Backstage with Strictly Cinema

Strictly Cinema returns to Stroud Film Festival with Hitchcock’s Vertigo on Saturday 23rd March, set in the eerie shadows of St Laurence Church. Producers Louisa Birkin and Claire Levy tell the story of their immersive pop-up cinema, now in its 4th edition.

Hello both. What is Strictly Cinema?

Louisa: Strictly Cinema is the name of a series of immersive film events. The name is tongue in cheek, because it is in fact more than just ‘cinema’, it is a whole evening of experiences. It came about with our first event, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom and the name just stuck.

Claire: We encourage our guests to dress up & get in the mood. It’s a lot of fun.

Romeo+Juliet , The Lansdown 2017

Romeo+Juliet, The Lansdown 2017

How did you two meet and how did you become involved with SFF? 

Louisa: I first got in touch with SFF in 2016. I had an idea for a film event but knew I would need a bit more help and so Andy Freedman introduced me to Claire and we got chatting about ideas.

And what do you both do?

Claire: I’m a filmmaker, my background is in documentary and I lecture in filmmaking at Bath Spa Uni & at Goldsmiths, Uni of London. You can say I’m a big fan of film in all its guises!

Louisa: I work as a graphic designer and art director. I currently work for Giffords Circus and previously freelanced in London.

Strictly Ballroom ’s Pan-Pacific Dance Championship, Lansdown Hall 2017

Strictly Ballroom’s Pan-Pacific Dance Championship, Lansdown Hall 2017

What are the biggest challenges when putting on an event like yours?

Louisa: For me the challenge is transforming the space and creating a unique setting for the film, on a minimal budget. I have previously borrowed costumes from a theatre directors’ personal collection in the Forest of Dean so our volunteers could be dressed in ball gowns; scoured eBay for boiler suits and Nostromo patches for our Alien ship uniforms. It’s all in the detail.

Claire: At our first event, we realised we didn’t have anywhere to hang people’s coats! Some quick thinking saved the day and we’ve learned each time we’ve put on an event. I’m an experienced producer, so used to thinking through logistics, but the thrill is seeing it all happen on the night. My main rule is feed your crew. They will love you and the event all the more.

Tell us about some of the previous events, what and where were they?

Sourcing costumes in the Forest of Dean

Sourcing costumes in the Forest of Dean

Louisa: We have put on a couple of events at the Lansdown Hall - Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet. For Strictly Ballroom we teamed up with some local dance instructors and gave over 90 people a spontaneous lesson in ballroom dancing. For SFF 2018 I was keen to find a more unusual location, so we ventured to the basement level of The Malthouse at Salmon Springs. It provided an eerie and dark setting for our screening of Alien.

What's been the highlight of Strictly Cinema so far?

Claire: The atmosphere and all the great experiences we create wouldn’t be possible without our fabulous volunteers - they really make the night special. We are very grateful for all their hard work.  

Louisa: Seeing the outlandish costumes that walk through our doors. The people of Stroud love to dress up – be that glammed up with glitter and sequins for a dance around the ballroom – or a Commando ready for action against the Predator stalking across the dusty basement. I’m looking forward to seeing how people react to our 1950’s film noir theme this year!

Alien , the Malthouse basement 2018

Alien, the Malthouse basement 2018

So what's in store for Vertigo? What was it about the film that made you choose it?

Louisa: We wanted to choose a classic film noir – but perhaps one that not everyone would have seen. The film is over 60 years old but stands the test of time. It has a fantastic score and we thought would be perfect for the atmospheric setting of St Laurence Church.

Claire: The venue  is such a privilege to be able to use this year - we’re grateful to  Mike and St Laurence to welcoming us into their genuinely cinematic space. We have a few little surprises and prizes up our sharp suited sleeves which we think our audience, as ever, will enjoy. We are also very lucky this year to have Derrick from Jamaica Inn Kitchen to cater our event. We’re also grateful for the support from Stroud Wine Company and Wotton Cinema for our evening.

Louisa: I’m expecting sharp suits and ties, fedora hats, glamorous dresses – private detectives, villains and femme fatales – anything goes!

Strictly Cinema presents Vertigo - St Laurence Church - Saturday 23 March 7.30pm

Andy Freedman