Visit to Forest Row Film Society

A piece that featured on the BFFS website on my recent visit to Forest Row Film Society:

Forest Row Film Society swept the board at the BFFS Film Society of the Year awards in 2009, impressing the judges with their rapid growth, community spirit and commitment to bringing film to their corner of the country. I was delighted when the opportunity presented itself to visit this award-winning society. Although I speak to hundreds of film societies and community cinemas on the phone, I rarely get the chance to leave the office and see one at first hand. Needless to say, I was very excited.

After a long journey to the South of England I stepped off the train at picturesque East Grinstead to be greeted by Forest Row Publicity Officer Brad Scott, who kindly drove me to the screening location. As we chatted away excitedly about the virtues of community exhibition (or course!), Brad pointed out the lack of cinema provision in East Sussex and the wealth of film societies and community cinemas that have happily cropped up to fill the void. See Forest Row’s webpage detailing all of the community screenings in their area within 20 miles: www.forestrowfilmsociety.org/sussex

We quickly arrived in the Forest Row village, a stunning little corner of the world with a thirst for international film and challenging cinema. After settling in to my lodgings, I accompanied Brad to Forest Row Village Hall to help set up the venue for the evening’s screening of The End of the Line, a BFFS booking scheme title concerning the global depletion of fish stocks. By 8pm, the audience had streamed in, settling into their seats with a delicious slice of homemade cake and a glass of wine.

Just before the film was due to start, Brad gave me the opportunity to speak to the audience for a few minutes, and I was glad to have the chance to congratulate Forest Row on their FSoY win on home soil, and to thank the audience for their support in coming to see a very important film. Although organisers of film societies and community cinemas know a lot about the marvellous facts and figures behind the film society movement, their audiences are sometimes unaware of how important their attendance and support is in terms of the wider film industry so I was very proud to relay some impressive facts and figures about the film society network. There are now almost 500 community exhibitors in the UK, boosting the film industry economy with admissions of over 347,000 in 2009.  Theatrical ticket sales on this scale would have generated box office revenues of £1.8 million.
Since 74% of titles screened are either British-made or foreign language titles, the film industry owes a big thank you to the continued promotion of specialised films by film societies and community cinemas.

The End of the Line was a very moving film, and after the screening Mike Grenville from the Forest Row Transition team gave a brief but rousing speech to the audience about what we can do to ensure the survival of our fish stocks for generations to come. It is personal talks like these, the chance to have a glass of wine, a slice of homemade cake and a hearty discussion at the end of a film that sets film societies and community cinemas apart from other exhibitors in this country – as well as getting people off their sofas to watch films together in a community environment. The value for money at a community group like Forest Row is truly astonishing and I can easily see why catching a film at your local film society is becoming one of the nation’s favourite ways to watch a film.

After a big thank you to the organisers of Forest Row Film Society for making my trip so enjoyable, I retired to my lodgings for the night and made my way home to Sheffield on the morning train. Back in the BFFS central office again, I am more convinced than ever that film societies and community cinemas are vital in strengthening communities and bringing film right to your doorstep – and I can’t wait to visit another.

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