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Will Warnock at the ICO’s Cultural Cinema Exhibition course

Date posted: 02.06.2015

Open City Documentary Festival's Will Warnock attended the ICO's Cultural Cinema Exhibition course thanks to a Training, Travel and Accommodation Bursary from Film Hub London.

The internationally-acclaimed course ran for the 12th year this April at BFI Southbank and featured workshops and speakers from organisations including Empire Cinemas, Dogwoof, Twentieth Century Fox and the Film Distributors Association. Will Warnock, who has worked in both marketing and programming at Bristol's Watershed Cinema and Open City Documentary Festival, reports on his experiences:

The Cultural Cinema Exhibition course is ten days of workshops, seminars, panel discussions and presentations, put together by the Independent Cinema Office to give an intense crash course in the current cinema landscape, and to provide a solid plan for career development within the exhibition industry. This year, the course was in exceptionally high demand, with twice as many applications for the places available. The successful applicants came from a variety of backgrounds, from all across the UK and Ireland, each bringing a range of skills and experiences to the numerous discussions, both during the day's sessions and the informal social sessions in the evenings.

The course touched on almost every aspect of the cultural cinema landscape, from the basics of negotiating with distributors, to the technical aspects of theatrical exhibition (a tour of the projection booth at BFI Southbank from Head of Technical, Richard Boyd, was a paradise for cinema nerds - a significant proportion of which were attending the course), to the balance of programme integrity and commercial opportunities offered by event cinema, among many other topics. The speakers were carefully selected to provide a range of viewpoints - for each established distributor worrying about the overcrowded market, there was an independent exhibitor celebrating the opportunities to directly engage with an enthusiastic audience.

The breadth and variety of speakers also acted as a comprehensive cross-section of the current state of the industry. It is a difficult time for some, with the digital transition still an ongoing process, and an arguably saturated release schedule fragmenting audiences (the oft-quoted twenty two releases for theatrical distribution on Friday 17 April was a point of much discussion, as was the rapid expansion of event/live cinema). However, the increased accessibility of the marketplace has allowed numerous independent festivals and cinemas to carve out their own space and cultivate a strong, loyal audience.

One of the most valuable sessions was the last: the contentious, and at times pessimistic 'Future of Cinema' panel was closed out with a short essay film from Paul Schrader, who argued that cinema could now be in a permanent state of flux, never settling into a stable model. Appropriately, we watched this film on a low-res YouTube stream, fifteen minutes after the scheduled end of the session, due to a lack of technical skill in calibrating the projector.

Alongside what we learnt during the day's sessions, there were numerous valuable opportunities for networking. The Screening Days in particular brought out a huge representation of programmers, distributors and festival coordinators from around the country, and the group projects during the rest of the course gave us valuable opportunities to bond with our fellow course attendees. There was a wide variety of backgrounds and jobs being represented, with people at different stages of their career. One of the most consistent messages across the course was to be personable, open and have a strong network of connections across all aspects of the industry. In that regard, the course is an undoubted success, and everything I learnt alongside that should pay off in numerous different ways in the years to come.

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