Hollywood is in the middle of its awards season and films are the talk of the town as Les Miserables, Lincoln and Skyfall get the headlines. But film-making and film-watching isn’t all about big budget blockbusters. MISCHA ALLEN talks to the film fanatics of the Portsmouth Film Society.
The hubbub of voices dies down and the tension rises. Soon enough there is absolute silence. It’s time to roll - lights, camera, action.
But this isn’t a plush Hollywood studio and there are no big name actors. It’s the Omega Centre in Southsea, home of the Portsmouth Film Society and a hub for budding film-makers and movie fans.
The group was started three years ago by Aysegul Epengin. She had moved to Portsmouth from Turkey in 2004, where she had worked as an assistant director, and was always surprised by the lack of independent films being shown in the city.
It wasn’t until a year after she moved that the No.6 Cinema in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard began.
Ayse, 38, lives in Southsea and is still heavily involved with the running of the society. She says: ‘I don’t like the kind of films that most people do, that’s why I enjoy independent cinema. But everybody understands and watches films in a different way. Most of the time people find something that they can really engage with.
‘I decided with the Portsmouth Film Society that if there wasn’t something for me, then I would create it myself.
‘I was teaching at the Omega beforehand anyway and one of my students said “You teach us so well, but when are we going to see the films?” That’s when I thought I wanted to do something.’
Dr Justin Smith, 47, is chairman of Portsmouth Film Society and also works as a film lecturer at the University of Portsmouth.
Justin, who lives on the Isle of Wight, has been in the role for the past year. He says: ‘It’s about supporting and breeding the provision of film in Portsmouth. My department also sponsors some of the PFS screenings and I’m a reader in British film culture. As the chairman, I’m more of a figurehead.’
Over the years, various film societies have come and gone in Portsmouth, but Justin hopes this one is here to stay.
He says: ‘The success of film societies depends on the commitment, particularly of the individuals involved, to keep them going.
‘Ayse is that individual because she supports film culture. She started with a survey and launched the society with only a very small membership. Full membership will give you free access to everything but there’s also membership for those that only want to attend certain things.’
For Justin, film has always been a way of life. He explains: ‘I think film has been the most influential popular art form of the 20th century. People might suggest that television has made more of an impact, but films are more interesting for me because it’s the most accomplished of the popular arts.
‘It has a kind of power like nothing else to inspire, to entertain, to frighten, to educate and to enlighten, all for a fraction of the price of a meal in a restaurant. That’s pretty incredible.’
He adds: ‘You can get entertainment from films at home or on DVD, or it might be going to a cinema and sharing that experience with other people. Despite the march of technology, where some people think they don’t need to go out, people still like that experience of cinema, which is unique.’
Just before Christmas, the society started a brand new pop-up cinema scheme. In partnership with the New Theatre Royal, the programme is designed to bring cinema to different communities. Justin says: ‘We wanted to show films in established theatres who don’t have a track record of showing films. What we’ve wanted to do is expand from the Omega Centre into smaller venues in the city.Then we can take films to local audiences, and mobility is the key to it.
‘There are people living in Portsmouth who want to see different kinds of film but they aren’t on their doorstep. We take them to people and we now have about four or five local partnerships with venues across the city.’
The Portsmouth Film Society may not be able to offer the comfy seats of major cinemas, but Justin believes that it doesn’t matter.
He explains: ‘The major distributors provide the big cinemas with a restricted diet of films.
‘We encourage discussion and debate throughout our members and audiences.’
Members of the group are a mix of film buffs and movie-makers, but they all have one thing in common; their love of film. And anyone can join.
‘Film-making is infectious,’ says Justin, ‘and it’s easier than it ever has been for individuals to make their own movies.
‘There’s something magic about the moving image that people enjoy creating. It’s as easy as taking still photographs, and we actively encourage it.
‘We’ve got people who are film buffs who love film, like me, and they are people of all ages.
‘We also have some people who are involved in film- making locally.’
The society helps people from a range of backgrounds when it comes to film, whether it be people who are passionate about it or people who are experienced producers.
It offers a number of workshops at the Omega Centre, including a Digital Film-making course from January 22, as well as showing a range of films at the centre and across the city.
The PFS also runs the Shorts Cut Film Festival, and puts forward nominations for the Best Film category in The News Guide Awards, which take place on January 28 at the Kings Theatre, in Southsea.
Justin says: ‘We want to offer a different diet of what is available. It’s early days but the pop-up cinema especially seems to be very successful.
‘We have a Creative England grant for that which has enabled us to buy some up-to-date mobile equipment.
‘We hope that will carry on developing and we will see what happens. The British Film Institute has got a new budget for developing film audiences, so we are speaking to other societies on the south coast to create a kind of consortium of groups.’
Go to portsmouthfilmsociety.co.uk for more information