This is the full text of the interview of members of Exploding Cinema by journalist Kevin EG Perry for the Guardian Guide Saturday 6th December 2014
How and why did you get started?
BEN SLOTOVER: I wasn't in on the start of Exploding Cinema, but I believe Exploding was started by unfunded independent film makers who wanted to get their films out there via an unfunded, independent screening group.
ADAM HODGKINS: I wasn't an original member, but went to the shows back then. There was a punkish DIY feeling in the air at that time, coming off the back of the warehouse movements in art and music - themselves reacting to a mainstream culture that failed to support their endeavours - just as there is a DIY/maker zeitgeist happening right now. However, it should be noted that Exploding Cinema has operated constantly from then until now and will continue to do so into the future. We are not shallow hipsters reacting to a trend, we do what we do because it is how we operate. We simply have to explore and support grassroots creative endeavour.
ANGEL DADEN: When I got involved Exploding was eight years strong. What pulled me in, was going to the shows and having the opportunity to see in the collective female filmmakers such as Jennet [Thomas] and Collette [Rouhier] strutting their stuff. What a revelation! As a female artist with very little experience but a lot of aspiration to make films this was a draw card for me. I have found Exploding to be very non chauvinistic, which is very refreshing. I love the comraderie, and the way shows come together often surmounting difficulties.
What are the major problems with the mainstream system?
BS: What is the mainstream system? We are talking about selected short films shown in mainstream cinema venues with rows of seats and maybe an introduction at the start and some polite applause at the end. Such events are invariably funded by corporate or government sponsors and their content curated by someone whose taste and agenda informs their selection. The major problem with this is that such a show is never going to accurately reflect what is actually happening out there. You are always seeing it through someone else's filter, and the filter can and will prevent amazing work from being seen because it might fall afoul of the sponsor's wishes or curator's values or even the venue's technical requirements.
Exploding Cinema's central tenet is that we show everything. We make no distinction between a film that cost £10 or £10,000. We will show a filmmaker's first film or their hundredth film, A film shot on a VHS camera? A film spitting rage and bile which will offend everybody? We'll show it. The Arts Council cut funding from 50% of their projects? Doesn't affect us. We are the stock ticker of new short films, and we are answerable to no one.
None of the above applies to the mainstream shows. They are constricted at every turn in what they can show. In terms of reflecting what's new and now in the filmmaking scene, they've got one hand tied behind their backs and both feet in glue.
AH: It is asinine, safe and corporate. In cinema it is already on the verge of collapse, relying upon gimmicks like 3D and Imax to draw in punters to witness ever decreasing circles of bloated franchises and sequels. In art it is paid for by oil companies who are trying to sterilise their public relations through the austere ivory whiteness of a gallery space (spaces themselves run by the bored housewives of oligarchs) and cleanse themselves of tax 'burdens' while doing so. It's a contradictory system where galleries often have to physically segregate artists from their sponsors. It is corrupt, stinks of inequality and it is a marvel that occasionally some interesting work manages to exist despite this.
AD: Female voice, very few and far between.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in running Exploding Cinema?
BS: The Venue question is always waiting to be solved, and it's an ongoing problem. The simple fact is there isn't a great deal of money in showing shorts, which is why most screenings are sponsored and we have to volunteer our time for free. This means finding places to put on shows on a weekend in central London is incredibly difficult if we want to break even. We usually operate outside the centre (Our last few shows have been in Peckham, Nunhead, Kennington, Brixton, Bow and Stoke Newington) because you can still find really cool spaces run by amazing people who won't charge the earth or will give us a space for free as long as they run the bar which works out fine - we have a thirsty audience.
Throughout our long history we have experienced first hand the phenomenon of London neighbourhoods going from rundown and unfashionable to rundown and cool, then gentrified, soulless and expensive. Another problem is really due to our own success. Because of the internet it's now so easy for filmmakers to submit work to us we've been snowed under and have a big backlog to get through. We don't have the luxury of picking and choosing so we'll just keep putting on show after show to get them screened.
The other problems are mostly practical ones: transport of our equipment, rallying of volunteers, training, doing publicity... when we think we've got it all locked down we do a show in a place that throws up an entirely new set of issues and suddenly we have to work out how to make space for a filmmaker who wants to ride a bike over their 16mm print before it goes through the projector.
AH: I echo Ben's concerns. Spaces for ad hoc cultural activity and non-profit-motivated congregation are fast disappearing, especially as London is gobbled up by property developers wanting to entice yet more wealthy buyers. There is certainly no shortage of work, or people hungry for more marginal communal appreciation of moving images.
