“people always say there’s nothing on at the cinema.”Back
Size is important in cinema. Nobody has ever been able to agree whether it’s important to be large or small, though. Cramming thousands of people in front of one enormous silver screen has gone slightly out of style, as ‘boutique’ cinemas like Everyman emphasise the comforts of home, and home comforts prove too tempting for people with snug sofas and home cinema TVs; while mainstream films have become big and noisy, wherever you see them.
In the middle of all this expansion and contraction you’ll find Minicine. Film proportions are right there in the name – mini, cine – and while its home, in a corner of Armley Industrial Mills, is one of the smallest cinemas in the country, the 26 seats and vintage fittings were taken from the 800-seat Armley Picture Palace after it closed in 1964. It’s a tiny cinema made from an enormous palace of film, and it’s in keeping with the contradictions of cinema scale that the independent shorts and features that Minicine show here can have more impact than the latest superhero blockbuster at the multiplex across the canal. That’s down to the careful programming of, first, Danny and Edel; then Mike McKenny; and for the last year, Michael Wood, better known as Woody.
“People seem to get a buzz from the venue when they first arrive,” said Woody. “Especially if they’ve not been here before, but we do make a point of turning all the lights out and focusing on the screen. We want to push the films first.” 26 seats or 800 seats are irrelevant when the theatre goes dark and the screen lights up with entertaining and provoking films, thoughtfully chosen by true cinema fans.
Minicine orientates itself towards audience participation, something Woody is keen to grow, whether it’s at the monthly Minicine at the Mills events in Armley, or at screenings in other venues, and communities. “I wouldn’t call us a social cinema,” he said, “but that’s definitely what we try and provide.” The regular format at Armley Mills is three short films and a feature, with audience scores given after each film, and the opportunity through the website – minicine.org.uk – to vote for films to be shown at future screenings. The confidence in Minicine’s choices was demonstrated recently when, offered films by the Coen Brothers or Charlie Chaplin, the audience opted for Molly’s Way, a relatively unknown film by director Emily Atef that Woody calls, “our wild card entry – it was close, but for us it was really satisfying that people, even though they haven’t heard of this film, know that it’ll be worth watching.
“At the moment we announce films at the Mills three months at a time, but without necessarily any connection to those films,” said Woody. “In future I’d like to have them linked, so we’ll have a small series, and then a social every three months so people have time to come together and discuss them, and decide what the next ones will be.”
As well as the full-length features, Woody brings particular passion to choosing the short films shown at Minicine. “It’s great that there are platforms now such as YouTube and Vimeo, where people can very easily make their own shorts and upload them. But as much as I like them, I also hate YouTube for almost ruining the short. You mention short films and people think of a cat in a washing machine, or some kid putting his finger in his baby brother’s mouth. That’s not a short film! Come to our screening and we’ll show you what short films are about.”
YouTube has primed the attention spans of its viewers to respond to shorts, but it frustrates Woody that more people aren’t aware of the pleasure – and sorrow, and joy – that can be packed into a film no longer than a music video. At Minicine’s recent social at 51% Bourbon Lounge, Woody showed a short called Caine’s Arcade, the true story of a nine year old boy’s homemade cardboard arcade, and what happened after he got his first customer.
“There were two women there who, halfway through, were just in tears,” said Woody. “I felt a bit sadistic about it, but I was like – That’s awesome! Great! They made notes, and I told them afterwards that there was a follow up film, and they clearly got a buzz off it. It was something different they hadn’t heard of, but in that ten minutes they got more than they would out of two hours seeing a Marvel action movie.
“People always say there’s nothing on at the cinema. Actually, there’s a hell of a lot on at the cinema, but there’s no diversity to it. You need to look at your independent cinemas, and look at different groups, because there is so much out there.”
The hard part for casual cinema-goers is sifting through what is out there to find the good stuff, which is why Woody and his small band of volunteers should be appreciated for distilling the enormous world of contemporary film into a product that can fit into Leeds cinemas, cinemas as tiny or as large as the audience demands.
“Our audience really enjoy the luxury of being able to come along, get their tea and cake, and watch movies and see shorts that are different to anywhere,” said Woody. “Just being able to switch off for the night, but also being challenged in some ways at the same time, by seeing something at Minicine that’s alternative to what you would see in a multiplex.
“Whether we also have another residency somewhere else, or one-off screenings in other places, we just want to bring as many people together as we can and get them talking. Just not during the films.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds issue 08