You built your own cinema - wow! Where did the idea come from?
It feels a little surreal to think we built a cinema, but we did. I didn't do it alone though! And the idea itself was inspired in part by the Berlin indie Kinos and that way they use small intimate spaces rather than trying to recreate the traditional grand picturehouse or multiplex. That felt very radical to me. I then met groups in the UK who have built their own spaces and organised themselves around film, such as Newcastle's Star and Shadow cinema and the Cube in Bristol. Seeing that other people here had done it as volunteers was also really important in knowing that it was feasible.
Build Your Own is all about working together to make exciting things happen and it sounds like this was a team effort. What did it take to get the project in motion?
The project started with the throwing down of this absurd gauntlet, "we are going to build a cinema - who can help me?'. Setting the vision and the scale of challenge is the first step, and then from there we were lucky enough that volunteers came forward at the right time, with the right skills to realise this vision.
We had a small hardcore team that worked throughout the 6 weeks (and in particular the legendary Colin Gaskarth), and then in the last week as the jobs became more general we had a surge of people all mucking in with the painting and seat installation. As well as people donating time, the other key thing was materials - all the time, paint, carpet tiles, lights, acoustic boards, speakers etc were donated. There are some hugely generous people and businesses out there. They're all on our Roll of Honour. The work doesn't end there though - now its the programming team and events volunteers who all work incredibly hard to make things happen - its still a work in progress, and we are still learning!
Are there other cinema initiatives like this happening in the UK?
There are loads out there, all taking different forms, from traditional film societies getting together to host film events, to a growing number of communities creating their own spaces. There is one in Dewsbury called the New Picture House which looks really interesting, housed on the 2nd floor of an office building, and they've done a lovely job.
Are you planning to build any more cinemas (or anything else for that matter), and if so, how can people help?
I'm trying to develop another project in St Helens, but in the meantime, the best thing people can do is come and see something at the Liverpool Small Cinema. That's the most important thing, now we have the space, for people to come and enjoy it, see a film and support the project by voting with your feet. It's really the audience that build the cinema, otherwise it's just a shell. You can always volunteer as an usher too.... (Find out what's on at liverpoolsmallcinema.org.uk)
We might take you up on that! FACTLab, a workshop space we're piloting as part of Build Your Own aims to reveal the processes behind creating art, to show visitors what goes on behind the scenes at FACT. Do you think people get more out of something they've built themselves, or understand better through such demonstrations?
Of course people get more out of something they've built themselves, but its more interesting to question why? You can know conceptually that something is possible. You can assemble the components together in your head, draw a plan on paper, but until you have that experience of making it, using those tools, handling the materials, testing prototypes, finding problems, making mistakes, and finally seeing it work, your brain doesn't fully register it. That's when you get the confidence and the learning experience. That applies to anything, from cooking, to 3d printing or even building a wooden frame for a cinema seating rake.
Do you think that Liverpool (and the world) needs more people with the initiative to "build their own"?
I think people have that initiative and creativity already - especially in Liverpool. I think what the city needs are more spaces to accommodate that initiative and nurture those skills. That's why a place like DoES is so important - it is a safe accessible space that facilitates people to try their hand at these technologies and learn alongside others. In terms of the cinema, finding a building to inhabit was the key challenge. Cities need to work much harder to give people the space to develop ideas. That's really all you need - people will do the rest.
Can you tell us a bit about your other projects, such as Screening Film?
Screening Film is a tool to map independent film initiatives across the UK - essentially a crowd-sourced listings site for film. It's a great way to find film societies and grass roots cinema, and it comes from the same desire to show people the exciting alternatives to the multiplex. And its a brilliant tool, put togther by Rob O'Rourke and Interconnet IT and makes it really easy for people to add their film events and become part of this growing network. The Liverpool Small Cinema is on there of course.
We've heard about Scalarama happening this September, which could equally be called "Build Your Own Film Festival'! Will Liverpool Small Cinema be getting involved, and how can other people take part?
Scalarama is a month-long celebration of people powered cinema - it brings all these independent groups and alternative events under one umbrella and really highlights the diversity in programming approaches. Michael and Phil of Cinema Nation (who organise Scalarama) have been carefully trying to open out the festival a little more each year, so it becomes increasibgly led by the exhibitors. They are not just creating a festival but a movement. The Liverpool Small Cinema will definitely be involved, though I'll leave it up to the programming team to decide what they want to show.
And if you could build something, anything you wanted, what would it be and why?
I have an idea for a sort of wooden zoetrope / projector, which can be hand-cranked, and would show knitted lace film reels rather than celluloid or digital. I have sketches and things, but I need to get prototyping. Im pretty sure though it could change the cinematic landscape - none of this Sony 4k nonsense.
Find out more about A Small Cinema and Screening Film. Read more about Re-Dock.
The exhibition Build Your Own: Tools for Sharing is on display at FACT until 31 August, alongside temporary workshop space FACTLab in Gallery 2.