In a time when the dominance of home entertainment was distant, London’s Scala Cinema delighted in screening films that couldn’t be seen anywhere else. Helped in part by a late licence and a relaxed management attitude, its famous all-night sessions and programmes of trash, horror and odd classics made it nationally famous. Although it closed almost a quarter of a century ago, the idea it propagated – that watching films could be a communal experience – is being carried on today. The Scalarama festival encourages people to share their love of film, just like its namesake did. “That cinema was known for its alternative tastes and catering for different audiences,” says Michael McDermott, Scalarama’s Brighton coordinator. “Unlike the multiplexes now, it’d show very art-house films and things that didn’t usually get the chance for a film screening. We don’t really have anything like it now…”
An inclusive DIY film season, the event has worked with hundreds of venues, film clubs, festivals and organisations around the world since 2011. It has empowered people to show films for the first time, discover new local screenings and brought them together with others who share their passion.
Brighton’s contribution to Scalarama sees more than 30 films, including a newly restored version of the cult classic Psychomania, as well as a 16mm showing of Begotten accompanied by a live score. “It’s good to see we’ve got so many places on board. It’s a combination of me going to places and asking if they want to show some films and knowing people who are already looking to show films. It’s one of those things where everyone is really happy to get on board.” So cinephiles can expect a range of weird and wonderful screenings to take place in all manner of venues around the city during September. “We’ve got the conventional ones like the Duke of York’s and Dukes, but have theatres like The Old Market, or Fabrica.” The event also goes beyond simply projecting the films, working to make screenings as special as possible. Un Homme Qui Dort, playing at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse, sees a live rescore by electronic music duo – Animat. Also at the DOY’s is Wings of Desire in 35mm, featuring Nick Cave. Showing on Thurs 22 Sept, it marks both the singer’s and the cinema’s birthdays. “We’re trying to show as many films in 35mm and 16mm as possible. And Wings of Desire is going to be really special.” The season also presents a 35mm showing of Out of Print, a compelling documentary exploring the importance of revival cinema.
To launch the Brighton strand of Scalarama, Fabrica and Filmspot are presenting 80s classic The Forbidden Zone. It takes a surreal look at the glamour of a forgotten age. Mixing an esoteric ensemble cast, off-beat animated sequences, some flutters of deviancy and a few awe-inspiring musical numbers, it’s one of the strangest and most enjoyable cinema experiences you’ll ever have. Afterwards comes a party, featuring awesome new-wave DJs offering plenty of quirky synth records. The night perfectly sets the tone for a season concerning itself with films that can challenge and confound. A long way from the commercial content of the blockbusters, it’s cinema to be debated, absorbed and experienced. “There are so many great films which don’t get enough attention. We’re showing films which are under the radar so we can make people aware of these. A big issue in film is the lack of diversity, it’s something that Scalarama tries to address.” A large part of the festival is devoted to cinema created by women, a hugely underrepresented demographic in the film industry. “We’ve got a Q&A screening of The Violators by Helen Walsh, who is coming down for that. We also have Born In Flames, which is a very experimental 80s film by Lizzie Borden.” Continuing this theme is Ana Lily Amirpour’s vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Joy Batchelor’s Animal Farm – the UK’s first animated feature film. “Her daughter and Jez Stewart are going to be there in conversation, talking about animation today and the huge impact Joy had on British cinema.” It’s a selection of films that boldly examine the fringes of the human experience. Packed with misadventure, outcasts and the supernatural, Scalarama’s Brighton programme is a suitable homage to Britain’s greatest and quirkiest cinema.
Located near Kings Cross station, The Scala’s imposing building originally opened in 1920. It went through a range of uses, even becoming the setting for a live primate show, until the Scala Cinema Club were ejected from their original home on Charlotte Street. So they took over the venue in 1981, and quickly gained a fearsome reputation. From odd sci-fi porn adventures like Café Flesh to John Waters’ legendary Pink Flamingos, The Scala’s beautiful interior offered a portal to worlds beyond polite society. Eventually closed in 1999, after it illegally screened the then-banned A Clockwork Orange, its adventurous spirit continues to live on. Now the annual Scalarama event shows that watching films can still be an enlivening social experience, especially when what we watch is looking back at is
Scalarama comes to venues around Brighton & Hove on Thurs 1 – Fri 30 Sept.