After one year in post, Director of Film Programming Luke W Moody shares his thoughts about a wave of change in cinema exhibition.

As the new programmer and curator of film for Sheffield Doc/Fest, the months after my first edition in June have offered space to reflect before beginning the preparation for our 25th Edition with the team.

There’s much to learn from the 2017 edition: through data analysis, surveys, audience anecdotes and staring into the eyes of a charming Yorkshire audience. The words and ways of others near and far also influence and inspire the ambition of our programme, from casual informative interviews, to deep theory, or simply being present at cinemas and festivals to absorb, analyse, digest and dream.

There are many cool people rethinking the way we exhibit films in support of filmmakers and their audiences of cinephiles and cinechilds. This report (click here to read) on emerging cinema exhibition practices in Europe is heartening; it portrays a hopeful horizon of new traditions of inclusiveness and community being established internationally at cinemas and festivals. Two further articles published last week looked back and forward at the role of community cinema and film societies in our collective encounter with film culture (click here and here to read). Both are reminders of film’s ascendancy as an art for all. Though many of these models exist at a grassroots level, gradually this knowledge, praxis and ethos is feeding into larger institutions including our own.

Eric Hynes’ article from earlier this year (click here to read) offers further exemplary visions from international festivals doing things differently for and with their community. After a year of working in Sheffield, I’ve been familiarising myself with the city’s new cultural scenes and also reading about historic cinemas of the city, shedding a tear and a secretion of screen drool for the lost Regent/Gaumont built originally opposite City Hall as a 2,300-seat cinema (click here for photo) and converted in the '60s into a modern 750 and 1,100 seat capacity cinema with 70mm cinerama (click here for photo). Just look at that majestic canvas. Fortunately the fate of bulldozian demolition was not bestowed one of Doc/Fest’s increasingly treasured venues: The Abbeydale Picturehouse, a 1920s picture palace. The venue continues to be lovingly restored by the community including keep fit enthusiasts (yes, these people do squats on cinema chairs) (click here to read more).

Our 2017 edition was surrounded by an unfolding reality of shifting UK politics. We opened on the day of a symbolic national election outcome, and closed on the day shocking scenes of social inequality were broadcast from Grenfell Tower in London. These events could not be predicted months prior when we discussed and finalised our film programme, but they are what we are here to reflect upon as a documentary festival: to respond to, celebrate, share and debate the stories of our time. How can we as a film programme adapt to be reactive as a platform to shape and be shaped by such unfolding narratives – to bridge reality, audience and filmmakers?

The recent actions Ambulante, DocsMX and other institutions in the aftermath of a Mexican earthquake are deeply inspiring and their message is an emphatic reminder of the power of art and an art institution’s locus in society: "#Másquenunca we believe that art and culture are of the most noble ways to achieve empathy, communion and solidarity." (Click here to read more.) 

Continuing these thoughts about our role in bridging audience, filmmaker and the world portrayed on screen, this Caspar Salmon article (click here to read) about his lack of love for Q&As prompted me to reconsider our own post-screening Q&As as a forum for including and debating. How can audiences interact, feedback and respond to filmmakers and cinema in more meaningful ways? How do we give space to thoughts that emerge long after the credits have rolled? How do we as a forum mediate between the ‘universal’ or ‘global’ story on screen and the ‘local’ reality immediately outside the cinema, the reality of Sheffield?

Festivals have the opportunity to lead the way in exhibition experimentation and integrity, framing a film’s reception, through love, critique, vibes, local and wider impact. I’m sensing, at least from a UK perspective, an emerging generation of reformation in programming and screening film. Opening our submissions for the first time in my role gave me a little grin of warm excitement to be part of these changes in action.

Doc/Comment is a new home for thoughts, interviews, things we love and want to share with our community.