Picture of the awards table

National awards for Forest Row community cinema

Forest Row Film Society was awarded the prize for Best Film Programming in the 2011 awards at the Institut Francais in London during the BFFS National Conference for Community Cinemas and Film Society of the Year Awards 2011.

In an incredibly busy weekend, the delegates had the chance to see a great clutch of films, take part in some fascinating conference sessions, and listen to Ed Vaizey’s keynote speech. As Minister for Culture (etc) he is the member of government who is directly responsible for cinema and (from our point of view, most importantly) community-based, grassroots film screenings.

The conference sessions are always really valuable, and help to give us pointers and strategic focus to our activities as a community cinema. This year, the sessions focussed on volunteering, and we had a chance to think about how to encourage, direct and value all the volunteer efforts that sustain a community cinema cinema like ours. The big challenge with the weekend, though, is that you can’t be everywhere at once, since there are very enticing film screenings there as well…

The most well-received film of the weekend was Le Herisson (The Hedgehog), directed by Mona Achache. Based on the best-selling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, it received a monumental audience reaction score of 96.7, and must be a very strong contender for next season (ie 2012-13!). The film stars Josiane Balasko, and the charming, UK-based Japanese actor, Togo Igawa, who was also the guest presenter at the Film Society of the Year Awards on the Saturday night, and took part in a Q&A session after the screening of the film.

Patrick Crawford and Brad Scott receiving the Best Film Programming award from Togo Igawa. Photo: Ivan Lieman Photography

The full awards list is on the BFFS website [pdf], and illustrates what an incredibly inspiring range of activities film societies and community cinemas encompass. We were delighted to come away with two awards, but also very conscious that there is a huge amount of expertise out there that we must learn from; receiving an award is rather humbling, and certainly can’t induce any complacency. If anything, it makes you realise that you need to raise your game even further!

The competition was really quite fierce, and the judges had elected to make several of the awards to two organisations this year. The first such was the award for Best Film Programming, which was awarded to both Forest Row Film Society and Bracknell Film Society. The judges look for the range and balance of films, as well as audience involvement in programming; last year we covered a huge and novel range, including the comedy film festival, the ongoing and exciting relationship with Transition Forest Row, and a number of other special events, which no doubt made a major contribution to the award. It is certainly true that, without the collaborations with other groups it is unlikely we would have won the award. A number of the films in the programme were also suggested by members, via the website, email and Facebook. We really appreciate all our members’ submissions and are embarrassed that we just can’t show them all. The Best Film Programming award is one we can all be justly proud of, and owes much to the hard work of the entire committee, the film festival committee, and Mike Grenville of Transition Forest Row. You can read our complete submission on our website.

The second award was one of the new prize categories this year. Recognising that it is the work of a large number of individuals that actually realises the success of all community cinemas, the BFFS have instituted a Award for an Outstanding Contribution by an Individual. Seven such awards were made this year, including a special mention for Forest Row Film Society’s Brad Scott. Finally, the big prize, the Film Society of the Year was awarded to the rather wonderful and inspiring Swindon Film Society.

Among the numerous films on offer over the weekend we caught The Way of the Morris, a new documentary notionally about morris dancing, but which is much broader in its scope than that. It is a very sensitive film about England, Englishness, the FirstWorld War, community, class and identity. And some beer. It would be ideal for the 2012 Forest Row Festival.

The other really impressive film was Sound it Out, a documentary about the last remaining independent record shop in NE England. Again, really sensitively made, about the customers and their stories, touching on regional poverty, job losses and the importance of music in people’s lives, it has creatively used crowd-sourced funding to enable the film to be completed, taken to the SXSW festival, and is now seeking a small amount of funding via indiegogo to better enable its distribution.

So, in short, an exhilarating weekend, and one which raises the bar for next year. We still have so much to learn. Come along and join in the journey…