Thanks to Evelyn for this interesting background piece on – the now hugely popular – Ventnor Film Society (VFS). Details of a new booking system for the VFS will be released later in the week. In the meantime, read on for Evelyn’s feature. Ed
In 2005 a modest team of three decided to form a Film Society. All three were keen film buffs, used to going to the movies often and missed having a venue close to home.
By August 2005 they had made several successful grant appeals and began to gather start-up money. Projector, screen, speakers and all the necessary additional accessories were purchased and venues were visited. They had no idea who they would attract and where the best venue would be.
First stop Ventnor Botanic Garden
Searching around they settled on the Canna Room in the Botanic Garden. Parking was OK, the place was warm, blinds on the windows, just an awful staircase that could put people off should the lift not be working.
A programme was devised and an A4 poster stating ‘FILM COMES TO VENTNOR’ was produced and circulated around the town. The first showing of the 2005/6 season was Hotel Rwanda, the film cost £88.72 to hire and our rent was £50. The take on the night was £155.50 so they knew they would have to do better to meet other overhead costs.
However, doing better was not really possible due to the size of the room and, during their time there, they often had the unpleasant job of turning people away.
Moving onto the Winter Gardens
In September 2006 they moved to The Winter Gardens. The rent was higher but there was no problem with audience numbers and people responded accordingly.
Having a bar was a huge plus and seemed to over-ride the fact that the sound was not always as clear as required, but lots of foreign films with sub-titles were welcomed. They held some ‘archive’ events during the years at the Winter Gardens.
People came in their hundreds. Archived train films, early Isle of Wight publicity films and Royal visits were among those shown, with tea and cake thrown in. Good times were enjoyed and the Society stayed there until the Gardens closed and they had to move on.
Up to the school
By this time the group of three had grown to a group of nine or ten and they worked hard seeking suitable places to show film and all the planning that goes into an attractive programme. Nowhere seemed to be suitable, no essential blackout in the halls, no proper seating.
Eventually, by agreeing to provide the blackout for the windows, they settled on St Francis Junior School. St Francis was pleased to welcome them and a promise made for the Society to follow the school when it was moved to the new premises on Upper Ventnor. They opened in the Spring of 2011 and, although there was a sharp contrast with the previous venue, it went reasonably well.
New school a no-no
They watched as the new school began to take shape and visits were encouraged to see the main hall and the parking and it all seemed very exciting.
In 2012 it was clear that the new school would not be able to afford black out for the windows. The size of the windows made it impossible for the Film Society to provide help so the ambitious plan had to be dropped and they would be homeless once again.
Ventnor Arts Club
Unexpectedly came a rescue in the shape of the owner of the redundant NatWest Bank on Ventnor High Street. The Society had looked longingly at these premises and had no inkling that they would be offered accommodation there. But so it was.
Last week on the 19th February the first film of Spring 2013 was shown in the Arts Club to a very packed audience.
Sadly, history repeated itself and people, some who had been coming since 2005, had to be turned away through lack of space.
Never missed a season
In all of this moving, the exciting times, the disappointments and the bargaining, Ventnor Film Society has never missed a season of showing films.
Sometimes they have just about got the publicity out on time, sometimes they have moaned and groaned about the difficulty of getting all the gear to the venue and sometimes they have had to say ‘We’re sorry, we are full,’ and closed the door. But they have never said let’s pack it all up.
So they are all sitting down, watching films and wondering what might happen next.