I was sixteen when I first stepped foot into Queen’s Film Theatre and I’ve been in love ever since. I’ve always adored cinema, and throughout my undergraduate English and Film degree and subsequent Film MA at Queens, I have become passionate about it as an academic discipline and a source of countercultural art. However, I am in the minority. Many students at Queens have never even been to the QFT. That is because mainstream cinema, particularly in this age of blockbusters and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is commanding the general population’s attention more so than the cultural independent films show at the QFT, and leads one to ask: why?Independent and Art House films get a bad name. Ask a random member of the public their opinion on indie and Art House films, and their answer will most likely be that they “aren’t as good as proper films”, or even the classic “they’re a bit pretentious”. The idea of ‘proper’ films amongst the general public seems to equate to a big budget. They seem to be labouring under the impression that films with more money spent on them are automatically better. They can be very dismissive of lower budget indie movies because their aesthetic isn’t as clean cut as that of Hollywood, or big budget British films. Indies and Art House films are often marketed as being for “intelligent” people, which is alienating and off-putting, and therefore reinforces the impression that they are pretentious.
People have become so used to classic cause-and-effect narratives with easy to follow themes and seamless editing, that anything that deviates from them seems like too much to concentrate on. Independent cinema isn’t always aesthetically artistic, of course, but the argument can be made that a fair majority of them are. Many of them value artistic style over story. But on the other hand, independent cinema also often focuses on story over aesthetic. An indie film could be the most heart wrenching, evocative story you’ve ever experienced, but if you are used to the style and colours that often accompany bigger budget films, the visual aesthetic will put you off before you give the story a chance.
People want to be entertained; they don’t want to have to give a film their undivided attention. Generation gaps have a huge impact on the film industry (obviously these are generalities, there are always exceptions to these but for the sake of this argument). The older generation – the over 30s – find it easier to concentrate on something for a long period of time. But the younger generation – 18 to 30 year-olds – have so many different things competing for their attention: fast-paced mainstream cinema, instant access to any information they want, constant new social media material. Film has the unique problem of maintaining an audience’s attention for a particular period of time: you can always set down a book and come back to it when you’re ready, or switch between social media platforms until you wish to go back to one, but in a cinema environment you can’t just turn a film off or pause it whenever you like.
So what can independent and cultural cinemas like the QFT do to extend their reach to the younger generation?
Those in the younger generation are at a crucial point in their lives: their discovering who they are and are developing who they want to be. Perhaps someone is interested in visual aesthetics but doesn’t understand fine art? Cinema is a fantastic alternative. Perhaps someone is interested in politics, social problems or other cultures, but doesn’t know how to experience these kinds of events: cinema! Perhaps they are interested in counterculture, but aren’t sure how to express or develop this interest? The answer, you guessed it, is cinema! The QFT and other independent cinemas screen films that celebrate counterculture, a culture many young people feel connected to but don’t know where to start.
What the QFT needs to do is appeal to this younger demographic by emphasising that they understand what is important to them: an alternative and intimate venue with a prestigious countercultural vibe where they feel important and part of a progressive culture, affordable ticket prices (including the QFT Film Card, which many people don’t know about) and a wide variety of confectionary and alcohol (being able to drink in a cinema instantly makes you more interesting to students), streaming of alternative content such as theatre, which the younger generation may not be able to afford to experience in person, and encourage their diverse choice in films (many members the younger generation actively seek to stand out from the mainstream crowd so this appeals to them). The QFT need to promote these benefits via their social media platforms, as it is the quickest and most effective way of grabbing the younger generation’s attention. The older generation think we want the latest high-tech experience, such as VR or kinetic seats, but what we want, above all, is to feel valued.