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Audience Development: Back to Basics

Date posted: 17.11.2010

Film London's Exhibitors' Forums are a regular opportunity for those working in cinemas, at film festivals or any other screening space in the capital to meet each other and the Audience Development team at Film London, as well as discuss issues relevant to the cultural exhibition sector today. This month's session, held at Open the Gate - a unique cultural centre dedicated to the promotion of African and Black culture through film, art, music and social activities - covered the basics of attracting and sustaining an audience.

Helen Ball, Head of Engagement Services at Audiences London, led the core of the discussion - encouraging an interactive approach in looking at the often overlooked aspect of audience development and its benefits to exhibition projects.She highlighted the need to work with audiences, illustrated by the 'the triple bottom line' of: financial survival; making a difference to people's lives; and making great art. To achieve the right balance the following five characteristics of effective audience development were explored:

  • Purpose: activity should be planned and executed with the organisation objectives in mind.
  • Relationships: unlike some marketing processes, audience development leads to the development of long-term, mutually beneficial and adapting relationships, rather than single transactions.
  • Organisation-wide:  embraced by the whole enterprise working in a co-ordinated way, this approach must be held at all levels of management and cross departments.
  • Sustainable: methods employed in achieving objectives must be able to continue by having the necessary resources in place.
  • Evidence-led: activities carried out must be based on sound research and developed outcomes, engaging in what audiences want and need.

A conclusion reached was that it is through the final evaluation stages that event organisers can truly begin to see the effectiveness of a project and that monitoring is an essential part of this process.

Anna Kime and Paul Bowman from Film London shared how a joined-up and focused approach related back to two of the  audience development schemes currently open for application: the Cultural Film Exhibition Fund and the Education 'Hubs' Fund. Specific case studies were then presented to the Forum participants from a selection of successful projects previously funded by Film London.

Kunle Olulode, Chair of The New Black, briefly discussed the network which evolved from a two year training programme of the same name launched by Film London in 2008. The New Black's latest project was the 'Fela and Me' tour, which exhibited  A Slice of Fela at venues across the UK, a new documentary focused on the life of the 'King of Afrobeat' Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. The screenings were accompanied by a Q&A with Fela's long term manager Rikki Stein and an international, world class panel of close friends and colleagues - an addition to the programme which brought the whole event to life.

Sylviane Rano, Director of Images of Black Women Film Festival - a project supported by Film London's Black Film Exhibition Publicity Fund - then took to the floor and gave an inspiring talk about this year's festival which took place in April at the Tricycle in Kilburn. The festival promotes women of African descent both behind and in front of the camera and Sylviane stressed the importance of communicating the message that this should not limit the audience to within the African community, or to target screenings simply at the female demographic.

The proceedings were concluded with a short speech from Yvonne Connike from the Black London Film Heritage Project, which is supported by Film London and the UK Film Council's Digital Film Archive Fund. She discussed the project that has been designed to create an accessible, high quality compilation programme of archive film material that will be available for bookings in cinemas, alternative venues, community groups, film societies, and membership organisations across the capital. Yvonne made a call out to any organisation or individuals holding film material which they would like to be considered for inclusion in this project - if you would like to know more about this, or if you have material to submit, please email

Visit the new dedicated Exhibitors' Forums section to find an overview of previous subjects discussed, as well as gain access to downloadable material.

Film London's Cultural Film Exhibition Fund and Education 'Hubs' Fund are both open for application until 24 November.

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