Lincoln Film Society was founded in 1953 and has been screening world and independent films to its members ever since. It’s the only wholly membership-based organisation in Lincoln to prioritise such films. Since 1987, we have been based at The Venue, a 230-seat multi-purpose arts space with digital cinema projection facilities, on the campus of Bishop Grosseteste University. During that time we built up a considerable reputation and loyal support, and regularly used to attract over 300 members with average audiences of 150 plus and curated a programme of 26 films for our seasons.
In 2020 though, and like so many other public spaces, The Venue was forced to close because of Covid. After 67 years of continuous operation, we had to suspend our activities too; and for a while, there were concerns we might have to shut down for good.
Was a revival possible?
During early 2022 however, we learned that the authorities at Bishop Grosseteste were wondering about reviving The Venue as a community resource, with the cinema, and the Society playing a substantial role. There were challenges to be overcome however.
Previously, The Venue had been run as a self-contained cinema with its own team of staff. But post-Covid, all of them had been made redundant and no one at Bishop Grosseteste knew what to do. During 2022, meetings took place between us and the university where we shared our experience of the previous relationship we had had with The Venue, how films were booked, delivered and projected and of the powerful social function the society played.
The university was impressed and as the year progressed, they began the process of bringing The Venue back to life. Meanwhile the society had to work out whether there was any appetite for a return amongst its former members and if so, where we could operate if The Venue didn’t reopen . An Extraordinary General Meeting was called in early 2022 for those people who had previously been members. We found they were very excited about the possibility of our return.
That encouraged us to take the next step – to find somewhere to show films. Two spaces with projection equipment were amenable to us hiring them and in the summer of 2022, we ran a short summer season of four films to test the mood. The setting at the first location wasn’t great but the audience response was encouraging.
This gave us the confidence to try something more ambitious and during that autumn and the spring of this year, we organised a further eight screenings in another arts space we had discovered. These were also very well attended and received.
We now felt we had evidence that a return to The Venue would be possible. We decided on a programme of 12 films, starting in September 2023 and running though till March 2024. We set a target of recruiting 200 members, which we thought would be enough to cover our costs, and picked the first tranche of six films to show, before launching a membership recruitment drive in June.
Elsewhere, work continued
Meanwhile, Bishop Grosseteste had continued to restore facilities. Engineers, whose knowledge and expertise were essential to ensuring the projection equipment was in good working order after a long time out of use, were engaged. Improvements were made to the building, to ensure audiences could enter and leave safely. Test screenings were organised.
It became obvious that the society’s return was going to happen. Discussions therefore turned towards the terms and conditions under which it would operate. We developed a Partnership Working Agreement, which set out the roles and responsibilities that would apply to both the university and the society. We agreed the details of how screenings would be managed. We met the staff volunteers from the university who would be running the projector. It was clear they were as enthused about the whole initiative as we were ourselves. We took a great deal of trouble to rehearse procedures in the final weeks before the first film, so that everyone knew what would happen when, and who would be responsible.
A triumphant return
That first film – The Blue Caftan (a 2022 Moroccan film about love and craftsmanship) – screened on 15 September, 2023, three and a half years after the shutdown. Astonishingly, 199 people were present. The atmosphere was exuberant and the whole evening passed off triumphantly. Equally astonishingly, we found that 309 people had signed up for our return season, just six fewer than when Covid forced us to close. After such a long time, it was good to be back – but in truth, it felt as though we had never been away.
Since that first film, we have shown four more, to a combined audience of nearly 900 people. This compares very well with the pre-Covid years. Our final film (which won awards at Cannes 2022 and earned its first-time director Saim Sadiq an Oscar nomination this year) is Joyland, a remarkable 2022 love story from Pakistan in which a brow-beaten husband challenges the attitudes of his patriarchal family with the help of a transgender woman. It screens on Friday. We expect another bumper audience.
We’re now looking ahead. The next group of films (from January to April) has already been chosen and we also have plans for a summer season. Martin Scorsese has said, “Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” In today’s polarised world, we want more of the people of Lincoln to join the conversation.