Nicky Beaumont is Storyhouse’s film and digital programme manager. In Part One, she talks to us about her role at Storyhouse and the changes that 2020 has brought.
Nicky joined the Storyhouse team at the end of 2015 to write a plan for the cinema that would be within Chester’s new cultural centre, and to help with Storyhouse’s outdoor film events such as Moonlight Flicks. She now programmes the films for Storyhouse’s cinema as well as Moonlight Flicks, Moonlight Drive, and film events and festivals at Storyhouse.
Prior to joining Storyhouse she managed the Cinecity Brighton Film Festival for eleven years. Before that she worked for City Screen, the independent cinema company that would later become Picturehouse Cinemas. There she programmed cinemas in London, Exeter, Bath and York. Nicky has also worked as a consultant and project manager on numerous film exhibition projects across the UK.
Storyhouse Cinema is a 92 seat boutique style cinema space located on the Mezzanine level in Storyhouse. It is totally independent and all of the films are decided and booked (programmed) by me – in Chester for Chester audiences. As a single screen we have never been able to show the number of films that the local multiplex can offer, so instead we show a highly selected, curated programme. This includes family features (the cinema has always had a strong family audience and we screen family films every Saturday and Sunday morning, and during school holidays); the best of the mainstream blockbuster releases; and a range of independent and specialised screenings such as independent British films, world cinema and foreign language titles, classics and documentaries.
Have the films at Storyhouse Cinema changed since Covid 19 and lockdown?
There have been many column inches in the press dedicated to the latest Bond film – when will it open? What does its delay mean to the industry? Covid has certainly shaken the global film industry and with cinemas in America closed the major studios have been reluctant to release product. So, Tenet aside we have shown a lot less studio titles than we would do in a normal year.
However, unlike some of the major cinema chains, shutting up shop and waiting for it all to blow over isn’t an option for Storyhouse- we have a responsibility to our communities and audiences to be open if we can. Plus, contrary to popular belief – just because the studios are holding back their product doesn’t mean there are no films to play. This period has actually provided us with a great opportunity to screen more independent film, from more diverse voices – and we are bringing in audiences to see these films. Of course, we have far fewer seats to fill because of social distancing but it is gratifying to see sold out screenings for films that perhaps at a different time would not get as much screen space. My personal favourite film of the year has been Rocks – a wonderful British film about school aged girls growing up in East London. It is a film full of hope and has great authenticity – and I was delighted to be able to give it a whole two week run in the cinema.
We have screened several British debut features since we re-opened in July – Claire Oakley’s Make Up, Eva Riley’s Perfect 10, and Aki Omoshaybi’s Real to name a few. Not a debut, but an early career film by Craig Roberts – Eternal Beauty – a sensitive and sometimes funny film about mental health starring Sally Hawkins also did very well for us.
We have screened far more films by filmmakers of colour in these past few months – and it’s really something to celebrate that the less crowded marketplace is allowing for a greater diversity of voices to break through. We’ve screened the hard hitting but utterly excellent Clemency by Chinonye Chukwu about a death row prisoner and his executioner played by Alfre Woodard, and the lovely coming of age film Miss Juneteenth by Channing Godfrey Peoples – two films by female black American filmmakers. Mali born French director Ladj Ly’s Les Miserables, and British documentary maker Rubika Shah’s White Riot have also prominently featured in our programme. The LGBTQ+ drama by Cambodian born Chinese British director Hong Khoau Monsoon is yet another example of how diversity is running right through our current film slate.
I love independent film – so I’ve actually really enjoyed programming these past few months.
The Movie Theatre
The other big change for me as a programmer when Storyhouse re-opened in July was the addition of an extra screen. During lockdown#1 we invested in a second cinema system to allow for films to screen in the main house whilst there was no live theatre. The Movie Theatre provided a natural home for the big summer release of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending Tenet. However, we also used the space creatively. Faced with a lack of new films for families at the start of the school summer holidays we curated a popular season of classic family films under the banner of films to see before you turn twelve which all played in the movie theatre. When some of the limitations on live performances were lifted we invited musician Chris Green to perform his live score to the 1922 classic silent Nosferatu. The screening completely sold out offering the audience a chance to hear live music for the first time in many months – as everyone knows live music has suffered terribly during lockdown so this performance was all the more potent.
In Part Two, Nicky tells us about outdoor cinema events in response to the pandemic, and the future for cinema. Head to Part Two of Nicky Beaumont: Cinema in 2020 here