Secret Cinema


31 Tuesday 31st August 2010

You’re going to a film screening but you’ll only find out the location a couple of days before. You may not even know what film you’re watching until the opening credits roll. But fear not, your patience will be rewarded. With remarkable locations and an intricate weaving of film, performance, design and music, Secret Cinema turns a trip to the movies into an escape to another world. We caught up with Secret Cinema co-producer and operations manager Hamish Morrow before their biggest event to date, three days of tribal desert madness this coming weekend.

So what’s Secret Cinema all about?
We opened under London Bridge in December 2007 with the film Paranoid Park by Gus Van Sant. It captured people’s imaginations. Secret Cinema is about bringing the mysterious element of cinema back to the fore like it was back in the good old days of the 30s and 40s, when cinema had its biggest audience. People didn’t necessarily have a choice of what film they would see but they would come together to experience it with a group of people. It’s about recapturing that wonderment and the excitement of only finding out what you’re going to see once you are there.
It’s interesting that you reference cinema’s past because it seems that Secret Cinema is something that couldn’t have happened pre-internet.
It’s true that Secret Cinema has been enabled by the growth of the internet. The whole premise of the event is built up online – on Facebook and on Twitter – in the weeks before the screening itself. We have a loyal and engaged following who spread the word organically. Obviously the event itself is the focal point but people are really interested in continuing the conversation in other ways.
How do you come up with ideas?
With each event we try to create a different experience for the audience so it’s often reactionary to what we’ve done before. The films are chosen for their richness, not just visual – what sets we can recreate – but also cultural, so what the world around them is like. Secret Cinema is about creating a fully immersive environment whereby you can lose yourself in the sights, the smells, the ideas of the films that we screen so that when you see the film you can engage with it that much more.
Are there any films that wouldn’t suit the Secret Cinema treatment?
There are niche films that would be difficult to bring to life in that sense but we feel you can bring the Secret Cinema experience to a diverse range of films. Bugsy Malone, for example, is a colourful film with lots of iconic song and dance moments. That’s one version of Secret Cinema but the other is about building on the atmosphere of the film. So Wings of Desire was a different style of Secret Cinema. Across the weekend we had 3500 people sitting down to a subtitled German art film in a dank former cinema in Shepherd’s Bush. Although each film has its own challenges very few are out of bounds.
What has been your favourite Secret Cinema event so far?
My personal favourite was Alien because it was so atmospheric. We had 1000 people come dressed in white boiler suits to a warehouse in Shoreditch. It was difficult to distinguish between one person and the next and it brought home the sense that the culture around Secret Cinema is one of community, of an audience of people all coming to experience the same thing.
Secret Cinema is very nomadic. Would you ever settle down in a single venue?
There are always lots of plans and ideas. With Future Cinema we’re looking to grow a whole network around the UK, and subsequently around the world, of alternative screening locations. The reason we go into these unusual places is that there’s a world of amazing buildings and spaces that people don’t necessarily know about or get the chance to go to. Old picture houses across the globe are left unused and we want to restore them to their former glory by bringing an audience back to them even if their ceilings may be caving in.
Obviously the whole point is that it’s a secret so you can’t reveal what you’re doing next, but could you drop a little hint?
We’ll be bringing our tribes together. That’s all I can say.

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