been answered and information shared with me.

Following this, More Than A Cinema followed the strand of thinking outside the box and outside the cinema, presentations from Luke Emery at the Watershed, Elizabeth Costello of the Leigh Film Society, and Eavan King from the Nerve Centre. All encouraged locality, enthusiasm, and good craic as being essential for non-cinema events. However, the most local to us, Elizabeth’s Film Club in Leigh stood out as a triple threat which arranged cinema therapy, supported community cohesion, and gave opportunities to young people.

Representing the Midlands, first thing on day two, We are Parable and Flatpack Projects shared their knowledge on offsite film screenings - and how much more young people enjoyed this. Immersive events present an obvious draw to the cinema - though turns out not to older programmers - as young people we have so much competing for our attention; things have to be really worth us leaving the house and putting our phones on silent.

In the Film Hub North Bursary Application, we wrote about the activities on the programme we were most excited by. Karena Johnson, Artistic Director and CEO of Hoxton Hall’s session was one of Mandla’s top picks. Karena led a workshop looking at Diversifying the Cultural Landscape, an important conversation to have in every cultural organisation. She discussed a need for a diverse leadership, particularly in Board Members and the importance in bringing people to the table. We heard her successes in producing community specific events as community is the foundation on which arts events and organisations thrive.

At the end, we split into separate groups to explore the core challenges in diversifying Organisations, Audience, Content, Funding and Communications. My group was looking at Organisations and we discussed training of boards in diversity awareness, creating overt statements of allyship in our organisations, having young board members, raising expectations and shortening the term of board members to three years so there’s more opportunities for other people to have a seat at the table.

We went onto a conversation chaired by Melissa Gueneau (Programme Coordinator at our host cinema Broadway) between Robin Baker (Head Curator at the BFI National Archives), writers and curators So Mayer and Karen Alexander on the subject of ‘repertory cinema programming, taking into account the history of film is imperfect and, at times, problematic.’

We knew we had to be in the room for this when we read the programme in advance of attending. Karen Alexander talked about ‘working against the canon, asking where and why are you making interventions?’ and So Mayer explored who makes programming decisions. The room was keen to decolonise the canon, the way we work and the language we use.’

From Rabab’s opening speech, to the various talks and workshops we attended, the conversations we had with our fellows, it felt clear that there was a need and interest in intersectional practice and encouraging rigorous discourse at This Way Up 2019. So Mayer’s experiences with Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists reminded us that this is urgent.

Overall, a fruitful and empowering two days in Nottingham. We left feeling giddy about the connections we made and the hints and tips we had picked up at the conference to curate our migration film festival in Manchester, with intersectionality and communities at its heart.

During Aaron Guthrie’s session on Day One, I (Mandla) shared our mission and the approach we’ve undertaken in co-creating our programme with people seeking asylum in Manchester and holding screenings in community spaces where they gather, Aaron asked me to come back next year and share my experiences in a Show and Share Session so…see you next year This Way Up?

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