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“I think we are stubbornly independent. Proudly independent is perhaps a better way of looking at it,” says Joan Parsons, senior programmer at Showroom cinema, one of the biggest independent cinemas in Europe.

We are sitting at the Showroom cafe and restaurant, which is buzzing on a Thursday afternoon. People are having coffee and lunch, or are working on their laptops.

“Our independence is vital, every kind of chain brings a huge infrastructure. We are the little man but not; we’re the big little man,” says Joan. Thanks to its independence, the showroom has the liberty to support local new talent through work with Film Hub North and the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network.

The showroom opened in 1995, during a wave of redevelopment in the cultural industries quarter in the city centre. Ever since, it has built a loyal customer base thanks to its programme and regular events.

When it comes to their programme, the most important thing Joan has to consider is their audience. “I try to imagine different ways of audiences. Is there an obvious audience or is there perhaps a secondary audience? There may be a subject matter audience I can find, or they are quite difficult titles that you have to work harder to find the audience for. It’s vital that there’s an audience engagement with the programme,” she says.

She usually gets the films she wants to screen, even though, with four screens, they can’t screen everything on release. Even if they get in a film a month after release, it will be screened because they don’t want a gap in their customers’ choice.

They also hold regular events and one-off screenings. “We have six or seven festivals year-round, different seasons, one-off events, and conferences with screenings, all sorts of stuff. Usually, there is something on that’s a bit different every other day,” says Joan. The next events will be Sheff Doc/Fest in June, the Cinema of Childhood season curated by Mark Cousins, and a Horror festival and a Sci-Fi season later this year. There is also a monthly free screening at the Showroom cafe, where local filmmakers showcase their short films.

Doc/Fest is a major highlight of the year for Joan. It places the Showroom in the centre of the documentary film industry. “It is nice to have a festival here that is so well-run, and so important,” she says.

“We’re a cinema, but we’re not just a cinema; it’s about engagement, and using film in its wider sense of communicating with people. It’s about working with the film industry across the whole spectrum,” says Joan. This is what sets the Showroom apart from the multiplex across the street. “People come to us for different reasons. They often come to see a more serious film, to be moved, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t come with all their friends for a great night out.”

Joan also has a few tips for new talent and Jammers. Short films, being very important are difficult to get into cinemas because it’s difficult to put together a programme and get an audience. “With short films, I would always recommend to go down the festival line, get the film into as many festivals as possible, and work with established schemes for short film makers,” she says.

As for feature films, Joan says she is regularly sent films from all over the shop and it’s not easy to decide whether to screen them. “I would always want to support filmmaking and young filmmakers, but it’s very difficult to do that by simply putting their film on screen,” she says. “I watch all the films we get sent, and if it’s a film I really think is great, then I will take a punt on it and screen it.”

Self-distributing does work in some cases, but it is difficult to get an audience for unknown new filmmakers. An interesting concept is crowdfunding screenings. “We recently gave someone an 11pm slot to screen their film, and they sold the tickets on Kickstarter beforehand. I hope this model will take off in the next year because it’s a great way to get your film into the cinema. The risk is taken away from the cinema and it encourages the filmmakers and their team to do a lot of the PR that otherwise would be left to the cinema. It’s the next stage from funding your film on Kickstarter,” explains Joan.

The Showroom cinema is an internationally significant culture hub, and thus a vital part of the city. A visit is highly recommended on a trip to Sheffield.

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Lynn Klein is a journalist currently doing a print journalism MA at Sheffield. Unsurprisingly, she's a film buff with a love for art and indie film. Her favourite cinema is the Duke of Yorks in Brighton. Other interests include books, coffee and travelling.

Posted on Apr 10, 2014

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