I study French and Japanese Studies, and my Second Year of University has just come to an end. Throughout summer 2017, I’ve been working as an Undergraduate Research Scholar after I was awarded a summer placement through the College of Arts and Law Undergraduate Research Scholars scheme. The scheme arranges for Undergraduates at the University of Birmingham to work with an established researcher on a specific project over the summer. It’s great for your CV, and you are paid for undertaking the placement.
My work has focused on researching the French Caribbean director Euzhan Palcy and her 1983 film Rue Cases-Nègres (pictured below) under the guidance of Dr Louise Hardwick, who is running a major research project on French Caribbean literature and film, funded by the AHRC, the UK government Arts & Humanities Research Council.
In addition to studying articles and chapters about Palcy and the film, I’ve taken part in a workshop for local school teachers who would like to integrate French Caribbean materials into their teaching. I’ve also spent time at the British Library in London getting to grips with their archives, where I unearthed some fascinating newspaper articles.
Not long ago, in partnership with the University, extracts from Rue Cases-Nègres were screened at a public film workshop at Birmingham’s Mockingbird Cinema. So I went down to the Custard Factory in Digbeth where Mockingbird is based to interview one of the directors, Alper Dervish, to get his take on screening unique films, collaborating with the University of Birmingham and Birmingham’s independent cinema industry more generally.
At one point, The Mockingbird was a theatre. Then two years ago it was taken over, and began to transition into a full-time cinema. Alper told me there has been a growing trend for independent cinemas over recent years, but stressed the importance of having a unique selling point. This is especially true if you’re showing mainstream blockbusters, because customers need an incentive to choose to go independent. For The Mockingbird, their key selling point is the proper chef-cooked food and range of beverages, making for a more mature film experience than popcorn and a coke.
Additionally, innovative formats are used to create ‘Event Cinema’, as opposed to a standard screening. For example, one of Alper’s personal favourites has been their sold-out screening of Sister Act with a live gospel choir!
Another example is the widely talked about Harry Potter marathon weekend this summer. Social media buzz and local newspaper publications have meant this event has sold out twice, with minimal advertising from The Mockingbird themselves. Of course, the people attending this event have likely watched the Harry Potter series multiple times already. Alper pointed out that they come for the experience, to share a film series they love with other fans – and they even come in fancy dress sometimes! This is a key part of The Mockingbird’s appeal. With other events, such as quizzes and appreciation nights, The Mockingbird is very aware of the power of the ‘fan club’.
With regard to the screening of cinema in French from the Caribbean and Africa, Alper says the cinema is happy to show anything providing there is an audience willing to watch. Despite the perceived obscurity of a film, there is often strong public interest for foreign films such as Rue Cases-Nègres and collaborating with the University of Birmingham can be a way to reach new audiences who might not otherwise think about visiting Mockingbird. The Mockingbird shows many non-English films, and generally always favours subtitles over a dubbed version. This, Alper explains, allows native speakers a chance to enjoy a film in their own language, as well as the English viewers.
It is still early days for The Mockingbird, but in the future Alper hopes to continue to innovate as an independent business and develop their audience.
This is an exciting venue – and one Brummie gem that I’m glad to have discovered!
(Mockingbird Interview 26/07/17)