Film choices that mark end of campaign’s nomadic existence

Tomorrow at the Spread Eagle on Katharine Street, the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign begins 2014 with a free screening of Wolf Children, off the back of a Christmas season where the auditorium was just not big enough to accommodate all those who wanted to see the films on offer (so much for Croydon Council’s line that there is no demand for an art house cinema in the borough).

After nearly three years of campaigning, it could be one of the final seasons that needs to be staged away from the eponymous cinema.

Croydon-born film director David Lean. After nearly three years, the eponymous council-run cinema is close to re-opening

Croydon-born film director David Lean. After nearly three years, the eponymous council-run cinema is close to re-opening

Here, the Campaign’s programmer, PHILIP HOWARD, outlines how he has worked tirelessly to identify the right sort of films for Croydon’s discerning cinema-goers

I have been arranging programmes of screenings for the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign since early 2012.

When a programme is agreed by the Campaign committee, it is typically the culmination of a process which has lasted several months. I have watched as many films as possible – not as many as I would like – as a regular cinema-goer. I also watch the trailers of other potential DLC films, and read reviews and features in several print and online publications.

A couple of months before the season, I check which films are available, and on which dates, through the catalogue of releases that the Spread Eagle has access to via Filmbank’s network of distributors. I then outline the results of the process to the Campaign committee; depending on how comfortable I am with the films available, this includes either a recommendation, a shortlist, or a request for a second opinion.

Some months have been easy and allowed the committee to rubber stamp my proposal, while other programmes have included films suggested by the committee at this late stage.

Our January 2014 programme includes four films, of which just one – The East, a thriller with a strong cast, promising writer-director team and intriguing eco-terrorism theme – was selected through this typical process.

I first saw all of the other three at the London Film Festival, in October 2012. In each case, it was immediately clear that they should be screened at the DLC, and I began making enquiries about their release and distribution. What I didn’t know then was that getting to the point where we could screen them would be almost as time-consuming as our efforts to put on screenings at the DLC itself.

wolf-childrenOn Monday, we will be screening the magnificent Wolf Children. This is an enchanting Japanese animation, which combines much of what British audiences will be familiar with from films by Studio Ghibli – beautiful hand-drawn illustration, and a quietly determined heroine – with the approach to plot taken by many literary science fiction authors. That is, change one thing about the world and see what happens.

Here, wolfmen live among ordinary humans; university student Hana has two children with a wolfman, and then needs to find a way to raise her unusual offspring as a widow. It’s ingenious, finds plenty of humour in the situation, and is ultimately a celebration of maternal love as much as anything else. The Daily Telegraph’s reviewer captured its spirit wonderfully.

On January 13, we’ll show Museum Hours. The DLC screened several films about friendship, though these were typically all-female affairs such as Tea with Mussolini; the only film about a (more-or-less) platonic male-female friendship I can remember is Mrs Brown.

Museum Hours is very different and features a warden at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, who spends his days thinking about the museum’s artworks and observing its visitors. He takes a lonely Canadian visitor under his wing, and shares his life in the city with her.

museum hoursIt’s a charming and insightful film, and of course features a stunning array of paintings and sculptures. For those of us who’ve had the privilege of visiting the museum, it’s a fine souvenir; for others, it will be a persuasive calling card.

The last of the London Film Festival selections is the least-well publicised of all. While Wolf Children was finally screened in eight cinemas across Britain in October, and Museum Hours had a slightly wider summer art house release, our January 27 screenings seem to be the first public outings in the UK for Winter Nomads since the LFF.

This is a great shame, as it’s both fascinating and entertaining, following shepherds Pascal and Carole on a four-month journey along an ancient transhumance (migratory grazing) route near the Swiss-French border, together with three donkeys, four dogs and about 800 sheep.

It’s a sad indictment of our domestic cinema business that no one has taken a punt on releasing this film, which was recognised as Best Documentary at the 2013 European Film Awards.

So, how did we get from the LFF to screening these three excellent pictures?

Perseverance, frankly. My initial enquiries found contact details for all three films, but these led to only one reply, from Louise Productions, the makers of Winter Nomads. They were looking into a UK cinema release at the time, so could not allow a one-off screening. I checked Google and every few weeks for alternate leads for Wolf Children and Museum Hours, and in early 2013 was passed on to a distribution company handling Winter Nomads in continental Europe.

A scene from Winter Nomads, winner of Best Documentary at the 2013 European Film Awards, and the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign's screening on January 20

A scene from Winter Nomads, winner of Best Documentary at the 2013 European Film Awards, and the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign’s screening on January 27

Still, the trails all seemed to be running dry – until July, when I saw a Museum Hours poster on the Underground, and started talking with its new distributors. In October, I was flicking through Metro and was startled and delighted to see a tiny four star review of Wolf Children. After some fruitless emails (we can blame automated filters, it transpired), and with only a West End office address to fall back upon, I resorted to doorstepping the distributors – with a positive outcome.

As for Winter Nomads, after news of US screenings on the film’s interesting website (, another follow-up email found them ready to allow a pair of screenings.

By this time, I was beginning the planning process for January’s season, and found thin pickings in the Filmbank catalogue, which has often had feast-then-famine tendencies when it comes to the type of films we like to screen. The coincidence of this supply problem with the new-found availability of the three LFF titles was irresistible, and the Campaign committee agreed that the quality of the proposed programme justified the financial implications of screening non-Filmbank titles.

Fortunately, all three distributors have been considerate towards the Campaign’s not-for-profit status, and we are especially grateful to Manga UK for their exceptionally generous support of the Wolf Children screenings.

What about the future? At the time of writing, we’re not sure what and where the Campaign’s screenings will be beyond January, though there will certainly be plenty worth watching, and any readers who don’t already receive our email updates should subscribe by contacting us at It is though just possible that the Campaign won’t be Winter Nomads for much longer…

David Lean Cinema survey

The Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign hopes to begin some screenings in the David Lean Cinema (or the David Lean Auditorium, as the council wants to call it) before long. With the Fairfield Halls apparently finally abandoning the council’s ill-considered “replacement” David Lean Cinema branding of its occasional blockbuster screenings, this will be the culmination of three years of commonsense campaigning.

The Campaign organisers would welcome responses to the following survey to best choose which day of the week people would prefer for its screenings in the purpose-built cinema – leaving Mondays open for the Spread Eagle to continue a programme of free screenings.

See how iC helped launch the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign:

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1 Response to Film choices that mark end of campaign’s nomadic existence

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