Andre O’Garro shares his experience as a film programmer volunteer for Thamesmead Travelling Cinema.
THAMESMEAD TRAVELLING CINEMA aims to provide invaluable experience to young people in the operations of a community cinema. Now in the cinema’s second year running events and training volunteers, Bow Arts Trust generously support the volunteers with a bursary, allowing young people from diverse backgrounds to fully commit to the season of film. At the end of each season the volunteers get the chance to put their learning into practice and run their own curated programme, with mentorship from experienced film programmers Scully and Scully.
AO: Those who know me well can all agree on one thing: I’m an avid cinema fan. I’ve watched almost films in the cinema this year so far. I’m writing this piece while waiting to watch The Lost King (2022) at Odeon. Other people enjoy holidays, nights out, and attending sports events, which I too enjoy (in moderation), however, cinema is my thing. Simply put, I enjoy the feeling of watching new releases without external distractions surrounded by people who are there for the same reason. Although I’ll never get bored of going to the cinema, I yearned for new cinema experiences: different cinema chains, and outdoor cinemas. My quest for something new proved to be a success when I stumbled upon the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema, a community-based mobile cinema screen constructed from recycled materials. Now I’d heard of mobile cinema screens that would travel around the Dominican Republic, but that was before I was born. After doing my research I realised this could be the opportunity I was looking for. I quickly set up a meeting with Liam Scully and Vanessa Scully, the Founding Directors of the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema as they were looking for a cohort of volunteers for their Summer 2022 programme. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into not knowing much about Thamesmead, but the unknown can be exciting as I found out. Liam and Vanessa were great to meet: it felt like a conversation between three film buffs rather than a standard interview. They were describing what I had been searching for and just like that I was in. Now that the experience has ended, I have now contextualised the experience enough to write about it so here goes.
The training sessions were some of the best times of my summer! If someone told me I would be starring in an independent filmmaker’s next movie I would have called you mad but that’s what happened. Andrea Luka Zimmerman, an independent filmmaker, known for Estate, a Reverie (2015), wanted to use the cinema screen for her next experimental film due to be released next year. I thought I was just there to help keep the cinema maintained and run errands but no. I was asked to be a dancing extra! This caught me very off guard I was invested in awkwardly two-stepping and clapping to the music as Andrea shot take after take. It was also a great networking opportunity: I met William Fowler a film archivist at the BFI and Umama Hamido, a filmmaker/former dancer. Between takes, we would talk over handfuls of popcorn and/or dry-roasted peanuts. We exchanged details and William helped me with an archive research job application. The shoot became more enjoyable towards the end. After stepping out to help Andrea behind the camera I suddenly felt a lot more relaxed being filmed; the awkwardness was gone. My new acquaintances and I danced into the late hours of the night and before we knew it we wrapped. I remember going home on the train thinking about what I’d gotten myself into; a story to tell my future kids.
A BEAUTIFUL THING
Now that the training period was over I was ready to finally experience a night at the cinema. The first screening event of the summer was Hettie Macdonald’s A Beautiful Thing (1996) a romantic comedy about Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal), two teenagers who suspect their homosexuality. They decide to explore their impulses after Jamie has an incident with his abusive father. Having become a fan of Queer Cinema after studying Race and Sexuality on Screen I was pretty stoked to watch this film. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) is up there with my favourites of the genre: a perfect exploration of black male homosexuality in a hostile environment and how masculinity as performance clashes with who Chiron (Trevante Rhoades) is. Other films like Jenny Livingston’s Paris is Burning (1991) and Cheryl Dunne’s The Watermelon Woman (1996) are up there with my favourites too. I never expected A Beautiful Thing to reach the levels of enjoyment I feel with my favourites of the genre, but watching it in the area it was filmed in made for an interesting night.
Watching the film all these years after, I feel like the Thamesmead has retained that strong sense of community and personality. The characters in the film, particularly Tameka Empson as Leah are very personable, reflective of all the locals I’ve met during my tenure with the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema. I recall having a nice conversation with Nancy Sullivan (Director of Ruined Theatre), where we spoke about our interest in the cinema and how she appreciated the efforts Liam and Vanessa have gone to provide entertainment for film buffs in the area.
What this experience has over standard multiplex and art house cinemas is the opportunity for everyone at the site to engage in informal discussion. Guests would stay long after the film would end, ordering their last drinks and hot dogs, returning to their seats or standing by the fire. I was still serving drinks and helping around the cinema, but I kept overhearing “this is great” and “thank you so much”. Commuters and locals alike never fail to show their appreciation for their night out and it was great to witness. I always show my appreciation to cinema staff regardless of the cinema but not everyone does that. Popular cinema chains aren’t designed in ways that encourage conversation: Curzon Soho comes very close in the sense that it’s pretty easy to talk to staff and enjoy it but there’s an understanding that they have to get on with their jobs. On the way home with Magic Mike (my nickname for Mike), I found myself mulling over the night and where this summer experience could go.
The Fish Tank (2009) screening bought back great memories of studying the film during the sixth form. I wanted to use this screening as an incentive to explore Andrea Arnold’s work more as I’d only seen Fish Tank. I found myself taking mental notes on cinematography, editing, acting performances and well as social contexts the way I was taught when learning about it during college. It was a nice reminder of how far I had come since I’d last seen the film: back when I first watched it , as I wasn’t sure if I was studying the right subject. Fast forward 5 years to a time when I have achieved a first-class degree in Film and Media and was in the process of finding work in the industry. It was also my first time trying the famous Vienna Beef Hotdog served at the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema everyone had kept talking about.
