INTERVIEW: FILMHOUSE SUNDERLAND | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Portrait of a Lady on Fire image courtesy of Lilies Films

Filmhouse Sunderland is a new cinema project bringing a wide-ranging programme of independent film to the city. A prelude to the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival 2020, after opening the festival with a glittering 4K restoration of Federico Fellini’s acclaimed masterpiece La Dolce Vita, co-curators Jonny Tull and Chris J. Allan reflected on what the project means, and the great stuff still to come.

“Sunderland has a brilliant cultural offer with loads of energy, so it’ll be great to see how film feeds into that,” enthused Jonny, the independent film specialist brought in to run the project. “We’re offering an opportunity for people to enjoy something other than mainstream cinema; not better, just other. This is about giving people more.”

Boasting two ten-week programmes of independent cinema, kicking off in late January and running until Thursday 2nd April, Filmhouse Sunderland takes place at the city’s Empire Cinema every Thursday and will feature a mix of specialised, foreign language, documentary and experimental film, pitched just north of mainstream with a laser-focus on offering something different. “When you’re walking down the street you don’t see these more niche films,” noted Chris, an independent filmmaker who has worked with the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival over the past couple of years. “You have to get past the mainstream for people to see these things, to show underrepresented communities that cinema has something for them.”

“There are lots of people passionate about cinema here,” said Jonny, “and each film offers an opportunity to develop new audiences. Midnight Traveller deals with the refugee experience, and we’re delivering that with refugee support services. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire speaks to the LGBTQ+ community, while 2040 is a documentary highlighting climate change and new British film The Runaways is a gritty drama with broad appeal.”

We’re offering an opportunity for people to enjoy something other than mainstream cinema

“Just because a film tackles a serious topic doesn’t mean it’s low budget and non-cinematic,” says Chris. “This is about looking at film with different eyes, getting people to flex a different muscle, and being culturally aware in different ways. We’re showing stuff worth leaving the house for.”

In service of getting people out of the house and into a new experience, accessibility is critical to Jonny. “It’s only £5 or £4 with concessions to get in, and it’s on at an accessible time of day.”

“We really wanted it to be financially accessible,” agrees Chris, “and make it so people don’t have to get all the way to Newcastle or Teesside to see these kinds of films.”

While proliferating streaming platforms mean more interesting films have a chance to reach wider home audiences, Chris remains committed to representation on the big screen.

“Having under-represented cultural experiences writ large on a big screen really matters. Filmhouse Sunderland offers an opportunity for people to witness different lives and reflect on universal experiences. That’s important, and we want to prove Sunderland is a place is where this can happen.”

Jonny is keen to conquer this threshold anxiety and deliver a timeless experience for all.

“People like being in the room and laughing and crying at the same time, and I’m passionate about how the audience meets the content. The cinema experience retains a real power that isn’t going away, and I’m excited about seeing that in Sunderland.”

Filmhouse Sunderland takes place at Empire Cinema, Sunderland every Thursday until Thursday 2nd April. For the full listings visit their website

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