Eileen Leahy
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The last few years have seen the proliferation of small, specialised cinema events in Dublin that can be understood as a counterpoint and community-based response to hegemonic patterns of cinema exhibitionism an era of global consumerism.

Cinema attendance in Ireland has remained one of the highest per capita, even with reductions brought on by the recession (Gordon 2011). Nevertheless how and where we view films has changed significantly. As Kevin and Emer Rockett’s recent history of film exhibition attests (Rockett and Rockett 2011: 366-454), cinema attendance was a vital part of community and social life for the Irish during the twentieth century, with a cinema (or ‘picture house’) found in most local areas as well as metropolitan centres. Today, however, most films on the big screen are seen at the multiplex; a generic consumer experience encompassing an ‘event’ movie, retail ‘opportunities’ and fast food at interchangeable large suburban complexes (ibid:196-197). Social interaction is limited and social distance is maintained in the multiplex design, layout and norms (Hubbard 2003:262) as well as through the requirement for travelling to and from the cinema in the private car.

Notwithstanding healthy cinema attendance in Ireland, the home is now the place where most films are watched, with an array of technologies facilitating home viewing, from digital home theatres to internet streaming and piracy (Klinger 2007:77, Allen 2011:42-44). Following international patterns and increased affluence, home viewing has greatly increased in Ireland the past decade, with an exponential rise in the ownership of home cinema technology (Central Statistics Office 2012:34), DVD rentals and purchases (International Video Federation 2011:13-14) and video on demand (VOD) subscriptions (Wreckler 2013).This switch to home viewing consolidates cinema as a dominant consumer culture (Klinger 2006: 38, 47, 55) and can also be found to detach cinema from its earlier social and communal function.

While Dublin offers a variety of multiplexes1 and provides a limited but generally strong arthouse cinema scene,2 and although there has been a substantial rise in home viewing, there would appear to be a demand for a more diverse cinema culture in Ireland’s cosmopolitan capital. Since 2005 there has been a notable increase in small, alternative and minority film festivals, such as the Polish film festival, Kinopolis (2005-) and the Temple Bar Film Festival (2006-2007) that focused on recent Irish cinema. Minicinefest (2006 to 2008), Pintsize Film Festival (2007) and Eat My Shorts (2010-) have each provided outlets for short films and there has been an annual Sunday Times Outdoor Cinema Festival since 2007. The Indian Film Festival of Ireland and Underground Cinema Film Festival both launched in 2010, the Blackrock Animation Film Festival in 2011 and the Fingal Film Festival, the Freshly Squeezed International Student Short Film Festival and the UCD Science Film Festival launched in 2012, to name just some of the many small festivals that have come to form part of the annual cinema calendar in Dublin. It is notable that these events don’t all happen within a cinema setting: many take place in hotels, bars, clubs, galleries and warehouse spaces; a phenomenon facilitated by digital technologies and the affordability of projection equipment.

These factors may also account for the spread of small film clubs and various other film events that seem to create a more personalised, social and heterogeneous cinema experience than that available at the multiplex. Indeed, a 2012 ‘chick-lit’ novel by Irish writer Brian Finnegan The Forced Redundancy Film Club taps into this zeitgeist and its title suggests the recession as a contributory factor in the popularity of such gatherings.3 The book’s main theme, that of a group of employees who seek to remain in contact after being made redundant, also speaks to the community-building potential of this trend against the backdrop of classic movies. Its pleasures notwithstanding, the novel might also be a portent of the mainstreaming of film clubs, which, until recently, were cliquish and underground.

Interactive film events and clubs have also become commonplace as part of Dublin’s nightlife. Recent examples include a Big Lebowski (Joel Cohen, 1998) drinking game at The Button Factory venue and a Liz & Dick (Lloyd Kramer, 2012) game at the bar 4 Dame Lane. Whilst the Big Lebowski was a celebration of the film itself, the Liz & Dick event was ironic, demonstrating how these events can be a comment on the film as well as a means of displaying or acquiring cultural capital (Thornton 1995). Other film events such as midnight screenings of The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003) at Spy club and at The Sugar Club music venue rely on the kind of interaction that characterised The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975) and tap into an international cult following.

Some film clubs screen films not widely available elsewhere, like short independent films, student films or niche alternative films. Others transform film screenings into special events, whilst some revolve around fandoms or specific genres. Many clubs don’t rely on a particular venue but move from one location to another, and some screen their films in other types of non-cinema locations.
‘Hacienda Nites’ is one such film club that has hosted film screenings in a variety of settings from bars to artist studios, with a concentration on offbeat documentaries that are rarely commercially screened. There is a great deal of effort put into creating a social ambiance. On the evening I attended their screening of Crazy Love (Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens, 2007), for example, a row of tea-light lanterns led through the warehouse courtyard to the Stoney batter Guild studio, where tea and cakes were served in vintage china and the audience mingled before and after the film. This creation of a screening as a retro event offers more than just a film, by including the intangible ‘old fashioned’ values of taste, belonging and community.

‘Underground Cinema’ is a more formal organisation with an agenda to showcase Irish filmmakers. Launched in 2008, it champions outsider films made without national film industry support. The club is based in Dun Laoghaire, originally at the Kingston Hotel, but now at the Eblana Club. Monthly screenings offer filmmakers the chance to show their work and audiences the opportunity to see recent, unavailable films. ‘Underground Cinema’ also creates a strong network of filmmakers, both professional and amateur, through creating a social space and actively encouraging social interaction. Since its foundation other associated services have been offered, the organisers have toured their programme, launched a festival, initiated various film services and provided an online networking forum. Thus, from its beginnings in monthly screenings, ‘Underground Cinema’ has expanded to provide resources to filmmakers and to create a community of filmmakers outside of the established Irish film industry sector.

