The Bigger Picture at THIS WAY UP

tbp_rgb_logoJoining the conversation at this year’s THIS WAY UP conference is The Bigger Picture, a project launched by the BFI’s Film Audience Network. The Bigger Picture tells the wider story around what’s happening in the UK exhibition sector, beyond box office impact, through a collection of case studies, articles, research and associated visual and written content.

By exhibitors for exhibitors, The Bigger Picture explores the challenges and opportunities of our industry and the role film can play in changing our lives, communities and society for the better. Recent initiatives include:

  • Black programming collective, Come the Revolution in Bristol and Birmingham
  • Reel Equality Film Club: set up to counter the dominance of male-focused stories and tired female gender stereotypes in the mainstream film industry by showing diverse and interesting women-centred stories.

Over the next week, The Bigger Picture will be publishing a series of daily conference blog pieces as well as exclusive content from THIS WAY UP. There will also be a number of in depth case studies examining the UK film exhibition sector, and session round-ups from the conference, authored by writers and programmers, Tara Judah and Dave Taylor-Matthews, and members of the BFI Audience Academy from Showroom Sheffield. The Bigger Picture will also publish research around the Parental Guidance session: Raising Films Survey: Voices of Parents & Carers in the UK Film and TV Industry, plus special blog pieces from keynote speakers Johanna Koljonen, Editor of the Nostradamus Project, on Bodies, Spaces & Communities: Designing Cinemas (& VR) and Stephen Follows, leading industry data researcher, on the question, Who Watches the Movie Watchers? Using data to understand UK cinema audiences.

Along with the recent findings around Parental Guidance in the sector, key topics at this year’s conference include the examination of the impact and opportunities around Virtual Reality in cinemas, a session on editorial choices facing critics and reviewers, the dissemination of cinema initiatives beyond metropolitan cities and out via rural pathways as well as a look into the cinematic crystal ball to see what the future holds for exhibition and its audiences.

Virtual Reality


One of the most immersive and provocative innovations facing exhibition today is the cinematic categorisation of Virtual Reality. Tom Grater is the Deputy Online Editor for Screen International and, in the session titled Personal ‘Realities’ and the Communal Experience, he’ll be speaking with panellists Melanie Iredale (Sheffield Doc/Fest), Johanna Koljonen (Nostradamus Project) and Jörg Tittel (Oiffy) about the role of VR in exhibition; playing at international film festivals, providing a platform for filmmakers, artists and interactive designers to show their work, and as an individual and contained experience of new technology proposed for integration into the cinema sector.

The panel also relates to a lunchtime session around Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, thanks to Sheffield Doc/Fest. The VR programme, which had its UK cinema tour in the summer, allows users to access the world of blindness facing John Hull, the subject of British documentary film, Notes on Blindness. The VR piece draws upon John’s sensory meditations of blindness including the awakening of his appreciation of ‘acoustic space’. Guided by narration from his original audio diaries, the experience uses binaural sound tethered to real-time 3D visualization, to map environments built up through multi-layered patterns of sound. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness will also be available to experience during the lunch break on both days for anyone who missed it, or wants to experience it again.

Parental Guidance

draft5_2-733x1024Suzy Glass from Creative Scotland will chair a session on Parental Guidance, focusing on how inflexible working hours, rigid schedules, poor childcare provision, anti-social hours and other factors contribute to the current inequity. Glass will be joined by panellists Hope Dickson-Leach (filmmaker and co-founder of Raising Films), Jilly Hargreaves (Chalk), Hannah McGill (writer, reviewer and columnist) and Nick Parr (Dundee Rep / Scottish Dance Theatre). The panel will consider recent evidence around the obstacles standing in the way of a balanced, fair industry including the recent results from Raising Film’s research report, Making It Possible: Voices of Parents & Carers in the UK film and TV Industry, and the catalyst for The Rex cinema who recently cancelled their baby-friendly screenings due to ‘complaints’. The studies clearly demonstrate that positive attitudes, affirmative action and an urgent response is required if we’re to make a difference in our sector.

A second piece of research, from Creative Scotland, Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Survey, as part of the Screen Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Review, outlines experiences and limitations of the realities within the sector. Looking at the working patterns and explaining the policies, attitudes and effects across the sector, the panellists will also take the data and explanatory findings from these reports to explore what can be done to make a difference in UK venues and across the industry.

Key Speakers

Documentary filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams, whose documentary Life, Animated is soon to hit UK cinema screens after it enjoyed great success on the festival circuit, will kick off day two of the festival in conversation with BBC Radio Scotland presenter, Janice Forsyth. Williams’ documentary explores the power of cinema through a case study of Owen Suskind, whose life was irrevocably changed, for the better, when his family and carers discovered he could communicate through the language and stories of Disney’s animated films. Finally able to break through the prism of his autism, Suskind’s journey is one from isolation to a rich social life. Ross Williams will talk about his career and the impact of factual storytelling both onscreen and beyond.


Bobby Allen, VP of Content for MUBI, will address the paradoxes of abundance and access that face our industry. As the shape of the industry continues to change, exhibitors find themselves competing, now, in an attention economy. Wondering where things will go next, as digital technologies continue to evolve and as curators and programmers develop the brand of their venues and initiatives, Allen will address how we can work together, as an industry, to solve the problem of constantly evolving human behaviour.

Johanna Kolhonen is the Editor for the Nostradamus Project, an initiative launched by the Göteborg Film Festival in collaboration with the Lindholmen Science Park to document and aggregate changes in the industry with a view to predicting its near future. Looking towards the next five years, the project studies the past to get a handle on the patterns of change around distribution platforms, business models, changing technologies and audience expectations. Kolhonen will outline experience design tools on how to move from the notion of running screenings to building longevity and engaged film culture.

Dawn Walton, Founder and Artistic Director of Eclipse Theatre Company, the leading black-led national touring company, will look at how cinema spaces impact audience engagement. Permanent bricks and mortar buildings have both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to reaching out to diverse communities and re-inventing the perception of venue as institution. On the other hand, pop-ups and community-led initiatives offer temporary experiences and transient engagement. Walton will look at the responsibilities venues and start-ups have in working with and for diverse audiences in their local communities.


There will also be an address from leading industry data researcher, Stephen Follows, picking apart who watches what in the hopes of offering data-driven ways of understanding and developing your audience. There are further panels around the importance of formats for audiences, case studies of audience development models and successful collaborations, an examination of the impact of cinema and service design, the problems and opportunities around price and offer in your venue as well as a very special screening of Wunder der Shöpfung (1925) with live music accompaniment and, finally, a presentation of the BFI’s new strategy for 2017-2022.

With more than 20 workshops, panel discussions and keynotes, there’s a lot to explore at THIS WAY UP and The Bigger Picture is a great way to catch up with content during and after the conference. Aiming to open access to relevant and innovative information from THIS WAY UP, follow The Bigger Picture on Twitter, @bigger_pict and check in with the website:

Written by Tara Judah for The Bigger Picture.