28 Mar 2024

Film societies enjoying a boom in membership

From Afternoons, 1:14 pm on 28 March 2024

A spike in Wellington Film Society members has forced the group to shut-off subscriptions this year, and even turn away some members from over-subscribed screenings.

The popularity is not just limited to the capital either, with other centres around Aotearoa reporting similar trends.

Not only are existing societies oversubscribed, new ones are sprouting up, Chris Hormann from the NZ Federation of Film Societies tells Jesse Mulligan.

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Photo: AFP

“We've got Oamaru, which started screening last year, and this year we've added in Westport.”

The rise in numbers is welcome news for societies which have been buffeted by various events in recent years, he says.

“We've had we've had challenging few years, like everyone has. Covid had an impact on people wanting to go to the cinema.

“Initially, people couldn't go at all. And then obviously, there were restrictions. social distancing. “

Last year, however, was the first in a while with an uninterrupted programme at film societies, he says.

And he feels cinema in general is bouncing back.

“People feel like they can plan their lives. And come back to the cinema. Obviously, there's been some, some significant movies that came out last year as well, which have also added to people wanting to go back to the cinema.

“I mean, the so called Barbenheimer effect. And I think that that's helped cinema-going in general. It's not just been commercially, but also for film societies.”

Film societies show more auteur-driven movies, he says.

“But cinema that still engages people. And I think we've seen that people want a bit more than the Marvelisation of cinema across the last five to 10 years.”

Starting in the 1940s the ‘70s and ‘80s was the heyday of film societies, he says.

"It was before arthouse cinemas really came about in New Zealand. There was not much competition back then and film society membership was in the 1000s.”

The membership bounce-back has been "invigorating", he says.

“I live in Wellington so, I have a parochial stake in the Wellington Film Society. And it's been great to turn up to screenings at The Embassy, to see to see pretty much full cinemas and a real mix of audience, we're getting we're getting a much younger audience coming along to those films.”

Closing down subscriptions is about capacity, he says.

“The Embassy can fit in 750 people. Currently, we only have one screening per week. We'd like to look at whether that's possible to extend that. But at the moment, we just have that one screening per week to be able to get in as many members as possible.”

A big attraction he believes is the social aspect and seeing these films on a big screen.

"It's definitely about a communal viewing experience, about being able to talk about it after they've seen the film, to write about it on something like letterboxd. And, yeah, I think there are those conversations, and those social interactions that are happening after films.

“It's also about some of those films, you won't get to see them on a big screen if you don't see them at the Film Society.”

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