The range and diversity of film clubs and events among the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay Bi-sexual, Trans-gender, Queer) community testifies to the heteronormativity of commercial cinema culture in Dublin and demonstrates a grassroots response to the exclusion of this section of the population from the screen. Pantibar’s ‘Movies in her Living Room, a series programmed by actor and screenwriter Mark O’Halloran (Adam and PaulGarage), defined cinephilia for Dublin queers. ‘Oscar’s Movie Night’ offered a gay homage to Hollywood in Wilde’s bar. Queer themed documentaries got an outing with Outhouse’s ‘What’s the Story’ series, programmed by documentary maker Anna Rodgers, whilst radical queer group, Queer Thing, focused on film and political action in Seomra Spraoi, Dublin’s anti-capitalist social centre. Film Qlub, launched in 2010 by cultural scholar, Aintzane Legarreta Mentxaka, and film editor, Ferran de Juan, screens series of little-known, significant queer films. Its first season of silent era films celebrated LGB art and activism of the early twentieth century. The second series concentrated on another golden age of gay activism in the 1980s, while the 2012-2013 series concentrated on little-known gay films from the 1940s to the 1960s.The dedicated social space, discussion and interaction at the Qlub’s New Theatre setting foreground community and sociality as the club sets out to reclaim lost and overlooked lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered cinema histories.

Other clubs specialise in specific kinds of films or film events. ‘Film Fatale’ is a bi-monthly event at The Sugar Club venue that relies on nostalgia for the glamour of classic cinema through an immersive experience, involving dressing-up, cocktails and a nightclub themed on the film being screened. ‘Morb’ screens horror films at secret, unusual and atmospheric venues around the city, which have included a warehouse, a disused convent and an abandoned gallery. The emphasis is on mystery by keeping the film a secret and by gathering members together at a designated location before bringing them to the clandestine venue. Some clubs allow members to select films, such as ‘The Workman’s Den’ where film titles are entered into a draw and the winning film screened at The Workman’s Club. There are also clubs with a social or political agenda; ‘Auntie Underground Cinema’, for example, runs twice-monthly screenings of worldwide, political, anarchist films at Seomra Spraoi. ‘Open Cinema’, the London based film club, which aims to the homeless access to cinema culture, expanded into Dublin during 2012, with its weekly screenings of films, followed by discussion, at the collective arts centre, Exchange Dublin.

This small sample of film events, clubs and groups around Dublin in 2012 hints at the reconstruction of cinema as a unique, local and communal experience. Film clubs can be said to supplement commercial cinema by offering a range of features lost in the on-going globalisation process. A wider and more diverse range of films, curated by knowledgeable programmers, is one such feature. Sociality and community is another, with dedicated social spaces and activities built into club events and with almost all of the film clubs relying on sociality and belonging to sustain membership. These clubs offer a different experience of cinema than that available in the multiplex, with the possibilities of inclusivity through belonging to a particular group and the exclusivity of insider knowledge both of the group and of the particular films or film genres on offer. Whilst film clubs have had a long history in Ireland as an alternative to the dominant hegemony, recent incarnations of the film club in Dublin feature mainstream as well as alternative versions. With the growing availability, and affordability, of screening equipment and films, and with film screenings an attractive option for pubs and clubs to attract clientele, this is a trend that looks set to continue in coming years.

  1. Multiplexes can be found in Dublin’s city centre, as well as the suburbs, including Blanchardstown, Coolock, Dundrum, Dun Laoghaire, Liffey Valley, Santry, Stillorgan and Tallaght.  []
  2. The Lighthouse, the Irish Film Institute and the Screen cinemas all offer independent and art-house films.  []
  3. Admission prices to film club screenings are usually substantially cheaper than that charged by commercial cinemas.  []

Works Cited

Allen, R. C. 2011. “Reimagining the History of the Experience of Cinema in a Post-Moviegoing Age” in Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies, eds. R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst & P. Meers, 41-57. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Central Statistics Office. 2012. «Household Budget Survey 2009-2010». In Housing and Households. Cork: Central Statistics Office.

Finnegan, B. 2012. The forced redundancy film club. Dublin: Hachette Books Ireland.

Gordon, Y. 2011. «Coming to a Cinema Near You». In Adworld. Dublin: Mount Media Ltd.

Hubbard, P. 2003. “A good night out? Multiplex cinemas as sites of embodied leisure”, Leisure Studies, 22, 255-272.

International Video Federation. 2011. “European Video: the industry overview” in European Video Yearbook, 15. Brussels: International Video Federation.

Klinger, B. 2006. Beyond the multiplex: cinema, new technologies, and the home. Berkeley, Calif. ; London: University of California Press.

_______. 2007. “New distribution, exhibition and reception contexts”. In The cinema book, ed. P. Cook, 75-77. London: BFI.

Rockett, K. & E. Rockett. 2011. Film exhibition and distribution in Ireland, 1909-2010. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Thornton, S. 1995. Club cultures: music, media and subcultural capital. Cambridge: Polity.

Wreckler, A. 2013. “Netflix Irish subscriber base surges” in The Daily Business Post. The Sunday Business Post.