Category: Exhibitors

A survey worth completing

The ‘Science and Media Museum’ in Bradford is conducting an audience survey. You likely have missed this. It does not seem to have been much publicised and I searched in vain on the Museum Webpages for it. I finally sent in an email request and received a link to the following:

NATIONAL SCIENCE AND MEDIA MUSEUM CINEMA MEMBERSHIP SURVEY

This has a fairly conventional series of questions; about attendance at Picturehouse and other cinemas: the frequency of screenings: preferences in terms of 2D/3D: preference for types of screenings: and, intriguing but also conventional questions aiming to help:

The Museum is keen to understand its visitors and what motivates them . . .

These are mostly tick boxes as well. It is rather boring and also includes questions about one’s age and the usual dubious list of what are called ‘ethnic categories’.

But there are three occasions where there are boxes for composed comments, which, with a little imagination, can be used to suggest matters about programming, titles and formats that one would appreciate. This may, perhaps, bring a little influence to the future programming.

The context for this is [as reported here] Picturehouse are ending their contract with the Museum at the end of October this year. We know three things about the Museum plans. They intend to take back the running of the three auditoriums; Pictureville, Cubby Broccoli and Imax. They have promised to bring in a filmgoers membership scheme akin to that run by Picturehouse; [ the point of the survey]. And they apparently intend to sub-contract the programming to an agency, but who or what is unknown.

At present the Museum’s two film auditoriums make the Museum one of only three venues in Leeds / Bradford that are capable of screening ‘reel’ films. And, despite the limitations of the Picturehouse programme, the venue has been one of only two that offer frequent screenings of art films, foreign language films [excepting Hindi-language cinema] and true independent productions. The other is the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. But the latter closes for up to twelve months in January 2020 as part of the major redevelopment. If you want to see any of the Cannes Festival titles that Roy has rightly praised it is likely to depend on the programming at the Museum. Otherwise it is trains or cars to Hebden Bridge, Sheffield or Manchester.

So take the ten minutes, [it is about that], to complete the questionnaire and take every opportunity to write in favour of a varied quality programme of films.

Postscript: The link is now displaying ‘the survey is closed’.

If you have missed being able to complete the Survey you can complain to:

Email: talk@scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk

Screenings in Bradford, West Yorkshire

The current arrangement whereby Picturehouse operate the screenings at Bradford’s Media Museum [now Science + Media Museum] will be changing in 2019. I only discovered this from a friend who has a Picturehouse membership due to expire. He was advised he could only renew for six months as Picturehouse would not be renewing the contract with the Museum when it expires in October 2019. I have now done a little investigation and there are notices on both the Museum and Picturehouse webpages but I do not think you would notice them if you did not know where to look or what to look for.

The statement by Picturehouse, similar to that of the Museum, is as follows:

“Following four successful years, Picturehouse and the National Science and Media Museum have agreed to conclude our partnership when the current contract comes to an end on October 31, 2019. The National Science and Media Museum will continue to operate three screens, maintaining its commitment to a full and exciting cinema programme, including unique special events.

Picturehouse will remain dedicated to delivering Bradford’s high standard of cinema programming until October 2019 and will be focusing on our exciting nationwide expansion after the contract concludes.

No job roles have been put at risk and Picturehouse staff in Bradford have all been communicated with. The museum, which last year enjoyed a seven-year high in visitor numbers, will continue to provide a welcoming home to great cinema for regulars and new audiences alike.

We wish Bradford National Science and Media Museum the very best for the future and we thank them for the last four years of a successful partnership.”

For people with Picturehouse membership they have the option of renewal when due for six months. Unlikely to be an exact fit except for a fortunate few. The change by Picturehouse follows on from their ‘downsizing’ of projection teams in their venues.

This seems to be another example of the Media Industries unwillingness to inform or consult with ordinary people with an interest in matters. The Museum failed to have any discussions when they decided to contract out the cinema programme four years ago. One Manager at the time claimed there had been consultation. It turned out someone had spoken at one of the popular Senior Citizen Screenings on a Thursday morning. I am reminded of the recurring line by Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

Importantly, what will this mean for film fans in the area? The Picturehouse programming is close to the mainstream and certainly less varied that that operated by the Museum prior to the changeover. However, it is also true that Picturehouse have programmed in films not screened elsewhere in the vicinity. And they do still offer screening using the 35mm and 70mm projection equipment in Pictureville and Cubby Broccoli.

