Celebrating cinema in Durham

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In celebration of 75 years of Palatinate, we want to shine a light on the world of cinema within the Durham community.

Durham Student Film is a society dedicated to providing students eager to break into the industry a chance to enhance their skills, meet other people interested in production and direction, and (most importantly) make their creative ideas a reality. Esther Duckworth – a second year student and Director of this year’s Film Festival – has been given the incredible opportunity to shoot her short film alongside a dedicated crew after winning the society’s coveted ‘script hust’, where members submit their scripts with a chance to materialise their creative innovation.

The DSF tackles one of the biggest roadblocks for students trying to enhance their skills and bring their creative visions to life: tech. A lot of us leave our script ideas on the backburner because we can’t rely on shoddy phone cameras and unreliable battery-life.

In the world of YouTubers and streamers, many people expect a high level of professionalism and expensive hardware, even from beginners. But for paying members of DSF (£15 for one year, £25 for life) this equipment is all ready at your fingertips. The DSF also hosts 24/48 hour filmmaking challenges. By the end of one of these challenges, you’ll have a short film written, shot, and edited, and importantly, still have time to complete that summative you’ve been procrastinating. Film holds a dear place in the heart of Durham University, whether through a student’s camera or pitched up on a projector screen by one of the many societies dedicated to bringing the pictures into student life. The Durham Student Film society is going a step further with this year’s Durham Film Festival – giving students the chance not only to come together and share in the cinematic experience, but to showcase their own talents on the big screen and play a part in Durham’s cinematic history.

Cinema is struggling more than ever, and the industry is becoming increasingly inaccessible

The Gala, which will host the festival, was for some time Durham’s sole picture house, and even now is only one of three licensed cinemas in the city. Located in Millenium Place, The Gala is run by the local council and prides itself on its accessible screenings and affordable prices – a standard £5 entry fee for all ages. The festival organisers are hoping to sell tickets at an even lower price, giving everyone the opportunity to see what Durham filmmakers have to offer.

But just like the wider world, cinema is struggling more than ever, and the industry is becoming an increasingly inaccessible place to create or consume. Even prior to the cost of living crisis cinemas were suffering in Durham.

The Majestic Cinema, located in Gilesgate, was open from 1938 up to 1961, before closing its curtains and being converted into a bingo club until recent years. Similarly the Palladium Cinema which was in Claypath opened 1929, before converting to a bingo hall in 1976 and, later, a church. Until 2016, you could still see the then-derelict building, and imagine its previous glory – though you may not have known that, inside the abandoned remnants of a rich past, there was a fullyfunctioning projector which would never be used again. The Palladium has since been demolished and rebuilt as private student accommodation. Following recent approval, the former Majestic Cinema (now known as Apollo Bingo) will also be demolished to make way for accommodation.

Local film festivals are a way to bring us back to the art of ideas

Being on the exec for Durham’s third licensed cinema, Bede Film Society, I know first-hand the time, effort, and honestly the disappointment which goes into running a cinema in a collapsing industry. It is difficult to consolidate the love I have for film with the constant reminder that cinema and local history have been so easily disrupted and left to be forgotten, instead making way for the advancements of the University into a city which is increasingly surrendering its culture to students who will live there for a few years before heading off to other ventures. Following the University’s announcements of 2022 to renovate and potentially split up Hild Bede College, the BFS has similarly lost its 60-year home with no telling when, or if, it will ever be housed again.

Streaming services and multimillion blockbusters are making local cinema and amateur film obsolete. It’s easy to become apathetic, to feel as though cinema is something to engage with sparingly and that filmmaking is inaccessible for the average person. Local film festivals are a way to bring us back to the art of ideas, to shut off from expectations of over-saturated productions and to have fun with creativity.

If you would like to submit a project – there is still time to enter. Any student can enter, with just £10 for general student entries and £7 for entries from North East student applicants.

The judges will be looking at substance over style, so no matter what equipment you have to hand, no matter whether you’re a maths student with an eye-watering sixteen-or-more contact hours a week, you can get involved. And if you don’t want to send something in, you can definitely look at what Durham has to offer.

The festival will run from 12-13 June.


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