Cinema For All at Barnt Green

Barnt Green Quaker John West reflects on the film club that the meeting has recently started:

When a new six foot wide screen appeared at Barnt Green Meeting House the idea of a cinema club was born. Several Attenders and Friends embraced the idea but some more conservative Friends resisted any change. Friends have to be open to the promptings of the spirit. Doing things as they have always been done can result in spiritual paralysis. The accepted ways become venerated as the only way and anything else can be considered to be heresy.

Sadly, many people did not know what a cinema club was. Others did not want change. To keep new people coming to Meetings you have to make them and their ideas welcome. The promptings of the spirit may come from new people and their inspiration may be unwelcome.

It took several years before the cinema idea was accepted.

A Quaker principle is that Quakers provide good quality. As a result the best used projector to be found was purchased. The FeckenOdeon cinema group at Feckenham Village Hall, generously provided good advice. Second-hand speakers were sought on Ebay and a very good set along with a good amplifier were purchased at a very modest price. We were lent a screen from Feckenham village hall for our first screening.

The projector and speakers with a mass of cable arrived one Sunday and we were able to run a show the following Sunday, minus the bass speaker(which no one noticed.) The projector was precariously balanced on two tables then, but it managed to survive. The equipment is considered to be of a high standard and better than many local cinemas used to have before the digital age.

A roller screen and pelmet were installed so that the screen could be raised out of sight when not in use and the pelmet was made to harmonise with the wooden panels in the hall. Many village halls are criticised for showing “letter box” pictures as films shot with a panoramic frame leave black bars top and bottom of the screen and waste much of the picture’s pixels. Our wider screen and high definition system allows us to show films as they were intended to be seen, with no bars showing above or below the picture.

Thanks to the generosity of Friends the projector was permanently fixed to the roof.

It took over two weeks to install the screen and the speakers. Plus more time to conceal the cable runs in wooden trunking that matched the wooden panelling. It involved running over four hundred feet of cable to permit the system to work on all eight stereophonic sound channels. We may add an other bass speaker by the screen, eventually.

As the cost of having a control cabinet was too great, so all the portable equipment has been fixed to an IKEA kitchen trolley, so that it can be disconnected, rolled away and stored securely when not in use.

Most of the cost has been met by earnings from the film industry. We are able to obtain grants from Cinema For All which is funded by the British Film Institute. That may enable us to replace the old chairs that came from Bull Street FMH.

Presently, we are choosing films for entertainment to attract local people. The plan is to start showing more thoughtful films. The equipment allows videos on a USB stick to be shown, so we can download films made by Friends House and exhibit them. The Church Video License that we have, allows us to show a very wide range of religious productions and information films. All we need is the request to show something.

The church license does not preclude us charging for films, if we purchase the license from the distributors. The cost is about £100 per performance, so we would need 20 people paying £5 each to break even.

This is nothing new; a Methodist Hall in London had full 35mm cinema equipment until it was destroyed by bombing in WWII. Dublin Friends Meeting House in the bohemian Temple Bar area of the city, shares its premises with the Irish Film Institute, which has three cinemas, a video shop and a cafe in the same building.

“King of Kings” has been purchased with the intention of showing it next Easter. It is an epic that is considered to be one of the best Hollywood versions of the life of Christ.

We have this wonderful facility and I hope that Friends and our local community will use its potential. Film can make people think anew. Videos from Friends House can be uploaded via a USB port, as can many educational films. The only limitation is the imagination of Friends as to how to use audio-visual means to spread the Quaker message.

As heating gets more expensive, showing films in our warm Meeting House should get more attractive to people who are cold at home. (There was one pensioner who always bought a ticket for the same seat for matinees at Derby Playhouse. She said that it was cheaper than keeping the heating on at home…) Our present program ends with a Julie Andrews film set in Austria, which we are showing in December. Let us hope that we can show some more family entertainment films over the holiday period. The Feckenodeon film group has generously offered us the free use of their Blu-ray film archive, so we are spoiled for choice. Our licence allows us to exhibit any number of films for Outreach, provided that we do not advertise the titles in advance and do not charge for admission. We are permitted to collect towards our overheads and charge for catering and drinks. We just need people who are willing to run this.

Establishing that FMH is a place of warmth and friendship may do much for outreach and prove that we really are Friends.