Taking place at Watershed in Bristol, the 2021 edition of This Way Up, was an inspiring and invigorating return to in-person events. Diving deep into big questions on regional audiences and cultural delivery, environmental sustainability, skills development and access while focusing on key themes of cultural value, placemaking and inclusion.
From incredibly important sessions from both Raising Films and Dial F for Freelancer laying the foundation for the ways in which the sector needs to change and move forwards in how organisations can build safe, sustainable, inclusive and truly flexible working environments for their employees based on fair work, fair pay and fair care. And, as this sector is totally reliant on the hard work of its freelancers, what we can all do to protect their rights and ensure they have access to the same opportunities as full-time staff. What’s more, how can we create pathways for new exhibition and distribution talent – not just filmmaking talent – to get their start in a notoriously difficult industry to break into? We heard from alumni of the ICO FEDS programme, on the importance of traineeship and mentorship schemes for getting their foot in the door.
However, for me, the overall take away from these two days was the focus that exhibitors across the UK on championing local and regional film culture and film talent. For example, in the session led by Film Hub Northern Ireland, “Every Place Has a Story to Tell: Developing Audiences for Regional Film” we heard about their film touring programme Collective which celebrates Irish filmmaking; we heard from Film Hub Wales about their exciting project Made in Wales which is centred around Welsh filmmaking and developing audiences for Welsh and specifically Welsh Language cinema, and then finally their was the case study from Early Day Films on the release of Cornish drama Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019) the regional support from Cornwall and throughout the whole of the South West it took to make that film the huge success it was.
Subsequently, in a session headed up by Film Hub Midland, “It Can Happen Here: Film Journalism, Culture, and Reaching Local Audiences” editor and critic Tara Judah and editor for the Edinburgh based magazine The Skinny, Jamie Dunn, discussed the importance of multiplicity of voices in film criticism and how to build critical film culture on a local level. Primarily focussing on how essential it is to decentralise and move away from London in order for these things to prosper and grow. From their perspective, both exhibitors and distributors should be developing relationships with local press outlets, sharing screeners and being more open about how we can connect with critical voices and being more active in developing film culture across the whole of the UK is a really great direction to go in.
So, what can we learn from this? As an impact distribution company, we strive to collaborate with as wide a range of organisations as possible on an international, national and local scale; from cinemas and film clubs to community organisations, charities, universities, schools and large businesses in order to reach as diverse an audience as possible and to make sure that they get seen by the right people. We know that exhibitors, filmmakers, film journalists and critics – as they have been doing for a long time – want to develop their local audiences and local film culture through placemaking and in turn we should support that.