Scalarama Film Festival: A celebration of cinema, for everyone, by anyone, everywhere

By August 15, 2019

Film, TV & Tech. Leeds.


One of my favourite (and one of the most haunting) endings to a film is in the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Veronica Cartwright, having had all her friends succumb to the invasion, approaches Donald Sutherland, only to shockingly realise that he too has become a pod person and she is now the only human in the city, with no means of escape…

I’m reminded of this when I think about when I started to get more deeply involved in Leeds’ vibrant film culture. Once I’d scratched the surface, every other new person I met was either regularly screening films, involved in film festivals, or so into cinema that they practically lived there.

So it was inevitable that sooner or later I would succumb to the cinematic machinations of the Leeds division of the Scalarama Film Festival.

As the name would suggest, the Scalarama Film Festival is “inspired by the energy and creativity of the legendary Scala cinema (1978-1993)”. In 2011 a new festival was created that invited all cinemas to take part and share their passion. Every September, film clubs, cinemas and film festivals, plus various organisations and individuals in UK cities (and beyond) who love movies, unite and encourage watching films together. Our motto is to Fill the Land with Cinemas! It’s a celebration of cinema, for everyone, by anyone, everywhere.

2019 will be the ninth edition of the Scalarama Film Festival and Leeds has been involved from the beginning. Scalarama Leeds has a fiercely DIY, not-for-profit and cooperative spirit, recognising that to be truly representative, inclusive and welcoming, this ethic needs to be implicit in an organisation from the ground up.

This is what I think marks Scalarama out from many other festivals (although there has been much change in this direction in recent years) and what it does so well in an industry that, like many others, is monopolised predominantly by white male corporate power. It provides an opportunity to let other voices and opinions grow and take shape, to start a dialogue with, question and challenge these structures for the benefit of all.

But how does the festival work practically? In Leeds, there is a core (but open) group that generally start monthly planning meetings in January. These are casual, drop-in forums in which to discuss the films people want show, talk about possible theme ideas and plan funding opportunities. Most importantly, it’s a friendly environment to welcome like-minded pod-people who are movie fanatics, with the desire to allow people to discover, explore and appreciate all types of films, in a wide variety of cinemas and non-cinema spaces.

From the very beginning, we very much seek to encourage and support people in the programming and screening of films – utilising the huge amount of experience, knowledge and practical expertise that such a disparate collective of individuals can bring. We can provide advice on very practical things like what equipment you will need, assistance with finding and buying screening licences, which venues are welcoming of film screenings (or can be persuaded), or how to market your events.

Cooperation and collaboration is key here – the festival just wouldn’t happen without it. It’s the glue that binds this community of film-lovers together, in order to put on, with little or no funding, one of the most vibrant and eclectic film programmes around.

Where else within the space of four weeks, in one city, could you see: a five film Bob Fosse retrospective, alongside the fantastic Brixton-set dancehall drama Babaylon (1980) with a DJ set, adjacent to a one off audio-visual, multi-screen live event J0534+2200, next to rare screening of neo-noir masterpiece Cutter’s Way (1981), close to a showing of the brilliant Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer (2013), beside an in-depth walking tour of the lost cinemas of Leeds?

Over 35 separate film-based events will be taking place across Leeds throughout September. All these events collaborate, or have a direct dialogue with interesting venues, local groups and societies, any number of film programming collectives, or all of the above.

Some of these groups worth mentioning directly (all the groups can be found in our programme) include: Feel Good Film Club Experience, Film Fringe, Girl Gang Leeds, Mashiya Presents, and She’s a Rebel. These organisations are well worth looking up, both for inspiration and proof that cinema can thrive outside of the cacophonous tedium of the money-chasing, regressive monolith of the traditional studio system.

That said… there is a space for all kinds of cinema. After all, this system can still produce some fantastic films, but it can speak for itself while it’s imperative that we continue to support and nurture the passion of the marginalised, the quietly fanatic, the niche voices that make up the undercurrent of film culture. This is where alternative venues can be explored and new, forgotten or strange films can be discovered, remade or repurposed, connections forged.

Speaking of connections, in Leeds we are also extremely lucky to have one of the most brilliant cinemas in the country, The Hyde Park Picture House, right on our doorstep. Without doubt we take inspiration from its consistently progressive and insightful programming of international, new, independent, repertory & arts films, together with its vision of connecting arts, education and community organisations to cinema for the widest possible film audience.

This year they will be supporting the launch of the Scalarama Film Festival programme, with an already sold-out screening of Rudeboy (2019), the brand new documentary about Trojan Records, at The Brudenell Social Club. They will also be screening, organised by She’s A Rebel, the opening late-night noir double bill of Detour (1945) & Gun Crazy (1950)  in honour of the Scala cinema’s original programming, together with further Scalarama films and heritage tours.

The Hyde Park Picture House is one of the central axis points in a web of cinema-based activity that is as diverse as it is convoluted. It’s a web that spreads its tendrils throughout the city, which Scalarama taps into – a benign underground invasion that it both supports and is supported by.

It’s going to be another exciting Scalarama Film Festival this September in Leeds, so please stop by, watch some films, come and talk to us and maybe put on a screening yourself…

Be involved. Be a cinema. Become a pod person. Join us!

Robb Barham is a Deputy House Manager Hyde Park Picture House, programmer, collaborator & confirmed pod person


The Scalarama Festival runs 1st – 30th September 2019: