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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Handmade Cinema

Handmade Cinema is an award-winning community cinema specialising in transforming spaces into magical cinematic wonderlands for people of all ages to enjoy. They shun the commercial cinema experience in favour of cardboard props, face paints, workshops and making friends. We spoke to creative director Ellie Ragdale to find out more.

How did Handmade Cinema come about?
A friend and I attended a Cinema For All roadshow here in Sheffield and I was blown away by what different community cinemas have been doing across the country. I studied film, and I started to think this was a great way to combine my love of cinema with my love of making things. I was also inspired by hearing about Secret Cinema and rushed home to find out when they were coming to Sheffield – but of course these things are all London based (and also completely unaffordable for most people). I figured I could do something like that in a more creative and handmade setting.

Can you explain what immersive cinema is?
I think of it as a transformation of a location or venue (a community centre, school hall, back room of a pub) into the world of film. That usually means taking inspiration from a film and bringing it life for the audience to experience in that room, and also making it something they can take part in themselves.

Which screening are the most proud of so far?
Our first screening was The Aristocats at the Old Junior School in Sharrow. That was so new and exciting for me – watching the children’s faces as they arrived at the transformed venue and were confronted with an Eiffel Tower made out of cardboard boxes!

What can people expect at a Handmade Cinema screening?
Lots of face-painting, having to crawl through some kind of entranceway, loads of handmade props and set-pieces, and a screening as much for adults as for children. We’re always so happy when adults join in the activities with their children – we try to pick films adults have a connection with as well. I want to make events that are memorable, and that’s why we make such effort with the spaces we use. The people who come along have engaged with art, they’ve engaged with film and they’ve engaged as a family.

Do you think your programming is linked to some of your personal memories and the way films make you feel?
Yes, it’s quite hard for me to create these experiences if I don’t have a connection to the film. I feel more inspired by films I have a personal relationship to. As more people are getting on board I’m getting more varied in my choices, but at the same time it has to be something I like and know how to share with the rest of the world.

In a world without limits, what would you love to screen?
When we started Handmade Cinema we made a huge list, and there are still so many we haven’t got around to yet. I’d love to do Bring it On (which is unavailable to screen at the moment) in a cheerleader setting. I’d love to do School of Rock and make some mini rock bands – there’s so much scope!

Why is it important that people like you put on screenings?
I think there is a real need for fun events, where people can experience films collectively as a community. I think it’s important to bring the magic back to cinema-going, and to showcase films that have perhaps been under-appreciated. It’s about dedicating some time to films, and showing how much they have to offer if you give them a bit more attention.

What is your favourite thing about Sheffield?
It’s all about the sense of community here. There are also so many wonderful events being made by creative people, and there’s a special attitude here of support and trust and that is so inspiring.

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