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19 June 2018

Monday afternoon at the flicks

David Cutler
More and more projects and arts venues are engaging older people in cinema, whether dementia-friendly screenings or participatory art workshops drawing on the love of film that many of us have. David Cutler reviews some recent projects.
Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, has been working with three over 60’s community groups in a special project based on their memories of cinema and the films they have seen over the last 50 years,

Recently I started the week by sloping off to the cinema, but before you think I am slacking I had the best possible of reasons. Meet Me At the Movies at the Albany in Deptford was established two years ago as part of a wide range of arts activities there for older people run under the auspices of Entelechy Arts. This Monday was special as it started off with a film made by a group of older residents of Lewisham Housing. They are working with artists on a variety of programmes funded by the Arts Council England and ourselves through the Celebrating Age Fund.

The screening room was full and boasted a red carpet and pop-corn, along with a some exotic decoration suitable for a screening of Walt Disney’s Jungle Book. Staff and volunteers welcomed the participants, before they were treated to a knowledgeable and enthusiastic exposition of how The Jungle Book was made by its number one fan, who just happens to the Director of Public Health for Lewisham, Dr Danny Ruta. The showing included an interlude for some dancing in the manner of the character Shere Khan and concluded with a digital demonstration of how to do your own animation.

Film and the cinema feature in many of the grants that we have made in our programme over the years. Ladder to the Moon uses live actors to recreate classic cinema in care homes giving residents leading roles. The Luminate Festival in Scotland has given a major role to cinema. Last year it included a festival of short films about ageing by Scottish film-makers called Short Encounters at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews. Our joint fund with the Arts Council Northern Ireland has supported Queen’s Film Theatre to hold two screenings for older people and their carers and then to run a series of arts workshops between these inspired by the initial film. The power of cinema has also attracted academic attention with the University of Liverpool running a project in both a local nursing home and an exchange with a health centre in Brazil in a project called Cinema, Memory and Wellbeing.

Many cinema goers will have noticed that film-maker are paying greater attention to older people as subjects in their work. Perhaps that is to do with a generally ageing society, as well as older actors and directors. Recent examples range from the masterly but bleak Amour to the jolly and upbeat Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Not everything is to my taste and I would happily pay money never to see Quartet again but perhaps 45 Years makes up for it. And dementia has certainly had its fair share of attention in the movies from Still Alice to the inventive conceit of Professor Xavier living with dementia in Logan. Indeed there are now several international film festivals on cinema and ageing, including in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, Belgium and proposals for collaborations with Manchester and Liverpool.

However, what has been of greater relevance to the Baring Foundation’s arts and older people programme has been the very welcome move by so many cinemas to become dementia-friendly. This movement might finds its roots in the guide we supported by the Alzheimer’s Society to support arts venues to be dementia-friendly and the excellent subsequent publication from West Yorkshire Playhouse on hosting dementia-friendly performances. It seems that a lot of the participating cinemas at the moment are of the art-house variety, but it is definitely a trend that is accelerating. I hope that the significant inclusion of the Picturehouse chain will encourage other larger providers.

The cinema is such an important aspect of many people’s cultural lives that this has to be one of the most important developments for arts and older people in recent years.