Just how free can the GFT be if the GFT could be free?

Credit: Rachel Wood

Jamie Graham

A review of the GFT’s brand new pay-what-you-want scheme .

Shortly after arriving at the University of Glasgow, I decided to make a list; I tried to note down every film I wanted to watch. I knew that paying to watch them all would become one of my most expensive hobbies. However, going to the Glasgow Film Theatre (GTF) provided me with an affordable solution. Every month, as many students and young people do, I look forward to picking up the newest GFT catalogue. The process of raking through the pages and circling what I most want to go to is infinitely more satisfying than scrolling through tens of web-pages. Sitting down in a classic-style cinema to watch an old or new film among people seeing it for the first, or twentieth time, is always special.

The GFT is incredibly student friendly and their 15-25 card has helped me a lot – the promise of great film for a fiver is hard to pass up! But when I heard that the GFT were going even further and trialling a “Pay What You Decide” scheme, in a few minutes I had booked my tickets.

Though the idea itself is not new, doing this at a film screening is completely novel to me. To be frank, I was not convinced the idea would work – would people really pay over the price of a cinema ticket, even if the film they saw was of high quality?

The film I saw was called Ladyworld, an all-female reinterpretation of William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies, directed by Amanda Kramer. I’ve never really warmed to the book, but was delighted I saw Ladyworld. The creepy atmosphere of the film deftly drew out the unsettling feelings I had when I originally read the book, more so than other adaptations.

The film was introduced by Allison Gardner, the programme director at the GFT. She explained that the “Pay What You Decide” system was primarily aimed at supporting indie cinema. and giving audiences an opportunity to show how much (or how little) we liked the film. 

As I watched, I found myself rating the film in an unusual fashion. Firstly, in terms of how well-made I thought it was and then secondly in terms of how much money I felt it deserved. I felt guilty about grading this, like marking someone else’s exam paper, but everyone is going to respond to a film in different ways. I didn’t know much about Ladyworld before seeing it and therefore paid instinctively in the spur of the moment, whilst others may have read reviews or seen the trailer and already been influenced in terms of their price and opinion. I also balanced out how much money I had that night, how much I should be spending on a film that I hadn’t really felt excited for, and how much I should be trying to support indie cinema and the GFT.

Trying to work out how much a film is worth to me almost became a distraction, and while I was distracted, some of the audience had left and they hadn’t paid anything. They had lost nothing – I would feel far more guilty about walking out of a cinema, £10 worse-off and hating the film, than I would walking out of a cinema after trying a film, finding it wasn’t for me, and not needing to pay.

The issue with the system if it were broadly introduced is that by default, the movies which make money are the ones which are generally more popular. So, is there a risk that the independent, less commercial and less popular movies will be shown less because the “Pay What You Decide” system would still ultimately favour more commercially palatable items? Cinemas are still a business, after all, and need to make enough money to function as one. It is extremely simple to stream films online at much less cost than you would pay to see them in a cinema normally, and a system that reduces any income for these businesses will risk alienating the less commercial films. It would be a shame, because what makes the GFT interesting, as a cinema celebrating all forms of film, becomes less significant if you introduce a system that makes these films cheaper to watch than to make. This serves only to push art house further into the fringes of culture. The system provides a great deal of freedom to its customers, but despite its charm, I’d be surprised to see bigger cinema chains decide to try this anytime soon.

If you just want to know how I much I left, I paid three pounds for the film. I like the system a lot but hope that if it is more frequently used, it is in such a way that does not detract from the precious money independent cinema has fought for its right to earn. 


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