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Michael Hall: Doing Things Differently at Genesis Cinema

Genesis Cinema's Alternative Programming & Outreach Manager Michael Hall writes for Run Riot on how East London's truly independent cinema is defying the norm; reducing ticket prices, making programming more inclusive and providing free tickets to low incomed or unwaged patrons.

Your local cinema can be important; a place where you might get your first exposure to movies as a child; a place you might take your teenage dates - an early taste of freedom; it can also be somewhere you educate yourself culturally - or even a place you take others to show them your culture. In short, your local movie house should be a thing of wonder and joy - a silver screen palace of diversity and eye-opening experiences (plus bonus popcorn smell).

All too often though these key experiences are being denied people - cinema ticket prices skyrocket, local fleapits are shut down by the dozen giving way to overpriced, homogenised chain cinemas which, be they fake-indies or straight out multiplexes, have little to no care for community or cinema.

We have been trying to do things very differently at Genesis, a one-site, family owned indie in the heart of London’s East End. We used to be a music hall back in the day, then we went through a variety of iterations as a cinema before finally closing down long-term and being revived by the Walker-Hebborn family in 1999. This building is used to being a community hub and we’ve been looking at ways to make that a more tangible thing over the last couple of years.

We began with diversity - bringing in collaborators from all kinds of backgrounds to help us stage events and programme films. We’ve worked with many and various LGBTQ+ groups on events like the FRINGE! Festival and special screenings of films like Hedwig & The Angry Inch and free double bills; programmers like The Final Girls who are introducing film fans to horror with a feminist slant; Skin Deep Magazine, Black History Walks, Reel Good Film Club and WOC Film Club help us open up our programming to people of colour and often, more specifically, women of colour.

We then developed our own in-house music and film brand #Genesisters which embodies the spirit of Riot Grrrl and offers female led music, performance and film at either zero or low cost to a truly diverse crowd and has seen performances from Dream Wife, Fightmilk, Fresh, Colour Me Wednesday and more. Radical intersectional feminism is important to us and also a lot of fun (plus free cupcakes!) We’ve hosted huge events for the London Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Iranian and Bengali communities in recent times and as a result we’ve welcomed more and more people from increasingly diverse backgrounds through our doors and into our beloved screens.

Our incredible events team has brought us long-running poetry, dance, art, bar screening and installation events that often serve to raise funds for local causes and community groups. Amidst all of this we never lose sight of the films themselves - we brought in the Cult Classic Collective, Folk Horror Cinema Club, Scared To Dance club night, Fire Records and many more to create bespoke but inexpensive screenings and events - then we began a strand called Genesis Rep that offers classic and cult film screenings, often projected from 35mm film at a fiver a ticket. But then, after working alongside the charity Volunteer Anything, we thought - what if you don’t have a fiver to spare? Should you be denied the awesome experience of cinema?

As a result we’re now offering completely free tickets to anyone on a low income every Tuesday and Thursday for any and all of our programming. We’ve had a lovely response and individuals and families who may previously have not been able to come to the cinema are now able to do that. We’re happy to see people happy and we’re so pleased to make that offer possible. We just think it’s the right thing to do.

Coupled with being the first cinema in the UK to offer a year-long commitment to female directed films with the #DirectedByWomen2017 season (spoiler: we’ll be doing this again next year, no doubt) we’ve really felt the love from our audience in recent times and were incredibly pleased to win both the Time Out local business award and the Screen Cinema Of The Year Award earlier this year.

We’ve taken these initiatives because we listen to our audience and the more we listen the more that audience grows. We believe in the magic of cinema, in accessibility, in diversity, in quality programming and lower prices. We don't think that just because you live on London everything has to cost the earth. We believe in these things because as film fans we’ve all benefitted from them and even as a business whose bread and butter is often mainstream cinema - we certainly don’t shy away from the blockbusters around here - we know that progress is key to keeping cinemas alive and offering the wonder of the cinema screen to generations that follow.


Michael James Hall is the Alternative Programming & Outreach Manager at Genesis Cinema.

Twitter @MichaelJamesH