The film programme was contracted out because of the financial deficits at the Museum. It seems that it is now managed or certainly overseen closely by the Management at the main venue, The National Science Museum in London. This management do not display a great interest in either film or photography. The change of the Museum’s title [to Science + Media Museum] has, to my mind, been accompanied by a reduced focus on these popular media. There was the outrageous purloining by the Victoria and Albert Museum of a major photographic collection. And recent cinematic exhibitions have been small-scale affairs on the wall opposite the IMAX entrance. The Insight Collection has much reduced access: the staff still offer interesting material but their number is clearly reduced.

If the Museum returns to operating the film programme I doubt that it will resemble the impressive variety of former days. Likely alternatives to Picturehouse as a contractor are not obvious; the Odeon chain apparently turned down the opportunity four years ago. The Museum does still operate the Widescreen Weekend, but this is predominately a mainstream programme. European widescreen films are a rarity. And the other Festivals once offered have fallen by the wayside. What would be good, but seems unlikely with the present style of management, would be a discussion with local people and regular patrons of the cinemas.

Another nail in the coffin . . .

It is not widely reported that the Picturehouse chain is sacking (via redundancy) its projectionists with the exception of the Central venue in London and their facility at the Bradford Media Museum. The latter is restricted by the contract between Picturehouse and the Museum.

Quite a few of the Picturehouse venues, including York’s City Screen, have 35mm and/or 70mm projection. Presumably these will be standing idle from now on. It is sad to see the chain, which had a slightly more varied programme than the multiplexes, joining the rush to downsize the cinema industry. The University of Warwick have a research project into this issue: they estimate 90% of the qualified technical staff in exhibition have already been given the push.

I heard about this by word of mouth. There is little reporting on the issue, even on the internet. The Little Bit Ritzy in Brixton and the Hackney Picturehouse venues both have webpages on this.

Inevitably 35mm and 70mm projection is going to reduce further. And do not believe the hype about digital standards. In Britain nearly all DCPs are 2K or even of lower quality. So far this year I have seen more 35mm prints than I have seen 4K DCPs. To achieve the standard of 35mm requires between 7K and 12K (estimates vary).

Moreover digital projection is not just about pressing buttons. The justification of Cineworld, who now own Picturehouse, is that the industry has moved over to digital. They should learn from their own experience. I tried to watch a Hindi-language film at the Bradford Cineworld. The title was in 2.35:1 but the drapes there were set to 1.85:1! it took three complaints and 30 minutes before the manager (who controlled the technical side) rectified the error.

The cinema in Leeds Light (built for the South African Ster-Kinekor chain known in the UK as ‘Ster Century’) has/had masking for different ratios but since it was taken over by Vue this facility is never used. And the illumination during features varies from quite low to exceedingly bright depending on which auditorium one is in. When I complained regarding the light level that made low-key scenes impenetrable the manager claimed this was the standard level.

Cineworld have already had strikes over low wages at Picturehouse venues this year. It seems that at least at some of the outlets there are protests about the issue. But the deafening silence on the issue means that (probably) most members or customers are unaware of what is happening.

The lost art …

Rare 4K treats!

The Sight & Sound letter page in the March issue had a good letter from Adam MacDonald raising the issue of identifying 4K releases into cinemas. He suggested that this was something that the magazine could offer readers. Unfortunately the only response printed to date is from Patrick Fahy who supervises the ‘Credits’ for the magazine. He suggests asking at cinemas: what is called ‘passing the buck’.

In Leeds Vue used to have a little box on their Online pages which gave this information. That has disappeared and now if you ask at the desk they have to try and find someone who actually knows about this. On my one visit to The Everyman they thought I was asking about the sound! Other multiplexes with 4K projectors offer a similar ‘service’.

The one venue with 4K projectors who do provide the information is Picturehouse at the Science + Media Museum in Bradford. The Picturehouse CityScreen in York also has a 4K projector but they do not seem to offer similar information. So good news. This coming week there are, not one, but two films on DCP in 4 K. Over the whole of last year I only counted ten releases in 4K, so this is a feast.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a joint USA/British production. It is an adaptation of the novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. This title is in colour, standard widescreen and has 7.1 sound.  It was directed by Mike Newell.

Custody / Jusqu’à la garde, a French film from 2017 scripted and directed by Xavier Legrand. This is in colour and 2.39:1 ratio with English sub-titles.

Of course, you need to attend a screening in the Pictureville auditorium which actually has the 4K projector,. Note, Custody seems to only have one screening in Pictureville on Wednesday April 25th: the rest are in Cubby Broccoli which only has a 2K projector.

Is this a positive portent for the future or just one isolated highlight?