Last week saw the fifth iteration of This Way Up which, if this is your first visit to the site, is an annual industry-facing UK film conference. The aim is to bring industry figures together to explore and discuss “pressing issues, to hear about new models, new thinking and new opportunities”.  Taking place over two days, the programme was hosted by Liverpool’s Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT for short), and the Bluecoat gallery. 

A chunk of day one (which I spent at FACT) was characterised by different initiatives whose aim it is to encourage and grow representation both in front of and behind the silver screen. It got underway with a powerful keynote from Oscar-winning producer Mia Bays, who interrogated the “pressing issues” category of This Way Up’s ‘to-do’ list; her state-of-the-industry address speaking to the glaring gender imbalances still at play in film. To this end, she talked about where we are now, and – in her guise as a leading figure of Birds’ Eye View, an agency campaigning for gender equality in film – how we can get where we need to. 

Playing a part in this is Reclaim The Frame, a BFI backed influencer project whose aim it is to grow audiences for films told from a female perspective. Bays, who describes herself as a “pathfinder for films by women”, sees the initiative’s directive as “changing the dominant viewpoint in film”. By spotlighting cinema written and/or directed by women, the aim is to mobilise people to incentivised screenings, with free film tickets activated by those bringing a paying guest. The time for initiatives such as RTF is unquestionably now. “We want to centre stories that move people, [but] it’s about who tells the story.” By supporting releases such as Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, Chloé Zhao’s The Rider and Agnès Varda’s Faces Places, audiences will see that the 89% male to 11% female directorial skew (figures as of a 2017 report) is a ridiculous one. 

In the afternoon, attention switched to coming generations of cinema-goers, with insight about how to engage younger audiences in indie film coming from BIFA, the British Independent Film Awards and “on-demand cinema platform” ourscreen. Ourscreen CEO David Kapur was on hand to talk about MASSIVE, whose tagline reads “This is not your normal trip to the cinema. This is MASSIVE”, set up bring young people into contact with indie cinema. Kapur explained that although such audiences “didn’t feel indie cinema was for them”, if you create the right context, with films such as Yardie an example, success isn’t out of the question. As its director Idris Elba remarked in a promo: “Connecting young people back into the cinema? I think that’s massive, so big up to that!”

BIFA highlighted their still early-stages research, noting that, disconcertingly for those in attendance (though understandably when faced with a glut of available content to be accessed in various ways), young people see going to the cinema as “a commitment”. Encouragingly, however, there was also a sense from their still-early findings in qualitative focus groups, that there was “definitely an idea of saving it [a particular film] for the cinema”, even if that was more often in the case of franchises such as Star Wars. For BIFA, who exist to highlight and champion new talent, the challenge is finding ways to put said talent in front of this audience. In other terms, making the case to see exciting new independent film in a cinema, rather than streaming a blockbuster on the myriad of available platforms. Their findings, due in a white paper in the new year, will make for interesting – in some cases, crucial – reading.

Don’t accept fake cinema!
— Patrick von Sychowski

The final session of day one was delivered by Celluloid Junkie’s Patrick von Sychowski, who took us on a freewheeling trip through Global Cinema, from A-Z. Irreverent yet bursting with facts, it made for a whistle-stop quick hit of key issues in the industry. From the monolithic AMC conglomerate to Zuckerberg and Facebook’s speculating on VR technologies by buying up of innovations such as Oculus Rift, the key message from Sychowski was “Don’t accept fake cinema!” A good – if doubtlessly subjective – sentiment to finish the day with.

Liverpool 2018TWU Teamday1