OVER the years, Manchester moviegoing has changed and developed into something more diverse than we have ever seen before.
The rise in independent cinema and an increase in the number of people who want to view these films has resulted in a plethora of new viewing opportunities across the city. Those opportunities are probably none better represented than at HOME cinema, a two-year-old hub of cinema and the arts.
The cinema is located on First Street and has become a centre for a bustling part of town with bars and restaurants surrounding HOME. The building is not just home to a handful of cinema screens, but a theatre and bookshop too.
Jason Wood, the Artistic Director of Film at HOME Cinemas is in charge of running the film slate at the cinema, and inclusion for the Manchester community is paramount in his mind.
According to Jason, Manchester is the perfect home for cinematic experimentation, and audiences here love it.
Manchester is one of the few cities that are affordable, in London it is £15 to go to the cinema. HOME as a venue is geared towards a wide cultural offer, no Hollywood films – not that there’s anything wrong with those – but if someone is going to take a risk on an alternative piece of cinema, it’s better that the price is so low.
HOME’s most successful film ever was I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach. Jason said they always knew the film would do well, but they didn’t expect such levels of success for the film. At one point, HOME cinema was the most successful film in the country for that particular title.
Jason said that this is a perfect example of how people in Manchester want a different type of cinema experience. “We are putting these challenging films on but our success is accelerating,” he said. “We don’t need to compromise our programme here.”
But do the films reach a wide group of viewers in and around the city? Jason seems to think so. He said that he liaises with groups across the country to make sure he is screening content that is provoking, and which promotes gender, racial and sexual diversity.
We have a homeless film festival, we worked on the 60th anniversary of Spike Lee’s birthday. We do these things not just because we want them but because people want to see them.
More than just provoking films, the people of Manchester are making a move toward cinema events, which is where Village Green Cinema Company has become a firm local favourite.
The events company runs a themed cinema event based around most holidays, and hosts them in Victoria Baths in Chorlton. Victoria Baths was once at risk of being partially demolished, but thanks to events like these run by Village Green Cinema Company, it is now a thriving space for events.
Claire Hunt, who runs the project, said that running events in Manchester was a natural progression from her early work in Sheffield.
Claire went to university in Manchester so she knew the city. She was approached by a friend who was working on the Victoria Baths regeneration.
The 31-year-old hasn’t looked back since. “It’s been really positive,” she said. “We did Jaws as our first event and we sold out in a day. We had three Christmas screenings there that sold out in 15 minutes. People must really love what we do.”
Claire put this success down to the desire to do ‘different’ things, and the growth in companies that provide these options of alternative events. This, she said, is what people want to spend their money on.
People like to do different things so if you give them something that they couldn’t get elsewhere then they’d be willing to pay. What I’ve realised is that people are looking to spend money on an experience rather than just a film. I think our events have soul and we really care about them, I think that shows.
Things in Manchester aren’t always that simple. As one prospective event runner found out the hard way. Sam Rostron and his partner set out to run a film event in small pubs around Manchester. His first event was to be held in The Bridge Tavern in Manchester City Centre.
Sam named the event ‘Screen-Inns’, and the premise was that every month, Sam and his girlfriend would find a pub in the city centre to host a film centred evening that would involve the screening itself and other fun games like quizzes and treasure hunts.
“It would have lots of energy and cocktails and stuff,” he said. “We launched it on Hallowe’en with Nightmare On Elm St. with lots of decorations.”
Despite the strong concept, the event was not a success. Sam puts this down to the lack of business background he and his girlfriend had at the time. They stuck mainly to social media advertising, which in the short time frame did not pay off in terms of revenue or footfall.
“We were always going to do it in Manchester,” said Sam. “Although the turnout wasn’t quite as expected, people were really responsive. I don’t think you’d be able to do it in London in such a good location. Plus, for the size of event we were hosting, people wouldn’t be willing to travel too far, so Manchester was perfect.”
Sam told me that he still believes there is a gap in the market for an event like this in Manchester, and that someone with more experience in this industry could pull it off.
One thing that is clear from speaking to these industry members is that Manchester has established itself as a home of independent cinema as well as the epicentre of alternative cinematic events for people of all ages, genders, sexualities, races, and budgets.