ON THE BLOG: behind-the-scenes at the Lexi Film School

A weekly programme of screenings introduced by a critic, filmmaker or academic, the Lexi Film School aims to expand the definition of ‘classic’ cinema. With support from MUBI (who are funded through Creative Europe's Promotion of Audiovisual Works Online scheme), their Spring Term covered Roberto Rossellini and Karel Reisz to Julie Taymor and Yolande DuLuart. 

To get an idea of some of the more unconventional ways Creative Europe funding helps global cinema reach UK screens, we spoke to Rosie Greatorex, the director of the Lexi Cinema about how the school got started and where it's heading next...

Tell us about your cinema (location, no. of screens, or anything we might be surprised to learn!) 

Pioneering, creative and ethical in our approach to cinema, business, life, the universe and everything, we are one of London’s only truly independent cinemas, and also the UK’s first social enterprise cinema! Since opening our doors to NW10 and the world in 2008, being a great neighbourhood cinema has been very heart of everything we do. Bordering Harlesden and North Kensington, the cinema front of house and bar are run by a team of 50 local volunteers from all walks of life.

We curate our film programme entirely independently, with a mix of the newest independent, quality mainstream, world cinema and documentaries. Our outreach and community projects include: weekly carers & babies screenings, seniors discussion groups, accessible screenings for the hard of hearing, affordable animation workshops for children, and women-only screenings for recently arrived refugee women. We are partnered with our local refugee project, Salusbury World, running fundraisers and offering work experience to recently arrived children. We host very popular monthly film and discussion sessions with Black History Studies.

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What is your connection to Creative Europe / how do you benefit from funding? What it’s like working with MUBI? How did their support help you realise your programming ambitions?

We benefit from Creative Europe through MUBI - they receive Creative Europe funding to support European cinema - as they are our sponsors for the Lexi Film School. They have created a really strong visual brand for the Lexi Film School, printed our programmes and supported us on social media and in their London newsletters. They also give each ticket holder a code for 30 days of MUBI. Their creative input in terms of the branding has been so valuable - this isn’t the kind of thing we have the capacity to produce in-house. Kiri from MUBI has been so supportive right from the first phone call about this idea, and we just love the visual identity that her team have created for us. Thanks to Kiri, MUBI are really key to the whole model for Lexi Film School. 

Where did the idea for the Lexi Film School come from?

The seed of the idea was at end of 2017, when (like everyone else!) I was making my “top ten” list of films I’d seen that year. I also always make a list of the top ten repertory films, or “older, new to me” films from the year. I realised that the older films I was watching had had much more impact on me than the first run films I’d seen. As a programmer this felt like a real disconnect between my programming for the Lexi and my personal viewing. I wanted to encourage the Lexi audience to start engaging with repertory cinema, and I knew that for that to happen, as a cinema we needed to commit to creating a context which supported that - you can’t just stick on a few shows of whatever classic film has been reissued that month and expect people to turn up. 

We wanted to create that “film school” atmosphere, but where each audience member could engage as much or as little as they wanted, or had time to. I wanted this to be affordable, inclusive, and give people a taste of exploring something beyond the mainstream without them having to commit to coming every week. So you could buy a ticket for every film in the series (about 50% of our film school audience do this) and treat the series like a course, and also do all the reading, all the suggested viewing, and then watch a film every day on MUBI. Or, you could just come to a few films, do a bit of the reading, and engage with the project as much as you have time to. 

Can you tell us a bit about bringing it to life and how you made the film / speaker selections?

Each speaker also writes film notes, with links to suggested further reading or further viewing, and we email these out on Friday afternoon as “weekend reading”. The idea is that rather than paper notes which you’ll read once and fold up and never look at again, these can be returned to and are much more usable in that digital format. Once the programme is confirmed, the most exciting stage is when writers send their notes over. Sometimes Lexi Film School notes have had a life as film writing outside of film school too:

In terms of film selection, we do start with an idea of what we want to screen. I’m not really interested in the canon or in a straight presentation of the canon, anyway. But this is a really collaborative process. In terms of approaching the speakers, we don’t have much budget and everyone has just done it for the love of it, and really supported the idea of a neighbourhood film school. I think that has shown on the night, at the cinema. For example, Sophie Monks Kaufman from Little White Lies was absolutely determined to show Claire Denis’ Chocolat. It took us both some time to track down the rights, and in the end it was just a magical screening. People’s personal love of the film they are presenting has really shone though and made the sessions really special. I asked Tom Huddleston to choose something by Lynne Ramsay and he picked Ratcatcher and send us some short films to link to in the film notes rather than suggested articles to read, which was great. We’ve shown The Watermelon Woman (intro’d by Grace Barber-Plentie) in the same series as Rome, Open City (chosen by Jonathan Romney) and that has been an exciting contrast. 

Do you see this kind of collaboration as being the future of cinema?

When you buy a ticket you get that MUBI access which opens a door to all kinds of incredible films - that’s an individual journey as none of the film school audience are going to watch the same titles during the week. But then you all come together on the Monday evening, and watch a film together and have an in-person introduction from a film journalist or curator. So you have that synergy between your own individual viewing, and collective experience of coming to the cinema. That to me is what it’s all about. 

How did the Spring Term of the Film School go? Was there anything you’d change for future editions?

Spring term went really well - we are already planning Autumn term, speakers and titles still under wraps, for an October start so watch this space! 

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Find out more about the Lexi Film School, and keep up to date with the start of the Autumn term here