How quirky? Glasgow’s alternative cinema scene

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Credit: Burnt Church Film Club

Rosie Beattie
Film & TV Columnist

Recently Glasgow has been brimming with the phenomenon of pop-up cinemas and alternative screenings. Scalarama film festival is Christmas come early for community and cult screening fans on the look-out for original cinematic experiences far from your average mainstream venue. Events this year included increasingly familiar groups such as Burnt Church Film Club and She’s En Scene respectively screening Inglorious Basterds and Girlhood. Less familiar are screenings such as Time for Ilhan as part of Take One Action group which draws attention to pressing political issues. Whatever the aim, pop-up cinematic events such as these often include watching a classic or a cult favourite in the back room of a bar or small arts venue with creaking chairs that force an uncomfortable closeness to the person next to you. The result, however, is a memorable experience, one which mainstream cinema will seldom be able to provide.

The mixed venues, often tucked away in alleys and basements, showcase the full artistic potential of Glasgow’s spaces. For instance, the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall (the world’s oldest surviving music hall) at Trongate was used for a screening of the German classic, Metropolis, which was accompanied by a live orchestra.

But when does quirky and alternative become too much? With the myriad of pop-up screenings happening year-round, originality and high concepts are sometimes too ambitious. I have been to several pop-up cinema events but one in particular still has me undecided about the results. A secret screening in a secret location.

7pm, Kelvingrove subway station. The deal was to ‘take a chance on your evening’. In theory, I liked this idea and the mystery. Waiting at the station, however, I thought I might have missed a key piece of secret information as I stood awkwardly eyeing up potential film enthusiasts. I was beginning to doubt if the screening was even real when the host rocks up in a hotdog costume. With a group of roughly a dozen other strangers we were led to the host’s flat and sat in front of a home-screen projector in the living room. Squeezed onto a single couch and scattered around on spare chairs and the floor, we politely accepted the baked goods on the go. There was some sharing of awkward or suspicious glances, much like when you enter a new seminar group for the first time. The screening was part of an experimental programme called Radical Home Cinema where the host invites other cinema-lovers to watch a film in their home. The intention was interesting: to break down boundaries between public and private audiences.

For the first half hour of the film – Toni Erdmann directed by Maren Ade – I was too distracted by the fact I was in a stranger’s living room with other strangers, half of whom also looked extremely baffled. I was more at ease by the end of the screening but perhaps only because I enjoyed the film so much. There was a tame attempt at mingling and discussion after the film. I still appreciate that the host opened their home to me and introduced me to the film and the director. Nonetheless, I still catch myself thinking that had it not been for the quality of the film I probably would have spent more time thinking about how to make a nonchalant exit.

Don’t get me wrong, you will find me in the first row of Sloan’s Eatfilm screenings of classic teenage films like Clueless and Donnie Darko. Yet, I’ll take a night in with my friends watching films on TV any time. Still, I am sceptical. Why would I leave the comfort of my home to invade someone else’s private space who I am not acquainted with? It seems like an unfortunate mix between the two with none of the buzz of a truly public screening and all of the limitations of the home screen.