Stuart is a De Montfort University student who has been on the university’s Frontrunners placement programme, where students gain paid work experience. As he gets ready to go back for his last year, we talked about what it’s been like working at Phoenix.
“I help Jake Harvey, Phoenix’s cinema programmer, with deciding which films we screen, communicating with the film’s distributors and then programming them for our customers. It’s also about developing our ‘Access’ screenings for people with disabilities.”
This can be a tricky area for programming as not all films have access for those with visual or audio disabilities built in, something that Stuart feels strongly and has learned more about during his time at Phoenix.
“Not enough is being done to ensure that films are accessible to all. Hopefully in the future there will be a pre-requisite for visual and audio aids to be built in because there’s a large group of people worldwide who are being excluded from enjoying cinema at the moment”
Stuart joined Phoenix back in October, originally for six months, but this was extended to nine. It’s been a winner for both sides – Phoenix has an experienced member of staff and Stuart gets in-depth industry experience.
A student on DMU’s Film Studies Single honours course, Stuart first heard about the Frontrunners scheme at an introductory presentation given at Phoenix in his first year. It allows one student every six months to get practical experience of the commercial side of cinema.
It has directly benefited his course work – one module was for his class to programme lead a festival, and this year they produced a festival around the theme of dystopia.
“This was the third time the student film festival has run, and I understand the ‘Dystopia’ film festival was the best year in terms of attendance. We filled to capacity – that is very commendable given the niche films chosen. I’m really proud of that.”
Picking films for Phoenix’s diverse programme brings its own challenges and excitement.
“This job has really opened my mind. Taking into account access and our audience means that we are picking many films that just aren’t even on a multiplex cinema’s radar.”
“We are trying to expand our audience base and age range, but I love it when we are able to show something such as a small independent British film that is beautifully made but wouldn’t normally get much exposure.”
It is an experience Stuart will miss when he returns to university, but since then he has managed to join the Phoenix bar staff team which he has been part of since January.
“I’ll be gutted to finish my film programming work here, but working on the bar also gives you a different perspective, especially when you get someone who comes out of a film saying how much they enjoyed it when you have programmed that film yourself.”
Personally he really enjoyed the recent release by Richard Linklater, Everybody Wants Some!, especially as it revived memories of his first few days at university.
Prior to this there was Star Wars, with the excitement and buzz around the midnight screening.
Phoenix has changed his views in other ways. His final year dissertation will now be focusing on the Disney business model and how it has changed over the years, turning around the fortunes of an already massive cog in the film industry machine.
He also still plans to make films, including a project he’s keeping under wraps for now but which revolves around his love of the golden age of cinema, and in particular, Gene Kelly.
“It was amazing what they did back then, when colour and sound was just coming in. It was all about entertainment, with these great singers and dancers. It really encapsulated what cinema is about – a form of escapism and emotional engagement.”
He also got to see his favourite film, Singin’ in the Rain, on 35mm at the Berlin Film Festival 2015.
“It was the last film in the festival and I managed to persuade some other students on my course to come along and see it. It’s got everything a film should have: laughs, sadness and happiness. Looking around and seeing all these people enjoying my favourite film, I loved seeing that. That’s what film is about.”
Jake Harvey, Phoenix Cinema Programme Manager, says, “For a charity like Phoenix where we work in a small team, the Frontrunner scheme has been a brilliant opportunity that benefits both us and the students. Candidates from DMU are always of a high standard but Stu has gone above and beyond. I’ll miss working with him as he’s become a real asset to the programming team. ”