Session 5 – Audience development in practice

Chair: Sally Folkard (Strategic Manager, Film Hub North)

A Town and Gown Cinema: Developing Audiences at the Gulbenkian, Canterbury

Dr Lavinia Brydon and Dr Dominic Topp (University of Kent)

This paper presents the findings of an on-going project on audience-development strategies used by the Gulbenkian cinema, an independent 300-seat venue that forms part of a multifunctional arts centre situated on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus and is a short walk from the city centre. The Gulbenkian’s geographical position means that it caters for different (but not necessarily mutually exclusive) audience strands, including local East Kent residents and the university’s staff and students. As part of the Gulbenkian’s remit to offer innovative and high quality arts activity, with a particular focus on the creative empowerment of young people, the cinema employs a range of strategies to engage, develop and grow its audience. Drawing on interviews with the Gulbenkian’s programme manager and a group of undergraduate students at the university, the paper first examines some of the challenges that are faced by a cinema that seeks to appeal to diverse and distinct audiences, and the negotiations that must be made between mainstream cinema and more specialised fare. It then outlines particular initiatives that have been developed to tap into the various demographics that the cinema serves: the ART31 Youth Board ensuring activity for young people is made with young people (13-25); a student film programmers group (part of the Young Film Programmer’s network, coordinated by Film Hub South East) designed to increase students’ knowledge of independent film by getting them involved in curating and coordinating screenings; film introductions and post-screening discussions using the expertise of the university’s academic staff; and portions of the programme designed for specialised sections of the local population (e.g. monthly screenings for those with autism and learning disabilities). Finally, the paper evaluates the success of these various initiatives, in terms of both box office revenue and audience experience, and points to further areas for development.

Lavinia Brydon is a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Kent. Her research centres on the issues of place in film and the wider arts. These extend from questions of representation to current debates on exhibition/performance sites, location filming and screen media tourism.  She has organised pop-up screenings as part of the AHRC project “The People’s Pier” and facilitated a number of student-led “live cinema” screenings on the University of Kent’s campus.  

Dominic Topp is a Lecturer in Film at the University of Kent. His current research focuses on the aesthetics of post-war French cinema and on film programming as a form of artistic and cultural practice. His writing on film has been published in Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind and Significação: Revista de Cultura Audiovisual, and he has a chapter in the collection Mapping Movie Magazines: Digitization, Periodicals and Cinema History (2020). 

Dr Anna Blagrove (University of East Anglia)

Teenage Flicks: A Study of the Specialised Film Consumption and Cinema-Going of Norfolk-based Young Audiences

This paper, based on my PhD, is an investigation into the cinema-going and film-watching habits of teenagers based in Norfolk via new ethnographic research. It strengthens scholarship on young film consumers and bridges a gap between academia and the film exhibition industry. The BFI reports that, across all UK cinemas, ‘the share of the cinema-going audience amongst 15-24 year olds has seen a significant drop over recent decades: in the 1990s this group regularly made up over 40% of the audience whereas in 2017 they represented just 28%, the lowest audience share in the past 20 years (BFI 2018)’. Furthermore, teen audiences make up only a tiny fraction of specialised cinema audiences. In an attempt to start to investigate why this is the case, my paper explores how different social groups of young people attach different meanings and uses to diverse film viewing practices, texts and locations. Using original empirical data collected from 42 teenagers via 26 focus groups, interviews, and participant observation encounters; my findings are reached via the theoretical framework of Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of cultural capital and habitus (Bourdieu 2010 [1984]). I decode meanings from my young participants’ discourse and behaviour whilst taking into account their particular socio-cultural contexts. By categorising my participants into six different groups, I argue that young people’s socio-economic and cultural contexts remain a significant influence on film viewing practices, tastes, and gratifications. Ultimately I present a new model of teen audience engagement that has implications for the audience studies academic community in terms of its methodological and geographical specificities, and industry partners seeking to mitigate barriers to participation.

