Community cinemas across the UK play a valuable role in bringing communities together to engage with film, build relationships, combat loneliness, to educate. In times of physical distancing they, and their representative body Cinema For All have found new ways to continue this.

The current Coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all in many heart breaking ways. Yet it is also highlighting the strength and resilience of communities to pull together and support one another. Community cinemas and film societies have always played a key role for the communities they represent. Often providing a space for diverse groups to come together as a community and engage with a wide range of films. As physical distancing rules in the UK have put in-person gatherings on hold community cinemas have come up with new and innovative ways to do their part in supporting one another, combating the effects of social isolation through film based activities. In support of this Cinema For All, the national support and development organisation for community-led cinema, has worked to support their members (film societies and community cinemas) with ideas for continuing to support their audiences in innovative ways.

Community cinemas play a key role in broadening access to film in the UK. There are around 1300 community-led cinema groups in the UK, many of which serve communities that are often unable to access commercial cinema for a whole range of different reasons. Location wise, 31% of community-led groups operate in rural locations whilst only 3% of commercial cinemas serve these populations (Cinema For All). Community-led groups will often work on projects that combat loneliness, that make cinema more accessible, that offer discussions and educational activities and that bring together people from different backgrounds to experience film. These really are groups that prioritise community building and participation.

As Coronavirus prevents collective screenings there have been fantastic examples of community-led cinema groups supporting their members in this time of physical distancing across the UK, reminding us all that whilst we need to be physically distant it has never been more important to have social solidarity. In the early stages of the pandemic in the UK Leigh Film Society were doing DVD deliveries to people isolating, once that was no longer possible they, like many others, moved screenings online to maintain those strong film based bonds across their community. Deptford Cinema have started DC on demand with 4 screenings a week for people to get involved in whilst also staying home and keeping safe, alongside a daily quiz of 5 questions a day and a weekly winner to keep everyone engaged throughout the week. LesFlicks have got involved with a global virtual lesbian festival to support artists, filmmakers, musicians and comedians who might now be out of work in light of the pandemic. C Fylm have set up Facebook groups to facilitate the sort of post screening chatter that would have previously happened in the village hall screenings taking place throughout Cornwall. To support these groups Cinema For All have provided regular updates and resources to set up online film clubs as well as ongoing support and conversation between groups including Top 5 lists and twitter film quizzes.

Cinema might seem like a small thing in a time like this. But there is power in film and in community. When we are abiding by the rules of physical distancing, staying at home to protect ourselves and others loneliness and mental health become major factors. Community networks are thus key, and community cinemas and film societies are showing just how important they are, not only now but always. The opportunity to watch a film together, to talk about it, to disagree about it, is a fantastic remedy, a distraction at a time like this. Being able to do this with friends, old and new in any space, in person, or now online builds community and combats loneliness at a time when this is really needed.

Originally published