FEATURE: The Star & Shadow Cinema | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In its Ouseburn incarnation the Star and Shadow Cinema was the bastion of DIY activity in Newcastle. Having opened in 2006, the volunteer-run cinema quickly became a hub of creativity and the place to watch under-the-radar screenings, a welcome and inclusive space for film makers, musicians, artists and audiences alike. Having been forced to move from its Stepney Bank location in 2014, the Star and Shadow has been sorely missed in its four year absence.

The cinema will be reopening this month in its new Warwick Street premises (the former ScS furniture store opposite City Stadium), volunteer Leah Millar explains that the organisation’s ethos is what kept plans on track. “Star And Shadow is still fundamentally a DIY space for the North East, premised on the principal that we are all equal and can teach ourselves the things we need, to do the stuff we want to do, or understand the stuff we want to understand. That might be film, music, building, technical skills, or more abstract issues like how society functions, patterns of oppression or ways we can take control of our lives or bring the city to a human scale, to feel involved and give us agency.”

Over 500 people helped to build the new space. “We’ve had a whiteboard throughout the building process with various translations of common tools for the folk who have helped us from Syria and Eritrea. People have come from the Kino Climates network of European Alternative Cinemas to help us, from Romania and Hamburg, Liverpool and Bristol. It has been an inspiringly collaborative project. There have been a whole bunch of people who deserve statues for their worker dedication, but in a way the new Star And Shadow Cinema is that statue, and for everyone who has been involved – whether they have cooked a meal for site labourers, fixed a third layer of plasterboard to the underside of a ceiling three meters up in the air, or found the money to do all of this in the first place.”

We will always be a home for underground and alternative cinema and music and other culture, because that is the culture that asks questions, as opposed to the stuff which stops questions being asked

The key difference between the new space and the old, is that the Star and Shadow own the building they’re in, and with this comes the responsibility of sustainability. “The ownership is a big deal because we are a collectively managed, open-to-anyone organisation, which by extension means this is now a piece of common land in the centre of Newcastle.” Funding has come from various sources, Leah describes Newcastle City Council as “helpful and generous”, and they’ve been the recipient of Arts Council and National Lottery grants, a crowdfunder which pulled in over £40,000, plus a very special gift. “We will always be indebted to the local scientist Daedalus, who gifted S&S the value of his house in his will. That display of generosity and trust is the fuel that makes us want to take responsibility for making this place truly amazing and democratic at the same time.”

With an open programming policy, and an emphasis on “dialogue, representation and play rather than profit”, it’s a space which can be used imaginatively and by all. “We will always be a home for underground and alternative cinema and music and other culture, because that is the culture that asks questions, as opposed to the stuff which stops questions being asked.”

Leah talks about the “very cool” features of the new building, including concrete floors (“perfect for roller skating around”) and, eventually, a café, not to mention the new facility for digital screenings as well as 16mm and 35mm film projection, family friendly programming and increased accessibility, plus Blank Studios are also taking up residence in the space, providing opportunities for training, music recording and experimentation. “The amazing sound proofing means we should be able to have lots going on without affecting our nearby neighbours. All the spaces are linked up to Blank’s recording studio so stuff can be recorded really well and really quickly.” Leah explains. “We have an incredible new cinema auditorium with a specially commissioned installation by Annette Knol, who designed many of the early S&S brochures, with a raspberry pi powered lightbox display. We also are shortly launching a new website which should make collectively running the space a bit easier. It’s a pretty much spanking new building with all the mod cons, but built by us, the people who frequent the Star and Shadow Cinema.”

Once the cinema is open, phase two will begin in earnest – workshop spaces for a dark room, screen printing, studios and meeting rooms will be on offer. Ultimately, the Star and Shadow Cinema is a space for everyone, no matter where they’re from or what their background is. “It’s hard to feel confident in striding into a place when you don’t know anyone, and are not sure of how things work or the style of the stuff that is going on, but many thousands have had the courage and so it is in all of our names so far that we stand by an anti-elitist culture that is not afraid of abstract ideas or unfamiliar expressions in film, music or any other art form.” Leah says passionately. “The open programme policy (with the caveat that it is open if you are volunteering!) is there to protect a multitude of voices speaking at the S&S, rather than a single programming group who decide what culture is important. This means showing a blockbuster is completely fine – it just may change its meaning slightly when you watch it at the Star and Shadow!”  

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