The experience of watching a film in a darkened room surrounded by strangers can certainly be considered a lonely endeavour. Shutting out all extraneous thoughts, feelings and anxieties which may have been percolating over the course of the day leading up to an evening’s retreat in the cocooning sanctuary of the cinema can also be incredibly therapeutic – a visual and aural balm to soothe away the stresses and strains of modern life. Cinema is an escape, regardless of the subject matter thrown up on the screen; it is a haven, a state and mind-altering distraction into an alternate reality, if only for a couple of hours.
Cinema had been widely tipped to have had its day, superseded by the combined might of Netflix, Sky and Amazon Prime in the battle for our viewing attention. Box-set binging is the order of the day now as we gluttonously devour the latest season of whichever TV show happens to be trending on social media – the clarion FOMO call defying us not to engage and consume like all good consumers must, obeying the master-to-servant mantra from on-high.
Television can be consumed in a very sociable setting, with friends and family, all the home comforts and a very convenient pause button, handy for loading up on snacks, or for dropping them off. Cinema can also be sociable though with the gaze fixed on the big screen, joyously distraction and chatter-free. Laughter is communal and emotions are heightened by the shared experience of the screening room. Post-film discussion provides catharsis, greater understanding and fellowship as the lights come back up.
Entirely volunteer-led and non-for-profit, Rochester Picture Palace has been screening films on Rochester High Street for the past four years or so, originally at the Corn Exchange where we adopted the name of a former incumbent a century ago, ‘Rochester Picture Palace’. Now relocated to the Huguenot Museum above the Visitor Centre we have undergone an upgrade with retractable raked seating and a bespoke drop-down screen. Our nationally commended programming largely avoids the mainstream fare served up at the multiplexes but instead focuses on the wealth of alternative and world cinema. We aim to represent all sections of society, screening award-winning films ranging from ‘The Tribe’, a Ukranian movie shot entirely in sign language with no sub-titles, to ‘Tangerine’, a Los Angeles-set transgender feature film shot entirely on iPhones.
Some of the Palace’s most memorable evenings have been collaborative efforts featuring guest speakers, such as the screening of ‘Suffragette’ on International Women’s Day; ‘Mission To Lars’ with the Challenging Behaviour Foundation and our two afternoon screenings to commemorate World Holocaust Day. Medway is such a vibrant area teeming with a diverse array of talented artists and an abundance of fantastic folk who care passionately about the lives of those around them. This, for me, is the defining aspect of society. Local arts and cultural initiatives have been at the forefront of promoting community-based events, raising money for good causes but also awareness of issues which otherwise would garner little or no publicity from the mainstream media.
Rochester Film Society is proud to be involved with ‘Sick! – Living With Invisible Illness’ with the screening of Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning ‘I, Daniel Blake’. The film is a scathing critique of Broken Britain’s humanity-stripping bureaucracy, exposing the humiliation and shame heaped upon disability benefits claimants. The film is also a beacon of hope, however, as it shows how real change can come about by people coming together and helping one another. It is by collaboration and co-operation rather than conflict and division that we can forge ahead and become a society where those without a voice are heard and those in need of help and support are not ignored.
Written by: Gary Barrell, Rochester Film Society
I, Daniel Blake 15 cert, 100 mins (UK)
Dir: Ken Loach
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires
Tuesday 25 July, The Huguenot Museum, 95, High Street Rochester, ME1 1LX
7.30pm, £6, concs £3.50. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rochester-picture-palace-i-daniel-blake-tickets-35454148312?ref=wplist