Regional Screen Scotland has one simple aim: to enable more people, in more places, to share great screen experiences. And the most extreme example of that aim is our Screen Machine mobile cinema, touring the latest movie releases to some of Scotland’s smallest communities. 

Since lockdown, like all other cinemas, the Screen Machine has of course ceased operation. During this time online and streaming services have been a vital source entertainment and distraction, and many groups have come up with ingenious methods of sharing film-watching virtually, like Netflix parties. But at RSS we believe that nothing beats the experience of sharing a film as an actual audience, all together in the same physical space. So our focus over lockdown has been, not on immediate interventions, but on planning for a gradual emergence from this state of isolation.

Back in June 2019 RSS launched A Cinema Near You, a two year programme, in partnership with Film Hub Scotland, and supported by Screen Scotland, to address significant gaps in screen and cinema provision across Scotland. By March this year it was clear that we were going to greatly exceed our original targets, whether in terms of new or reopened cinemas, bringing new releases to existing halls and theatres, or training and supporting new DVD-based community groups. The interest in, and demand for, screen experiences surpassed our expectations. Then we had to put the brakes on.

Part of that programme has been to compile a comprehensive online database, with an interactive map, of the full extent of Scotland’s Screen Community.  We plan to launch that map once a date has been announced for cinemas to reopen, and it will then become a crucial snapshot of what existed, pre-lockdown, and therefore of what we now need to help to rebuild and sustain.

Film has tremendous potential to help to re-establish community links and confidence: it is inclusive and accessible, and it will be much simpler to restart film screenings (outdoors as well as indoors) than any kind of live performance. But film is also a crucial tool to support wider community agendas, and that’s why our development of A Cinema Near You has only been possible because of strong links with a large number of community-focused agencies; not just SURF, but also bodies such as Senscot, DTAS, Scotland’s Towns Partnership, Voluntary Health Scotland, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, and many more.

Cinema is also important for many other aspects of post-Covid life: how community spaces can be reopened and reimagined; how to continue to work with volunteers who are predominantly in the ‘at risk’ age range; how to build confidence to start to come together again within our communities; how to ensure that we can retain the local facilities and resources that are critical to a positive sense of ‘place’. And as part of ‘Building Back Better’ it may also offer useful models and lessons for the wider culture and leisure sectors.

(Update provided Regional Screen Scotland)