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Handmade Cinema is an award winning community cinema specialising in transforming spaces into magical cinematic wonderlands for people of all ages to enjoy. They shun the commercial cinema experience in favour of cardboard props, face paints, workshops and making friends.
We spoke to creative director Ellie Ragdale about what’s coming up at Handmade Cinema, their events with Girl Gang Sheffield, and more…
How did Handmade Cinema come about?
A friend and I attended a Cinema For All roadshow here in Sheffield and I was blown away by what different community cinemas have been doing across the country. I studied film, and I started to think this was a great way to combine my love of cinema with my love of making things. I was also inspired by hearing about Secret Cinema and rushed home to find out when they were coming to Sheffield – but of course these things are all London based (and also completely unaffordable for most people). I figured I could do something like that in a more creative and handmade setting.
Can you explain what immersive cinema is?
I think of it as a transformation of a location or venue (a community centre, school hall, back room of a pub) into the world of film. That usually means taking inspiration from the film you're screening and bringing it life for the audience to experience in that room, and also making it something they can take part in themselves.
You’ve been going since 2012. Which screening are you most proud of so far?
Our first was The Aristocats at the Old Junior School in Sharrow, and that was so new and exciting for me – watching the children’s faces as they arrived at the transformed venue and were confronted with an Eiffel Tower made out of cardboard boxes!
Girl Gang has been so special too (Girl Gang is a collaboration between Handmade Cinema, The Creep Store, Free Hand Creative and Pull Your Finger Out Productions). It was our first experience of seeing people our age take part in the way we’d been doing screenings for children, and we didn’t know if people were going to get it. It was a risk, but we deliberately wanted it to be fun, daft and silly, and not too cool or too cliquey. Just grown-ups having fun and letting loose!
What can people expect at a Handmade Cinema screening?
Lots of face painting, having to crawl through some kind of entranceway to get in, loads of handmade props and set-pieces. We’re always so happy when adults join in the activities with their children – we try to pick films adults have a connection with as well. I want to make events that are memorable, and that’s why we make such effort with the spaces we use. The people who come along have engaged with art, they’ve engaged with film and they’ve engaged as a family.
Is your programming linked to some of your own memories and the way films make you feel?
Yes, it’s quite hard for me to create these experiences if I don’t have a connection to the film. I feel more inspired by films I have a personal relationship to. As more people are getting on board it's getting more varied, but at the same time it has to be something I like and know how to share with the rest of the world.
In a world without limits (licence costs, venue hire, availability), what would you love to screen?
When we started Handmade Cinema we made a huge list, and there are still so many we haven’t got around to yet. I’d love to do Bring it On in a cheerleader setting. I’d love to do School of Rock and make some mini-rock bands, or maybe Matilda in a library or at a book fair – there’s so much scope! Singing in the Rain is one of my personal favourites, so I’d love to do that; it’s so accessible and still so relevant today.
Tell us more about what’s coming up.
We’ve got the Jungle Book coming up on 15 May at the Bamforth Building, which is an old umbrella factory with an indoor community garden that we’re transforming into an amazing jungle. We’ll be doing workshops, screening the film and we’re planning some live music. We want to reach people in the local areas – Hillsborough and Walkley – and bring them in to interact with the incredible buildings on Burton Street.
We recently launched Girl Gang in Manchester, so we’ve just taken our Mean Girls event across the Pennines. On 30 April we’re screening the Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer at Picture House Social, which has been a long imagined screening for us. It had a tiny release, and there are so many people in Sheffield who want to see this film.
Why is it important that people like you put on screenings?
I think there is a real need for fun events, where people can experience films collectively as a community. I think it’s important to bring the magic back to cinema-going, and to showcase films that have perhaps been overlooked or under-appreciated. It’s about dedicating some time to films and showing how much they have to offer if you give them a bit more attention.