Wicked Cinema at Rhyl Little Theatre

By FHW Marketing


Wicked Cinema is a collaboration between Wicked 17 International Youth Film Festival and Rhyl Little Theatre. In May 2017, film returned to the theatre for the first time in over 50 years with a weekend of Sci-Fi classics.
 

Now after four weekend programmes, the monthly cinema has become a permanent fixture in the Rhyl calendar. Here, Rhiannon Hughes from Wicked 17 explains how they got the cinema up and running, and why it is so important to the local area.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

Starting the collaboration

When we started programming films for the Festival last year, we found it difficult and limiting working with full-time cinemas. They were expensive to hire, but even more importantly the windows of opportunities to screen extra films around their regular programming was limiting. This was unresponsive to our festival’s needs. We also needed to hire the equipment from South Wales.
 

Then we got in contact with The Little Theatre, which offered an affordable and flexible venue. They were also keen to see films screened again after a gap of over 50 years.
 

Having the support of dedicated volunteers

The easy part was working with the volunteers at the theatre. They joined our young group of programmers and we have met together almost every week to programme and plan our screenings for the past four months!
 

We did need to get the funding to buy our own mobile cinema and we needed to learn how to use it quickly, but everybody has supported each other. The theatre’s support has made everything possible and made the setting up easy. Without their team of dedicated volunteers, we couldn’t have made it work.
 

Launching Wicked Cinema

Our opening weekend was very exciting! We planned a Sci-Fi season with five films and a chance to dress up. We had the Rhyl Mayor officially open the cinema and provided blankets as it was very cold – it is an old theatre in need of a new heating system.
 

Star Wars was our biggest audience and we had over 20 volunteers on site with ages ranging from 16-70 years old. Many of them dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes! There was popcorn everywhere and a real buzz of everybody enjoying themselves and wanting to be a part of it.
 

Working with Young Programmers

We brought a group of young people together as part of the BFI Young Programmers project (Young FAN). This was made possible following a visit to the local college when we were invited to talk about our festival. Again, all the progress we have made is largely down to enthusiastic tutors who encouraged their students to work with us – and support from Film Hub Wales.
 

We live in an area that includes some of the most deprived wards in Wales. Within those wards are incredibly talented young people; we want to offer them a chance to enjoy and run a cinema. We want to make them believe they can have a job in the media industry.
 

Highlights so far

There have been many highlights, but the most emotional one was working with the special school. They had a very enthusiastic teacher who worked with the group of young people with special needs to plan their screening. They set up a cinema enterprise group ReACTions and went through the process of choosing a film, looking at certifications etc. They then marketed the screening with posters they designed and sold tickets and popcorn on the day. We split the box office so they could buy some film equipment.
 

We also set up an additional screen in the rehearsal room so that the children with the most profound needs who needed to stay in their wheelchairs were able to watch the same film at the same time as the children in the main cinema. Collectively we had 18 children in wheelchairs with their 22 carers, the rest of the school in the main theatre, a MP and an AM!
 

Another highlight was watching the Lion King, which had a big audience of families with young children. We were told that for many it was the first time the whole family had been able to afford coming to the cinema together. It made you think.
 

Lessons learned since starting

We have all learned new skills about running a cinema. We are still experimenting with our programming while understanding the first step for us to get a community suffering real poverty back into the cinema, particularly as families.
 

We need to reach out to the community and our marketing has included working with the local hospital radio, dressing as pirates and giving out leaflets in the town, leafleting in schools, the Salvation Army and benefits advice shop. We also try to connect with young people through social media.
 

The future of Wicked Cinema

Looking ahead, we want to roll out the model used by Tir Morfa to other schools and community groups, so they can take total ownership of their own screenings. We will try this with young people as well as, and look at taking the mobile cinema to other venues.
 

At our latest screening, we provided activities for the children, which gave parents a chance to chat. This was very successful and we will look to develop activities before each screening in the future. We also look at providing screenings for children with autism, and for people with dementia.
 

Programming-wise, we will be hosting Britain on Film: Coast and Sea in September, with local history exhibitions. At the Wicked 17 Festival, we will have a Wicked Fringe, which will be a season of British films the weekend before the festival starts. Then at Christmas, as many schools in this area can no longer afford to take children to the pantomime, we will offer them a week of Christmas film screenings where they can choose the film.
 

Preparing for Wicked 17 International Youth Film Festival

We are busy, busy, busy!
 

We are in the process of setting up an office at the theatre which will be run by young people, supported by festival volunteers. This means we have a talented young team helping the oldies with downloading films, programming, designing invitations, leaflets, liasing with international partners etc.
 

This year we are expecting short films from other 20 countries, with our chosen country this year being India. We are also having an industry day titled ‘Tomorrow’s Legends’ as part of the festival, which will inform people about the industry and the training opportunities. 
 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Wicked Cinema is a strategic project supported by Film Hub Wales through the Audience Development Support. Find out more about the support available from Film Hub Wales on our Support page.