E.T (1982) marked the first family-orientated event of the summer programme hosted at Birchmere Park. Again, this was another opportunity for me to revisit a film I had not seen in yonks. It was a welcomed event for me as I wanted an opportunity to see more of what Thamesmead has to offer in an area. Setting up the cinema I knew it would be a successful event. A myriad of kids and adults alike kept flocking towards us asking questions about what it is and what was happening which was pretty exciting for Liam and Vanessa: they’d put all this effort into making a cinema for Thamesmead and it’s getting the attention it deserves. Fast forward to opening and I realised how busy the night would be. I believe we had 80 people booked with many more wanting to attend. As a cinema fan myself I wanted everyone to attend! E.T is a classic movie that can capture the minds of the young. I would have loved to have seen it on a big screen as a kid so I wanted to make sure they did. A lot of the kids would be seen dancing and jumping in the excitement in the lead up to the movie being screened; I wonder what memories they will have of the night.
The screening of Labyrinth (1986) was probably my favourite event to work at with the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema. I feel like I witnessed the impact cinema can have on younger generations. As a kid, I remember watching the likes of Flight of the Navigator (1986), and Back to the Future (1985), and I remember the ways they would capture my interest during and after watching. Like the E.T event, this was another opportunity for the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema to capture the imaginations of children in attendance. Extra tickets were available at the door, for those who missed out on tickets or who by chance stumbled across the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema. I remember speaking with a mum and her four children about the cinema and what they do around the area. Somehow, I managed to capture the interest of her and her kids, so I got them tickets and they had a blast! My highlight was the kids who came back to thank Mike and I with sticks as presents which took me back to my childhood giving friends and siblings sticks and whatever I found on my adventures as gifts. I’m not the biggest fan of the movie but it was great to meet Ian Thom, a local who introduced the film who had worked as a puppeteer on the set of the film, and meet the families in attendance.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Although a bit of the novelty of watching films at the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema had worn off a bit at this point, A Clockwork Orange (1971) was the one film on the programme I was most looking forward to. For years I had been mocked and roasted by friends and film buffs alike for never watching it before. I remember trying to watch it during my university days but turning it off due to severe boredom and never revisiting it till the day of the screening. I don’t classify as a Kubrick fan but I enjoyed the likes of Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Fear and Desire (1953) a lot. There I was with my Vienna Beef Hotdog and Popcorn, sat in my on a stool in the back enjoying the movie very much so. It’s not some of my favourite work of his but it’s the encouragement towatch more of his films I should have seen by now. After the screening ended I spoke with Mike and we spoke about our appreciation for experiencing cinema differently. Both our summers would have been different for the worse if we had not done this. The drive home consisted of a nice conversation where we reflected on the memories we’ll have of the cinema moving on with our lives. Now that a few months have passed since this screening and I’m still frequently going to the cinema, I’m keen to look for more cinema experiences as exciting as the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema. I’ve made solid connections during my tenure, and I am very excited to see what direction Liam and Vanessa take the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema.
ANDRE O’GARRO is an aspiring documentary filmmaker/producer who recently finished studying Film and Media at Keele University. His interest in the medium blossomed at age 20 when he made ‘Out of The Cage’ a documentary about Lynne Bailey and her creative life post-retirement. He wanted to join the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema to meet other aspiring creatives and learn more about cinema programming.
THAMEMEAD TEXAS DIRECTORS:
Scully & Scully have been curating and commissioning film screening events in Arthouse Cinemas and Galleries since 2011 in sites across London including The Aubin Cinema, Sugarhouse Studios, Close Up Cinema, Horse Hospital, Genesis Cinema, Deptford Cinema, The Rio, TACO! and CCA Glasgow. In 2018-19 with artist Dean Kenning Scully and Scully founded Sick Monday, a film Programme that commissioned new works by 18 artists including Mirza & Butler (GB), Paul McCarthy (USA), Laure Prouvost (FR), Lindsay Hallam (AU) and Ben Rivers (GB). Recently Scully and Scully were recipients of a HLF (heritage lottery fund) commission, to make an artwork that engaged with so called hard to reach communities, including their voices in the Thamesmead Community archive. Celebrating 50 years of Thamesmead, the outcome included 15 new interviews, a multi-screen installation and the Thamesmead Travelling Cinema.
THAMEMEAD TEXAS ASSOCIATES:
ALESSIA GAMMAROTA is an Italian photographer with a Fine Art degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and a Photography degree from the European Institute of Design in Rome. After spending almost a decade documenting the major fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris and Milan for the leading production agencies in the field, she made the move to documentary photography.
She is focussed on long-term projects which explore the concept of identity through the connection between places, bodies and dress: from the colourful hijabs in Indonesia expression of cosmopolitan young generations to the identity loss due to the ongoing gentrification and social cleansing of London.
She believes in plurality of voices and conceives her stories through a multidisciplinary approach, which involved collaborations with artists, architects, anthropologists and other professionals from different fields.
ALEX TUCKWOOD is a local Designer and Maker with a passion for finding out how things work by taking things apart and fixing items which are broken. Recently he completed building The Thamesmead Travelling Cinema and is Director of Plastic Please, a recycling project based in Thamesmead. www.plasticplease.co.uk
THE THAMESMEAD TRAVELLING CINEMA is the first and only purpose-built cinema in Thamesmead. We are a Volunteer led, open air cinema run by the community for the community. Every screening is a unique and high-quality audio-visual experience.