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"Inclusive, relevant, timely”: Tyrone Walker-Hebborn on ‘Fragments’, Genesis Cinema’s new Festival

Image: Tyrone Walker-Hebborn, Owner, Genesis Cinema. Photo credit: Cristian Solimeno.

Situated in a building originally called the Paragon Music Hall (built in 1855), Genesis Cinema is east London’s oldest movie house. In its modern incarnation the 5-screen venue is a rarity in the world of visual entertainment. Unlike many others it remains wholly independent, family run, and strikes a damn fine balance of arthouse, world, and commercial cinema that attracts a truly diverse audience. What's more, in 2019 this heady mix of programming and independence reaches a milestone - the award winning Genesis Cinema is a fantastic 20-years young!

On 7 June Genesis Cinema launches the first edition of Fragments Festival, which aims to "celebrate and champion inclusivity". The films breathing oxygen into this mission statement include the beautiful coming of age 'We The Animals' based on the Justin Torres novel; the British film ‘Time To Die’ exploring assisted-suicide; and ‘Permission’ about an Iranian women’s fight to play futsal (football played on a hard court) when her estranged husband uses his legal right to refuse her leaving the country to compete. These are just a taste of the 9-day festival of screenings (7-15 June).

Owner of Genesis Cinema (and also co-founder of the East End Film Festival), Tyrone Walker-Hebborn talks to Run-Riot about streaming, surviving as an independent and how Fragments Festival helps filmmakers whose focus is outside the traditional gaze.

Jayson Mansaray: What are you trying to achieve with Fragments Festival?

Tyrone Walker-Hebborn: Our main aim is to give underrepresented film makers a platform to showcase their work and to hopefully expose audiences to something new, inspiring and enlightening.

Jayson: You are off to Cannes Film Festival, what does that entail for you?

Tyrone: Rosé! Actually, I’ll be watching my friend Dexter Fletcher’s latest film ‘Rocketman’ pretty much as soon as I land and slip into my tux. I am a board member of the wonderful organisation Film London and so I will be chatting to people about why they should be making films in the UK, London in particular. All of this while trying to avoid Brexit conversations. #LondonIsOpen.

Jayson: When Jane Campion chaired the jury at Cannes she said it was “undemocratic” how few women were recognised, is this something Fragments looks at?

Tyrone: Absolutely, the catalyst for the festival’s inception was the fact that only 16% of films are directed by women and even after the #MeToo movement in Hollywood there was only one female directed film nominated for an award. The Fragments programme this year has 80% of the films made by filmmakers who do not identify as straight white cis males.

Jayson: It’s not just women that are often underrepresented in film - what have you found?

Tyrone: There’s certainly an imbalance across representation in film, both on screen and behind the camera. We sought to focus specifically on inclusivity when designing this festival.

Jayson: With that in mind what are some of the Fragments Festival selections that champion these people?

Tyrone: We have ‘A Season in France’ which champions refugees, ‘Vision Portraits’ - highlighting visually impaired artists. ‘Red Cow’ and ‘Carmen & Lola’ - each film exploring lesbian relationships in different communities, the first in Israel and the latter in a gypsy community in Spain. ‘Permission’ - an Iranian film about the women’s national futsal team, focusing on women’s rights in Iran, as the team captain is banned from leaving the country by her estranged husband. ‘The Social Model’ - a documentary discussing how disability is portrayed in film. The film examines the emerging grassroots disability film movement in the UK. It was produced by 104 films, a production company supporting and promoting the work of disabled artists. Finally, we have two films that concentrate on indigenous cultures - 'She Who Must Be Loved', and 'Edge of the Knife'.

Jayson: How would you describe the level of films, are they all newcomers and experimental?

Tyrone: There are certainly a wide range of films: shorts or features from new filmmakers and features from seasoned filmmakers. We’re very excited to announce that we will be holding a gala screening of Max Minghella’s debut film ‘Teen Spirit’. We specifically wanted to highlight young filmmakers, and we’ve got three excellent short films by people under 16. Every film in the programme is superb. Whether it be by a first time filmmaker or from a more experienced one you’d be hard pressed to try to differentiate them based on that.

Jayson: Often the film festival submission process is most challenging for filmmakers, costs being one of them, how did you approach this for Fragments Festival?

Tyrone: The costs for submissions was to ensure that our preselection team was paid a fair wage. We included a low income bracket for submissions, but to go one step further in ensuring accessibility we held a ‘Wild Card Week’ in which filmmakers could pitch us their film on social media, and our favourites received a fee waiver code. We also invited people 16 and under to submit for free.

Jayson: Who is the selection committee and how did they approach the choices made?

Tyrone: Our preselection panel and programming team is a wide mix of film lovers from filmmakers to writers, actors, curators and photographers. Our selection committee was split into two tiers. There were five preselectors of different backgrounds to ensure that we reflected the ethos of the festival throughout the selection process. Each selection was watched by at least two preselectors before a shortlist was passed up to our programming team, who decided the final festival listings. We wanted to represent as wide a range of individuals as possible, so even though often we had several excellent films on the same subject, we found ourselves having to make very difficult decisions but we feel we’ve put together a programme that’s both interesting and varied.

Jayson: I love film but I also like a ‘Kiki’ aka a party... what’s on at Fragments Festival?

Tyrone: We also love a ‘Kiki’ at Fragments Festival! We'll have live bands - mostly female led - playing every day at Genesis Cinema, with the highlight being the #Genesisters party where ‘Suggested Friends’ will be headlining.

Jayson: No being diplomatic please, what’s a highlight of the programme for you personally?

Tyrone: I would say that ‘Searching Eva’ would have to be one of my highlights. The protagonist is a feminist, sex worker, poet, queer writer and it’s a coming of age tale for the digital generation. We’re very pleased to say that Eva Collé, the star of the film, will be joining us for a Q&A after the film. We’ll also be holding another panel during the festival with sex worker activist Joana Nastari.

Jayson: How does an independent cinema, like Genesis, find a place in the market against massive cinema franchises and the rise in online streaming e.g. Netflix, Amazon Hulu?

Tyrone: Genesis is not only totally independent but also family owned and run, with a strong set of core values. We want every customer to feel like a member of our Genesis family and we price and programme with them in mind, every step of the way. We’re very lucky in that we are totally autonomous, allowing us to be fair with our ticket prices. I feel Netflix and other streaming sites just exposes film to more people. We’ve found that our audiences have actually grown since they’ve come into the marketplace.

Jayson: Tyrone, happy 20th birthday! Any plans for Genesis to celebrate the milestone?

Tyrone: Thank you. I still can’t quite believe it’s been that long! We had two weeks of birthday celebrations in May, offering our customers the chance to come and watch a classic selection of films from the past 20 years. All for £2.50 and a free pint – courtesy of our good friends Truman’s Brewery. We also had a party on the 10th May to coincide with the Fragments Festival launch, inviting collaborators, filmmakers, friends and family to come and celebrate with us. As with most Genesis parties, it carried on until the wee hours…

Jayson: I love rapid fire questions for these interviews so in three words please describe the below:
Fragments Festival
Genesis Cinema

Inclusive, relevant, timely
Movies, Mochas, Martinis
Challenging, fun, fallible

Tyrone Walker-Hebborn

Fragments Festival
7-15 June 2019
Genesis Cinema