Community Cinema is defined as any volunteer-led and non-profit-making organisation that shows films in its local area. This includes: film societies and clubs in communities and neighbourhoods, schools, colleges and universities; screenings in village halls, arts centres, cinemas, youth and community centres; mobile cinemas; and local film festivals. Watching a film in a group is very different experience to watching it on your own. Sharing a response to a film – whether it is to laugh, cry, or jump out of your seat together – is part of a collective communal experience.

The places that we interact socially have changed a lot in recent years. Our enjoyment of cinema has not. Even though it is quite easy to watch films at home now a day, there were still an amazing 170 million cinema admissions in 2011 in the UK. Part of that is what 21st century cinema has to offer: amazing sound, astonishing 3D, modern auditoriums. Sadly, though, it’s not easy for everyone to do this. In rural areas there can be very limited access to cinema. Even in densely populated areas, niche film, such as world cinema or foreign language interest, which could be incredibly popular, has surprisingly small take up. So we want to see if there is anything that we can do to help.

Advances in technology have made film exhibition far easier than it was ten years ago, so we want to look at the barriers to successful community screenings. We’ve found many local screenings and film clubs stop before they start, halted by costs and bureaucracy. It shouldn’t be like this. Local screenings perform a great social function – they bring people together, building friendships around a shared interest.

Community cinema continues to thrive in many parts of the country:

  • We estimate that film societies and community cinemas recorded around 255,000 admissions in 2010/11.
  • Theatrical ticket sales on this scale would have generated box office revenues of £1.5 million.
  • One third of community cinemas saw an increase in their annual admissions, and over half (51%) recorded roughly the same number (at a time when commercial cinema admissions were flat).
  • Two thirds (68%) of community cinema providers saw their membership increase or stay the same over the last year.
  • We estimate that over 50,000 people are currently community cinema members, with many more attending screenings as ‘pay on the door’ customers.

Community cinema providers are enterprising and take advantage of funding opportunities where available, but face threats from public sector cuts and the wider economic slowdown: One quarter (26%) of respondents applied for external funding in 2010/11, up from 25% in 2009/10. Of those that did, the majority (75%) had at least one successful application, a slightly lower success rate than in the previous year when 80% of applications were successful. One in ten (12%) respondents said they had been directly affected by public sector funding cuts, at national or local level, and the reasons given included increased venue costs, reduced grants from local authorities and a decrease in membership levels.

Against this backdrop, community cinema represents excellent value for money, especially to those on low or fixed income: The average full annual membership fee was £23.50, and 54% of respondents also offered full year concessionary membership fees (for senior citizens, students, under 21s or under 25s, the unemployed etc.).Around one quarter (27%) of organisations that operated a membership system charged an additional admission fee. The average entry fee for members was £3.50 (£4.60 for non-members), which is lower than the average commercial cinema admission charge of £5.84 in 2010.

Community cinema brings film to all parts of the country:

Community exhibitors enhance film provision in areas otherwise neglected by commercial cinemas:

43% operated in rural areas (compared with 3% of commercial screens), and 49% of all admissions were generated in the South West and South East regions (which accounted for 12% of UK commercial cinema admissions in 2010). On average, film societies and community cinemas were located around 7.5 miles away from the nearest commercial cinema. Four fifths (82%) of community cinemas allow non-members to attend their screenings, bringing the best of world cinema to a wider audience.

Community cinema enhances the big screen experience with social and educational activities:

Over half (53%) of all responding organisations held special events in addition to screenings. These included guest appearances by filmmakers to introduce films, quiz nights, film-themed social events, special programmes to coincide with other organised events, talks, education events etc. Two thirds of responding organisations (68%) provided programming notes to accompany screenings. Community cinema is run by the community, for the community, at the heart of the community:

  • 97% have a committee of volunteers;
  • 95% are run as not-for-profit;
  • 90% hold an AGM;
  • 47% ‘usually’ decide what films to programme on the basis of member requests, and the remainder do so ‘sometimes’;
  • 74% formally measure audience reactions to films in order to inform future programming decisions;
  • Around half (51%) hold their screenings in local public buildings, such as village halls or civic centres.

BFFS remains highly valued by members and users of its resources and services: Every service or resource was rated as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ by 67% or more of the respondents. Even the lowest ranked services and resources scored 2.1 out of 5 (1= very good, 5= very poor), which means on average they were positively valued.

The British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) is the national organisation for the development, support and representation of film societies and community cinemas throughout the UK. After the closure of the UK Film Council, BFFS received funding through the BFI Transition Fund in 2011 to ensure audiences throughout the UK continue to have access to the full range of British and international cinema.

This sixth annual survey describes in detail the nature of community cinema activity for the benefit of BFFS, its members (and other users of its services) and supporters.  Throughout the report comparisons have been made with the results of the last annual survey, published in November 2010 (and available on the BFFS web site). These must be treated with a degree of caution where real numbers are compared (as opposed to percentages) because different respondents participated in each survey.