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access>CINEMA Brings Irish, World and Independent cinema to Regional Ireland

Cinema projector graphic

Company Profile access>CINEMA

access>CINEMA is the resource organisation for regional cultural cinema exhibition in Ireland. They provide audiences throughout Ireland with access to the best of Irish, world and independent cinema via their national network of non-profit and voluntary organisations. They are also a member of Europa Cinemas which was founded in 1992 with funding from Creative Europe and CNC. Europa Cinemas provides operational and financial support to cinemas that commit themselves to screen a significant number of European non-national films. Other Irish members include the Irish Film Institute and Lighthouse Cinema.

In 2017, access>CINEMA celebrated 40 years of bringing quality film to the regions. Maeve Cooke, director of access>CINEMA, gives us the inside story as to how their network delivers great European, Irish and indie films to audiences all across Ireland.

Interview with Maeve Cooke, Director of access>CINEMA

How many members across Ireland are part of the access>CINEMA network and what kind of groups are part of your network?

We currently work with 80 different organisations across Ireland. Our members are what we call part-time cinema venues and are made up of voluntarily-run film societies or clubs, alongside professional mixed-programme venues or arts centres where film is part of an artistic programme.

While Ireland has one of the top cinema-going populations in Europe, once you travel outside of Dublin and Belfast - where you have cinemas like the Irish Film Institute, Light House Cinema and Queen’s Film Theatre offering a range of films not being shown in the commercial cinemas - there are currently no full-time cinema venues in other parts of the country providing similar choices. Although we are looking forward to the opening of Picture Palace in Galway!

So the role of our network is to provide regional audiences with the opportunity to have a greater level of choice of quality cinema available in their own communities as in those big cities, whether that be in terms of providing access to world cinema titles, independent films or Irish cinema.

Can you give us some examples of member organisations in the regions?

Our members are very diverse in nature. At the moment the membership is approximately half film clubs and half mixed programme venues (MPVs). Larger voluntarily-run film societies like Sligo Film Society and Galway Film Society have been in existence for over 50 years. A number of film clubs including Maynooth Film For All, Fermanagh Film For All and Newcastle West Film Club will celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2018. This is a great achievement for these volunteer-run organisations! We'll be featuring each of these organisations during 2018 in our Monthly Member Spotlight on the access>CINEMA website.

Do your members screen a lot of films?

Many of the arts centres screen weekly or bi-monthly with a few of the larger ones like Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray presenting a weekly evening cinema programme throughout the year. In some locations the film programme is actually presented as a partnership between the arts centre and a local film club, as is the case for Garter Lane Arts Centre and Waterford Film For All film club in Waterford.

The success of our network relies on developing and maintaining partnerships with a variety of local organisations to increase access to a range of films in those communities. These partnerships are often unique to the individual area's requirements and circumstances - the advice and support we give them is tailored to reflect their local situation and audiences.

What kinds of formats do your members use to screen their films?

Larger sites across the access>CINEMA network screen from DCP format (the screening format used by cinemas) and the rest of the members screen from BluRay or DVD. Some art centre sites including Draiocht in Blanchardstown and Solstice Arts Centre. Navan recently made the transition from DVD to DCP format with support from the Arts and Culture Capital Scheme. While members and their screening situations can be quite diverse, they all have the common goal of wanting to provide access to a wide range of quality films for their local audiences and bring them the magic of the shared cinema experience.

What kind of supports do you give to your members?

We provide curatorial film programming advice, information and booking service. access>CINEMA acts as an intermediary between our members who want to screen specific films and the rights holders for those films. We let members know what films are available within a particular time period, advise them on which films might suit their particular audiences, and then book and negotiate the licence fee terms for those films with the film distributors. We make the process of licencing and screening films as easy and straightforward as possible!

Our members rely on us to know what content will be available for them to programme, and how that content will match their local audience. We deal with many different rights holders, many of whom are located in the UK. Not all distributors are familiar with the Irish cinema exhibition landscape. Part of our job is to inform distributors about the Irish market and let them know how vital our part-time cinema sites are in connecting films, particularly the less-commercial ones, with Irish audiences.

Once a film is booked, we co-ordinate all the logistical aspects of the film screening including sourcing promotional material such as images, trailers, and posters. So we support all aspects of the film screening cycle, from initial identification of available titles and curation of each site’s film programme, to getting the film on screen for each member site, right through to the final steps of getting the film back to the distributor and making sure that everyone has been paid.

In addition, we provide networking opportunities throughout the year for our members where they can discuss upcoming films, exchange ideas and preview films. Our programming meetings, screening days, and VIEWING:SESSIONS event help them develop their own film programming and audience development skills.

How do you choose which films to programme?

A crucial part of our job is knowing what films are available to programme for a specific time frame for our members, and maintaining relationships with the various rights holders of those films. We are constantly in contact with film distributors in both Ireland and the UK and meet with various distributors face-to-face during the year. We observe what is being programmed by the Irish Film Institute, Light House Cinema and Queen’s Film Theatre but would also look at the programmes of the main cultural film venues in the UK, e.g. the British Film Institute, the ICA London and Filmhouse Edinburgh. We attend press screenings and distributor slate presentations in Dublin, as well as industry screening days and presentations in the UK.

Do you get to go to festivals and watch a lot films?!

We do! The access>CINEMA team attend the national Irish film festivals in Dublin, Galway and Cork. I also travel to Cannes and London for the film festivals there. On an average week, each member of the team would watch at least 2-3 films so that we can provide the correct advice to our members. But in a busy week that could increase to at least one film a day on top of the normal work load, and during a festival we are sometimes watching as many as 5 or 6 films a day!

