Lights, camera, action! City film society goes from strength to strength

Aysegul Epengin

Aysegul Epengin

Absolute Bowie in action

It’s a Moonage Daydream for a bit of Absolute Bowie at the New Theatre Royal

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When we look at modern-day cinema, it can be all too easy to forget about the craft that goes into building these celluloid worlds, whether it’s the sun-kissed hills of Hollywood or the cramped suburban flats of East London.

Film is a craft that requires painstakingly careful planning, precision and a breathtaking amount of knowledge and vision.

(L-r) Aysegul Epengin, founder, Katie Yeomans, supporter, Anita Stepnitz, committee member, Tom Kelly, volunteer, Cecelia Young, acting chair, Chris Martin, secretary and Peter McIver, volunteer.  Picture: Sarah Standing (170186-2536)

(L-r) Aysegul Epengin, founder, Katie Yeomans, supporter, Anita Stepnitz, committee member, Tom Kelly, volunteer, Cecelia Young, acting chair, Chris Martin, secretary and Peter McIver, volunteer. Picture: Sarah Standing (170186-2536)

Some look to quench their thirst for it in our multiplexes, soaking up the latest glossy blockbuster while Hoovering up popcorn and Coke.

Others turn to the independents, the little brothers of the six-screen leviathans, who provide a rich blend of Hollywood’s pride and joy while also bringing forth unearthed low-budget gems from across the world.

While Portsmouth has its fair share of multiplexes, back in 2009, there was no art cinema for fans of alternative flicks to head to and they had to go east on the A27 to Chichester for New Park Cinema.

This void was subsequently filled with the arrival of independent facility No 6 Cinema at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard back in 2012.

It was in 2009 that Aysegul Epengin looked to fill the void through the creation of not-for-profit group Portsmouth Film Society.

The society has moved on leaps and bounds ever since, staging film festivals, regular showings and commands a membership in the hundreds.

For Aysegul, she was responding to a need to bring more art-house films to the society.

She says: ‘When I came to Portsmouth 12 years ago, I was astounded that there was no art cinema here. Portsmouth is such a cultural city, full of different cultures and people. It needed to have a place to showcase films that don’t just show the flashy blockbusters.

‘Every time I wanted to go to the cinema, I found myself driving to Chichester and I just thought ‘‘this is ridiculous’’.

‘I thought that I can sort something very easily myself, by grabbing a blu-ray, getting a good projector and setting up a screening. It’s ever so simple and since it began all those years ago, we have continued to expand.’

The society is currently hosting its third Pride LGBT Film Festival at the Eldon Screening Room in the Eldon Building in Southsea. The films shown have have had gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender themes and have come from all corners of the world. Three out of the four films in the festival have already been shown, gathering in large audiences each time.

Oscar-nominated My Beautiful Laundrette was included among the showings, which stars renowned actor Daniel Day-Lewis in a drama about a Pakistani man living in London and his romance with street punk Johnny (played by Day-Lewis) as the two become business managers of a laundrette.

The festival follows on from the society’s involvement in the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Black Star season.

The season highlighted the work of black actors on film and TV and saw featured films shown across the country in January. Outdoor film screenings have proved popular over the past few summers, with the society hosting ‘sunset’ screenings using giant inflatable screens.

These screenings have included the sci-fi classic Back To The Future and Disney epic Pirates of the Caribbean.

The society also hosts its own film festival called Short Cuts in which it encourages filmmakers across the area to make their own short films and compete for a prize. It’s all part of the society’s legacy, which is slowly etching itself into the cultural slate of the city.

‘I get asked by people why we don’t show more popular films, but for me that’s not what we’re all about. If people want to go see them, then they can go and see them elsewhere.

‘We are not looking to show films that don’t add value. The films we show are there for a purpose, about building something, making people think.

‘We want people to come into the screenings with their mind open, ready to start using their brains, not to turn them off.’

She adds that the current range of blockbuster movies is too skewed towards a film culture of ‘switching your brain off’.

‘Film is a work of art,’ she adds. ‘It should not be a case of dumbing yourself down and not wanting to learn or explore.’

The society prides itself on bringing in speakers as part of its screenings, such as the film’s director. This was exemplified in the showing of documentary film Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? earlier this month in which producer Alexander Bodin Saphir stopped by for a Q&A.

Tom Kelly, a volunteer at the society, says that despite the society’s partnership with the University of Portsmouth, it has been a struggle to get more students involved in the group.

He says: ‘I think in the modern day, people of that age group are so used to digesting information very quickly. So when it comes to a film where they actually have to do some thinking, it can be quite hard to keep that interest up.

‘For some, it could be a case that they might not get something out of it as it isn’t based on a pre-existing product or something that they are familiar with.

‘We know that some of the films we might show are not easy to digest for some people, but film can be quite hard to digest at times.’

The society steers away from the big-budget flicks, but in the age of media where clips as short as seven seconds are shared millions of times on social media, it hopes that more people will look to get involved.

Tom adds: ‘We know more than ever that we have to try to make that connection with students as the more people that get involved in the society, the better.’

Aysegul shared his message, adding: ‘We really want to grow as a society as film is such a widespread medium that looks at stories in so many different angles.

‘We want to bring films to people who will never have the chance to see them shown elsewhere. We are all lovers of different kinds of film and want to showcase as many as we can.’

‘WE’RE A FUN CROWD’

Tom Kelly joined the society back in 2015 and has since become an integral part of its set-up.

He says: ‘I was just looking for ways to get involved in arts and film in the area and then I discovered this society. It’s been a really fun experience so far and you meet people from all corners of the area who are really interested in dissecting and talking about film.

Tom adds: ‘We’re a fun crowd here. The films we show are not for everybody, but when new people come along and do get interested in the society, the films really grasp the audience’s imagination.’

INFORMATION

For all the latest information of screenings and how to get involved in the society, head to portsmouthfilmsociety.org.uk.

The society can be contacted on 07528 808400 or at info@portsmouthfilmsociety.org.uk.

Tickets for screenings cost £6 for a single night pass, £12 for a three-film pass, £20 for a season pass and £60 for a yearly membership.

PRIDE LGBT FILM FESTIVAL

The season started on February 1 with the drama Who’s Gonna Love Me Now about an Israeli expatriate who returns to London for the first time after being thrown out by his family 20 years before.

This was then followed by a showing of the Oscar-nominated My Beautiful Laundrette on February 8 where a Pakistani man and a steam punk form a romance while managing a laundrette in Thatcher’s Britain.

Loose Cannons, an Italian drama about a man deciding to come out as gay in front of his entire family in 1960s southern Italy, was then shown on February 15.

The season will be complete with the Swedish flick Girls Lost on Wednesday February 22 at 7pm in the Eldon Screening Room, Eldon Building, Middle Street.

The film follows three girls who discover a curious nectar turns them into boys.

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