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With many cinemas closed due to COVID-19, we're excited to be celebrating venues and film exhibitors across the UK in this series, Cinemas that Made Me. Below we hear from Anthony Andrews, co-founder of award-winning film exhibition company, We Are Parable. Anthony takes us through the company's origin story, how they cater to and develop diverse audiences, and what we can expect from them in the future.
Anthony and his wife and business partner Teanne founded We Are Parable back in 2013, aiming to provide UK audiences with unique opportunities to experience Black cinema. They've orchestrated unforgettable preview screenings, completed two nationwide tours, and attracted the attention of Black filmmaking royalty - Spike Lee himself!
We Are Parable go beyond simply screening films - they create immersive, interactive experiences that incorporate a wide range of art forms, offering audiences intelligent and thought-provoking engagement with Black culture.
We exist to provide UK audiences with the opportunity to experience Black cinema in culturally relevant, innovative and memorable ways. In the events we do we try to immerse people in the world of a film. The best example I can give is Black Panther, where we curated an Afrofuturistic kingdom in the middle of the BFI Southbank, with cosplayers, arts and crafts makers and African dancers.
We started the business while going through a bit of a rough patch in our lives. We were sat at home and put on one of our favourite films, Coming to America. It was 2013 and we realised it was the 25th anniversary so we were determined to put it on in the cinema, sure that people loved it as much as we did.
We contacted our local cinema, Stratford East Picturehouse, who were very gracious. We realised we could do more than just play the film - we wanted to bring Zamunda, the fictional country of Coming to America, to the cinema. We had rose bearers, African dancers and drummers as people were working their way through the foyer, and an African arts and crafts market to give people a sense of the diverse and expansive styles of African culture.
That event sold out and people were talking about it for days after, because all they'd expected was the film. They asked "when's the next one" so we started planning another, and then another, and kept growing from there. We started off in London then began to branch out into other areas in the UK, starting with the Spike Lee Film Festival we did in 2017.
To get started we ask ourselves: do we like the film, can we create an experience out of it, and is it culturally relevant, memorable and innovative? If we can answer those questions really well then we've got something.
It's about thinking through all the themes and styles of the film and how we can bring that into a physical space to have an impact on our audience when they walk into the venue. As the co-creative directors of the business, myself and Teanne have lengthy discussions about how we do that. It's not about just throwing it together and putting a DJ up there. With Queen & Slim we worked with the DJ to curate a playlist which really emphasised how the film moves from one part of America to another, with the music changing to reflect that. So it's really about taking the time to uncover the details that exist in the film, and having confidence in the audience to get the nuance that we add.
There's two places really - one was the UCI Cinema in Edmonton. That was a cinema that I always used to go to with my friends in secondary school. It was a massive outlet with loads of stuff to do, you could just go there and hang out. I always wanted to be there at weekends. Every time I had enough money to go it felt like a real exciting moment, like a real day out.
A few years down the line, it was Stratford East Picturehouse. I was at college in the area and I'd meet up with all my friends to see a film on Friday night. One film I'll always remember seeing, simply because I saw the second one before the first one, is Scream 2. I remember seeing it with my rowdy college friends and people were shouting and screaming and it just made the film so much better. The excitement generated by people in the room lifted the whole experience.
Reactions to recent films like Get Out have really reminded me of times like that, where audience participation made the experience. That environment is why I love cinema so much. You can fully immerse yourself in the world of the film and you experience it as one. No other medium can replace or replicate that. It's so fitting now that my job is about trying to capture that feeling and make people feel how I felt.
We put together a Queen & Slim Watch Party. It was the first time we've dabbled in the online arena and it went really well. We had one of the actors online for a Q&A, we had some live poetry and an online DJ set. We're hoping to do some more of that.
My favourite film of all time is The Matrix, so I've always wanted to do something with that. It was the 20th anniversary last year, and we were super busy with a BFI project. I had this cool idea, and it might be something we can do when the 25th anniversary rolls around.
Do the Right Thing is my second favourite film and we've done four different events with it so I think that's pretty much ticked off! I'd love to do something with La Haine. It's a companion piece to Do the Right Thing anyway, in my opinion, so it would be good to challenge ourselves to see what we could do. It raises a lot of issues that are still very much relevant now .
During the Spike Lee Film Festival, Spike Lee actually got in contact with us to say he wanted to do an event together. We did an event in front of 400 people with Spike there, which was an incredible personal and professional moment for me. We've got a picture hanging up in our house and every time I'm having a down day I look at it. People that came said "I never thought I'd meet Spike Lee and that's down to you." That was an amazing feeling.
Similarly with our Black Panther event, people said they'd never seen so many Black people in the BFI Southbank, watching a Black film. The events we've done at the BFI have all been about trying to increase BAME audiences at BFI Southbank, and making Black audiences realise there is a space for them there. Teanne and I have been an integral part of that, so we're very proud and will continue to do that work.
I'm also super proud that we're able to attract BAME audiences nationwide, as well as young audiences and the LGBTQ community. We hope to be on the road again soon!
To keep up to date with We Are Parable's events - virtual or otherwise - visit their website or follow @weareparable on social media. If you'd like to support independent exhibition in the UK, consider donating to the UK Cinema Fund, which will be added to the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund and used to offer critical relief and business continuity to exhibitors across the UK.
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