There are now so many films released on a weekly basis - and not just the big commercial ones – that often there are some world cinema titles that may screen on a limited basis in the UK but won’t be released in Ireland. So if we feel that there is an audience for a film like that in Ireland, we'll pursue that particular title and make it available to our members so that it screens exclusively across the access>CINEMA network. The Finnish film, The Fencer, is a recent example of this.

A large part of our remit is also to support Irish films. We often work directly with Irish filmmakers (both for feature length and short films) to help them place and connect their work with Irish audiences. Recently we screened Between Land and Sea (director Ross Whitaker) across our network. At the moment we're working with producer Brian Willis at Igloo, to screen Kealan O’Rouke’s Christmas-themed short film, The Lost Letter, during December.

What are some of your favourite films to watch out for in 2018?

Films I’d recommend watching out for in 2018? The list is endless! But for starters go see the Russian film, Loveless, by Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Banishment, Leviathan) which will be released in February and in my humble opinion should have won the 2017 Palme d’Or in Cannes this year.

South American films include, A Fantastic Woman, from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria), and Zama which marks the return after a nine-year absence of superb Argentinian director, Lucrecia Martel.

The wonderful Irish film, Michael Inside, from Frank Berry features a star-in-the making Dafhyd Flynn. And another great Irish film is Ken Wardrop’s new Arts Council-supported, Making The Grade.

For pure escapism, entertainment and the magic of cinema, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a must. And while I have yet to see it, like everyone else I am looking forward to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan. And that’s only in the first few months of next year!

Do independent European and Irish films appeal to your members and their audiences?

Yes, European and Irish films make up a very strong element of the films that we offer. Of course there are fluctuations depending on what films are being released and available through regular distribution channels. In recent years about 60% of the films shown by access>CINEMA members are European which includes films from Ireland.

In 2016, the most widely screened and attended films across our network included Mustang (Turkey, France), Brooklyn (Ireland), Tangerines (Estonia), Rams (Iceland), Marguerite (France) and The Lady in the Van (UK). While we are still collecting the information for 2017, so far this year A Man Called Ove (Sweden), The Olive Tree (Spain) and Sanctuary (Ireland) have been some of the most popular titles programmed by our members.

What kind of support have you received from Creative Europe MEDIA and how has it helped in making European film more accessible to audiences?

The access>CINEMA network has received two main kinds of support from Creative Europe MEDIA. Firstly approximately 20 access>CINEMA members are aligned to Europa Cinemas, a film theatre network supported by the MEDIA programme, whose objective is to provide operational and financial support to cinemas that are screening a significant number of European non-national films.

Back in 2004, access>CINEMA became the first mini-network of part-time venues showing cultural cinema to be accepted as a member of Europa Cinemas. This pioneering step acknowledged the significant impact that access>CINEMA and its member groups had in extending access to a diverse range of cinema for audiences throughout Ireland. The support received from Europa Cinemas is crucial in allowing these part-time cinema exhibitors to develop and extend the programming of European cinema in their localities.

In recent years, access>CINEMA has successfully applied to MEDIA for Cinema Distribution support under their Selective Scheme. This has allowed us to act as the Irish distributor for a number of European titles including the Icelandic film Rams, the German film Toni Erdmann, and most recently the 2017 Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear Winner, On Body and Soul.

The distribution support received from MEDIA allows access>CINEMA to combine its cultural cinema expertise and knowledge of Ireland’s exhibition landscape to maximise awareness of these European films. This increases the number of cinemas where these films are screened and creates greater access for audiences to those films. Cultural diversity is very important and without the part-time cinemas in our network many regional audiences wouldn’t be able to access anything other than the more commercial films screening in their local multiplex.

What access>CINEMA events and collaborations should we look out for in 2018?

At the end of February 2018, we will partner with the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on a tour which will screen a film from ADIFF and bring the ‘Festival experience’ to 5 locations – Drogheda, Dun Laoghaire, Navan, Newbridge and Sligo. This is the second year of the tour, which is currently supported by the Arts Council under their Touring and Dissemination of Work Scheme.

April 2018 will also see the 10th edition of the Japanese Film Festival. Since it first started access>CINEMA has been a co-organiser of JFF alongside The Embassy of Japan and the Ireland Japan Association, with support from the Japan Foundation. JFF has grown steadily over the past 10 years, and we are proud to say that it is also Ireland’s only truly national film festival. In 2017, the Festival presented 46 screenings of 21 films over a 2 week period in 8 locations - Dundalk, Cork, Galway, Maynooth, Sligo, Limerick, Dublin and Waterford. 2018 promises to visit even more locations, with details being announced in January 2018.

In Spring 2018, access>CINEMA will also release the Bulgarian film Glory (Slava) in Ireland with support from Creative Europe/MEDIA. Glory (trailer below) is the second feature from co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, whose award-winning debut, The Lesson, we previously released in Ireland. Glory had already won numerous awards including Best Screenplay at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017 and Best International Feature Film at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

How can a film society or art centre become part of access>CINEMA?

Any group or organisation who would like to know more about becoming part of access>CINEMA’s membership can call us on 01 679 4420 or send us an email on We hold two information sessions a year in summer and winter for anyone with an interest in starting film screenings in their locality. We also hold test screenings for groups with a venue and screening equipment. These test screenings allow groups to see if there's an appetite locally for screenings while also showing them the curatorial service that we can provide to them.

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