Into a New Age of cinema

PUBLISHED: 17:39 24 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:36 20 February 2013

Into a New Age of cinema

Into a New Age of cinema

Film lovers in rural parts of Shropshire have rarely had it so good, with two pioneering schemes bringing the latest blockbusters, classic movies, music and sports events and even 3D technology to village halls and other out-of-town locations

Hollywood legend Julie Christie is rarely in the media these days, unless her work compels her to do so. She prefers to lead a peaceful life, far from the madding crowd, at her rural retreat just over the Shropshire border.

Occasionally, though, she will pop her head above the parapet to speak up for causes she believes in (in May, she controversially joined Dame Judi Dench and other stars to criticise government drugs policy).

It is her affinity with those who live in more remote parts of the county that inspired her to answer a call for help from Shropshire organisation Flicks in the Sticks, which operates a roaming cinema project around the county and neighbouring Herefordshire.

Why should people who live in rural areas be culturally punished for it by the absence of good cinema? says Christie, when asked about her involvement.

This has been a difficult year for arts organisations across the county as government spending cuts saw many lose the crucial funding they needed to survive. For others, the future remains uncertain.

Ian Kerry, founding director of Flicks in the Sticks, recognised the threat and was delighted at the positive response from the stars he approached for assistance - not just Christie, but also TV and radio comedian Tony Hawks.

I was surprised Julie had heard of us but she was very pleased to be associated with us, Ian explains.

For more than a decade, Flicks in the Sticks, an arm of Shropshire and Herefordshire arts scheme, Arts Alive, has brought film to village halls and rural locations across the counties. These days partnering with around 80 volunteer-run venues, Flicks presents more than 700 screenings throughout the year using the latest in digital technology.

Christie, who earned iconic status in British classics such as Billy Liar, Dont Look Now and Dr Zhivago, first came to the area more than 40 years ago, when looking for a house in the country. Friends of mine asked me to their house in Powys. I spent a day there and fell in love with the area, explains the actress, who has previously owned The Flounders folly tower near Craven Arms. Every time I cross into Shropshire and Herefordshire, I realise that they constitute some of the most beautiful parts of Britain.

On why she agreed to become a patron of Flicks, Christie adds: I think Flicks in the Sticks is a very good thing. The chance to see films on a big screen makes the process of watching them a far more focussed effort. Some films like McCabe and Mrs Miller or Dont Look Now have many threads running through them, which might be missed if there were distractions.

Inspired to go into acting through watching theatre, Christie admits that she was late to realise the potential of cinema: It was not until I saw the French New Wave cinema in the 60s that I realised cinema was as much of an art as theatre. Quality art should be available to everyone.

Christie has been joined as a patron by Tony Hawks, who came across Flicks while touring with his film Round Ireland with a Fridge.

When I was touring, playing to packed village halls made me realise what an important service Flicks offers. I was taken aback by the scale of the Flicks operation, but also by the professionalism and dedication. Not only from the team in the office, but the large number of local people who give their time for free at the various venues, explains the comedian and best-selling author. Flicks is great for community spirit, for bringing people together. The cinema is, and always will be, the best way to see a film, he adds.

Flicks in the Sticks was formed at the end of the 1990s. I had the idea that touring film to villages might work, especially as at that time the technology behind projectors was changing, explains Ian Kerry.

With the support of local councillors, village hall promoters and funders, Ian purchased the first set of equipment and began touring to a handful of venues. Within a few years, with funding to purchase more sets of equipment, the Flicks operation had increased to what it is today, reaching all corners of Shropshire.

Some screenings have audiences as small as six, whereas others will get a packed house of 130 people. Sometimes you may get three generations of one family in the audience.For many such audiences, they would have to travel over 50 miles to enjoy a cinema-type experience were it not for Flicks and I think its all about that shared experience, says Ian. People like to watch a film with others they know around them and thats great for people in a village community because there arent many chances to meet up. It also gives essential revenue to the village halls, which is important because otherwise they will go too, like the pubs and the shops.

Weve had some lovely feedback over the years.

I remember one lady said how she used to meet her brother who lived 10 miles in the other direction at every Flicks, and that was the only time they met up.

With the closure of the UK Film Council in April, and new funding bodies in place, the future of funding for Flicks is uncertain, but Ian remains hopeful.

Thats why I hope that having Julie and Tony on board will get more audiences going to Flicks venues and to understand the quality and presentation. The more that go, the longer we can keep running.

While Flicks in the Sticks is over a decade old, a second project bringing the cinematic experience to rural Shropshire is in its infancy. Shropshire Screen, launched at Wem Town Hall in May, brings the latest releases, including 3D feature films and animation, to village hall and club settings. The county is just one of three areas in the UK selected by the UK Film Council to take part in the scheme. It was chosen thanks to the persistence of Ian Kerry, of Flicks in the Sticks, and Ludlow MP Philip Dunne in highlighting the UKFCs failure to focus on rural cinema.

Backed by 400,000 Lottery funding from the BFI (British Film Industry), Shropshire Screen is a consortium comprising Borderlines Film Festival, DASH (Disability Arts Shropshire), Festival Drayton Centre, Flicks in the Sticks, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, Reels on Wheels, Thomas Adams School and Wem Town Hall.

A Hollywood-standard touring DCI projector brings new releases and 3D films to new venues. This is the first time that this standard of equipment has been toured, so this is a world first, explains Naomi Vera-Sanso, Executive Director of Borderlines Film Festival. We will be watched closely and monitored through BFI to see what impact this makes in terms of audiences, so it is a fantastic coup for the county.

Ian Kerry also successfully applied for capital funds to install digital cinema standard projection equipment into around 40 village halls, while alternative content such as live theatre, opera, music and sport can now be streamed via satellite at seven venues.

Its a great move to have received the funding and probably a one off, Ian notes. Im hoping Screen Shropshire will attract a new and younger audience than have traditionally come to Flicks.

A new website now provides a comprehensive guide to all films showing in the region. This is effectively a one-stop-shop for all screenings across the county and uses innovative geo location technology so you are directed to screenings in your surrounding area, explains Naomi.

People can access high quality contemporary culture and cinema and wont have to travel large distances to do so, she adds.

They can now benefit from cinema experiences that most of their urban counterparts take for granted.

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