BFI (2018). BFI Statistical Yearbook 2018. London, British Film Institute.

Bourdieu, P. (2010 [1984]). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London and New York, Routledge Classics.

Dr Anna Blagrove is an Arts and Humanities Visiting Research Fellow at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich.  Her PhD also from UEA is an audience study of teenagers, specifically researching the places, values and roles of their film consumption and cinema-going.  She is currently a Lecturer in Animation (Visual Effects) at Norwich University of the Arts. She is also a Director of Reel Connections, a company that uses film to engage with community groups of young people, older people, and those with mental health issues.  One of their current projects is the facilitation of young film programmers groups across the South East of England for the BFI via the ICO.  

Data-Driven Marketing to find, engage and develop ‘niche’ audiences

Duncan Carson (Independent Cinema Office)

Successful audience development relies on a clear approach to programming, backed by ambitious marketing to build niches into established segments of cinemas’ audiences. The last fifteen years have seen a revolution in digital marketing, allowing for a forensic approach to finding and keeping audiences. Many of these tools have been used by cinemas only to maximise revenue, but leading independent cinemas have demonstrated they can be used as a tool to expand their inclusivity and make niche titles viable in their programme. From social media to customer relationship management, independent cinemas have been offered a major opportunity to reach out to groups traditionally excluded by the arthouse. The Independent Cinema Office has supported this work with its course Data-Driven Marketing. Initiated in 2017 and now in its fourth edition, Data-Driven Marketing has offered a platform for independent cinemas and distributors to collaborate and hear best practice about this complex emerging field. In this paper, ICO will offer an overview of the opportunities of this underused discipline and offer case studies from the Data-Driven Marketing cohort, among them some of the UK’s pioneering independent cinemas.

Duncan Carson is the Projects and Business Manager for the Independent Cinema Office, the UK’s support body for independent cinemas and anyone who wants to use film to nourish the soul and change lives. The ICO operates a programming network of more than 25 cinemas and film festivals, offers free advice for everyone in the film industry, professional training programmes and runs Screening Days, the UK’s largest exhibition programme. Duncan has run a pop-up cinema, worked for a national cinema chain and produces his own under events under the banner Nobody Ordered Wolves.

Justine Atkinson (University of Glasgow and Aya Films)

Curatorial Equity in the Digital Age

This paper will focus on practices of equality and inclusion of film curation within the digital sphere. Using the case study of the new app ‘Curate-it’ it will explore how digital technology can break down barriers of access to film curation and exhibition. Typically, curatorial positions are held by single individuals deemed to be film experts or have knowledge of a particular type of film. The processes of curation are thus hierarchical and individual, and curators act as gatekeepers for what is and isn’t shown on-screen. Who holds these positions of power needs to be questioned, and processes need to be implemented to ensure that there is diversity within this sphere. The emergence of digital technologies has opened up new possibilities for creating a more collaborative form of film curation, allowing space for a range of curators to select and show films in new and innovative ways. ‘Curate-it’ is a mobile and desktop app which takes participants through a guided step-by-step programme for learning how to curate a film screening.  The app is being designed to democratise and make film curation more accessible to people who are marginalised because of race, class, gender, sexuality and disability. Participants follow a number of steps including Watch-it, Analyse-it, Curate-it, Finance-it, Market-it and Execute-it Evaluate-it and Screen-it through which they learn about film criticism and the necessary skills needed to create a film event, they then curate and exhibit a film online or in real life. It has been designed to be as accessible as possible and is available in multiple languages, accessible to D/deaf- hard of hearing, and visually impaired. This paper will assess the ways in which the app functions to open up new opportunities for a more equitable and accessible film curatorial landscape.

Justine Atkinson is the founder and director of Aya Films, a UK based company with a focus on the distribution of African cinema and also curatorial training. She worked as the Festival Producer of the Africa in Motion film festival between 2013-2019. She is currently pursuing a PhD on forms of collaborative curation at the University of Glasgow.