Bede Film Society: 60 years of screenings

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Like all Durham colleges, Hild Bede is home to a varied and vibrant student community, reflected in the breadth of its resident societies. Unlike all Durham colleges, however, one of these societies is the university’s oldest, cheapest, and only student-run cinema, aptly named Bede Film Society. Currently operating out of the college’s Caedmon Hall, Bede Film Society (and its executive committee) is open to students from across all Durham colleges. With a mixed programme including the newest blockbusters, foreign language and independent films, and ticket prices as low as £2 for members and £4 for non-members, it offers an unbeatably accessible cinema experience to Durham’s students. 

Reaching their sixtieth year has not been without its challenges

This experience is by no means a novelty – the Society has been running since 1962 and is thus so old that it predates the founding of Hild Bede’s merged entity of what were previously single-sex colleges. Originally, screenings were exclusively of 16mm films however, sixty years later, there’s been a significant technological upgrade thanks to generous alumni donations. The Society now makes use of a professional digital projector and Dolby Surround Sound system. This term, the Society celebrated their sixtieth anniversary in style with a black-tie screening of Dr No, the first film in the Bond franchise, which was released in the same year as their founding. There was also a special showing of Mamma Mia!, hotly anticipated not only as a celebration of the end of this year’s exams, but also of the reintroduction of pick and mix tubs for sale.

Reaching their sixtieth year has not been without its challenges, as the effects of the pandemic saw showings cancelled and audience numbers subjected to tight restrictions. Despite encouraging signs of recovery in its popularity, the Society’s future is now under a new threat, as university development plans for Hild Bede include the demolition of Caedmon Hall, which is currently the only known site in the university that can adequately support the Society’s equipment. Until Caedmon is closed at the end of this term, Bede Film Society’s showings will continue as normal with The BatmanThe Worst Person in The World, and Dr Strange in The Multiverse of Madness scheduled for the coming weeks. 

An unparalleled opportunity for students to engage with a wide range of films

For Hild Bede’s Principal Professor Simon Forrest, Bede Film Society’s importance should not be underestimated. He poignantly states that “there are many wonders in Durham, the brightest among them are most often to be found in the student-led elements of our collegial, academic and professional lives. Bede Film Soc burns very bright for me in stellar company. It has the charm that arises from a surge of student interest in doing something simple, brilliant, and simply brilliant and founding a cinema. It has endured for years — six decades now — and that means twenty generations of students have sat together, pick and mix in hand and enjoyed great films at low prices in their own Hollywood. Whenever I stand in the battered but majestic Caedmon Hall I see the silver screen, and whenever I enter our college reception the tickets and advertising proudly displayed from the Society’s earliest years. It brings me home to what matters about what we do and the pleasures we can create and share. I look forward to sixty more years of Durham’s oldest student cinema and knowing it has outlived me because it is the stuff of which we are made.”  

Bede Film Society truly is a gem: an unparalleled opportunity for students to engage with a wide range of films, gain hands-on experience of running a licensed cinema with professional equipment, and enjoy a space of communal, filmic respite from the intensity of Durham’s vigorous academic terms. Its own story is as important as any it shows on its screen. 

If you would like to support Bede Film Society, follow them on Instagram and Facebook for more information on their screenings, and have a listen to their weekly Purple Radio Arts Podcast. 

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One thought on “Bede Film Society: 60 years of screenings

  • Great photography, Mabel

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