Shipley Film Society

Richard Claxton shares his passion for the Shipley Film Society at the wonderful Kirkgate Centre

The best cinema outing brings together a perfect combination of location and film. The experience gets really interesting when film escapes purpose built spaces and is shown in odd venues, such as pop-up spaces, churches or community halls. Film societies do just this and first appeared in the UK in the 1920s, they are simply clubs that show films and are usually run by volunteers who operate in areas with no easy access to an art house cinema.

Shipley Film Society show their films in an old school now converted into a community space called The Kirkgate Centre. Unusually, for such an organisation, they are not affiliated with the official British Federation of Film Societies and make a stand to separate themselves from them.  Most film societies simply programme films that have played in art house cinemas the month before which is fine but doesn’t create an exciting must-see experience. Most art-house cinemas are now outsourcing their film programming to companies like City Screen which unfortunately mean the variety and depth of film is being reduced and generally becoming more conservative. Shipley Film Society differs by taking their own route to film programming. They seek out films that you have never seen and have rarely been shown in the UK or ‘lost gems’ as Paul Barret, film programmer at Shipley Film Society, describes them.

I went to the showing of ‘Once upon a time in Anomilia’. Paul introduced the it as ‘a film that has appeared in the cinemas in this country, and got great reviews, but it is quite slow and lasts three hours so no one went to see it.’ I love the fact they throw the gauntlet down to the audience. I was sold.

The thing I like immediately upon entering the hall is the cheerful chatting. The volunteers are friendly, not in an American shopping mall way, but in a genuine, ‘I’m glad you’ve made the effort to see what we are showing’ way. They have a lovely version of the concession stand made up of good bottled beers and homemade cakes. I believe there was wine but but was distracted by the many beer options! The audience were a wonderful mix of people who you wouldn’t expect to want to spend three hours watching a Turkish film in an old school hall with heating issues, but that’s part of the charm of this evening. It puts you in proximity with people outside your own peer group and the oddness of this proposed evening brings you together. I noticed one of the faces in the crowd was Mike Kenny, who is involved in Minicine, the film society based around the Armley Industrial Museum. Minicine recently picked up ‘Best Film Programming’ at the Film Society of the Year Awards 2012 and have a similar ethos to Shipley, programming those interesting films that they know will never get a UK distribution. I realise I’m in good company.

Once the film starts I’m impressed by the quality of the sound and projection and quickly begin to get lost in the amazing film. It was so good it made me reconsider the way film has been made in the past and reinforces the strength of programming at Shipley Film Society. When the film ends the cheerful chatting starts again. I’ve been to many cinemas that try and encourage conversation, even organising discussion groups after showings, but at Shipley it just seems to happen. It was a joy to be a part of.

As I depart I ask Paul about what their hopes for the future are. He replies enthusiastically ‘To get more people involved. To create more of a sense of event. To do some outdoor cinema (we had some plans for woodland showings but the wet, cold summer has meant they will be shown in 2013), to have more food at films, to finally set up  our daytime matinees for over 65s, to run more Saturday or Sunday kids/family film shows, to find some more lost, to show more short films and probably a lot more things I’ve forgotten. There’s a great Shipley way of doing things and in that spirit, we want to keep on trying out new takes on what cinema is while keeping it a really simple little project. There are no grants, no budgets, nobody gets paid, there are no ambitions to get “big” – it’s whatever we manage to make of it by our own efforts. That’s what keeps it fresh and fun, and always a challenge.’

I can’t wait.




  1. This sounds like a great society to be a part of.

    For anyone interested in film who has anything to share about the soon to be demolished Glen Royal Cinema, I have set up a blog at the following address:

    Please feel free to add any stories, experiences, memories or photos you may have.

  2. Do you every show films of a local nature? I run a small local history/reminiscence group. We meet in Shipley once a month, and I have a facebook page called Banter About Bradford (feel free to post any up-coming showings on there, local or otherwise)

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