AD: Due to the voluntary nature of Exploding, we are always up against time. Each member contributes what they are able, but it means we can’t maintain any slick office operations. Our bulging digital post bag is straining, and we really want to get a better system in place, just so we can respond more promptly for a start. The filmmakers deserve that.
I find it a real challenge to stay involved as I am a lone parent, but the collective works organically and flexibly enough to allow members to be involved to the extent they can contribute. My trenchant feminist ideals and the wish to be a role model for other aspiring female filmmakers makes facing those challenges worth it.
Are there other similar collectives that you admire?
Do you feel like you're part of a 'scene' at all?
SOPHIA KOSMAOGLOU: Exploding Cinema is a scene and there's nothing else like it. Exploding has gathered a massive following in 23 years and its gets bigger with every show. Film-makers, audience and venues get really excited that something like this exists and they appreciate what it stands for and how much work goes into it. Exploding was part of a busy underground scene in London but those clubs and collectives are mostly defunct now. Instead there is a growing network of independent cinemas like the Star and Shadow in Newcastle, The Cube in Bristol, Cherry Kino in Leeds and Deptford Cinema in London.
BS: Many members of the collective run shows with other people, and taken together you could call them a 'scene'. You certainly run into familiar faces at various events. It's a personal thing which ones inspire admiration. I know that if I mention a few that I admire I'm heading for an argument with other members of Exploding. We might be more united in our dislike of certain organisations and groups than anything else. What brings people together better than a common enemy to bitch about? The fact that we've outlived so many of them is icing on the cake.
AH: Fringe activities should remain fringe, or risk getting swallowed up by the interests of corporate mainstream culture. We join forces with other political and cultural groups if the space is appropriate. While I wouldn't want a 'scene' as such, I am noticing many people becoming disaffected by the ineptitudes and injustices of the mainstream. There are also those who crave the 'authenticity' of using analogue equipment. Inevitably, these will cohere into clusters of ad hoc and marginal culture. They will remind us of things we thought we'd forgotten and shine a light upon future that isn't controlled by an elite.
AD: I just have to love Exploding for being so non sceney. If it was just part of a scene, I probably would have lost interest a decade ago. That ardent written in blood and tears constitution has somehow put a backbone into the whole thing, that doesn’t quite do scenes, in my opinion. Not to say there isn’t a whole load of stuff out there to connect with and share ideals with.
BS: Exploding is inclusive. We welcome new members all the time who want to help put on shows. We welcome new filmmakers who need an audience screening to help them become better filmmakers. We welcome live acts who no one in their right mind would present to a paying audience. We hold free workshops so people who were born after 1990 can learn how to stain a slide and thread a film projector. We will put shows on in places never intended for shows: ships, churches, car parks, roofs, drained swimming pools, bank vaults, derelict coaches, pretty much anywhere but cinemas!
Could you give a couple of examples of the sort of things you screen?
BS: we don't just set up a projector and run the films. We set up more than ten projectors and coat the entire venue in images. Because we put our profits back into equipment, we have a collection of slide, super 8, 16mm, LCD, magic lantern and psychedelic oil wheel projectors that come with us to every show and turn the space into a kaleidoscope. Don't like the film on the main screen? Just turn your head 12.5 degrees and watch some old Atari game footage!
For examples of shorts that we’ve screened in the past, there's a load of great stuff on our Vimeo channel:
PETER THOMAS: I think it should be added that we are an open screen, so we show any kind of films. Comedy, doco, comedy docos, drama, superhero flix, avant-garde, animation, agit-prop and more - film undivided.
Roughly how many screenings in total has the group put on?
BS: Accounts vary, but if we've done an average of 4 shows a year that's 92 shows so far. Some of us might say it's nearer to 3 shows a year, which would be 69 shows, so I'd say we've done between 69 and 92 shows, which is about 80.5. With an average of 16 films shown per night, that's 1288 people's films we've shown.
SK: I think Ben's estimate is on the conservative side. We have had at least 56 shows that I have documented since 2005 when I became a member (I think I've missed out 1 or 2). Stefan Szczelkun documented the films shown 1992-1998 and he lists 68 shows (http://www.stefan-szczelkun.org.uk/phdfilmcatalogue.htm). So that's 124 documented shows not counting the 7 years 1999-2004. In the early days there was a show every month, later on Exploding settled into bimonthly shows. So that's an average of 6 shows per year over 7 years = 42. My estimate is 166 shows.
PT: I concur that Ben's estimate was low side, as he intended. If we don't get in a show about every 2 months it's usually because of venue problems.
BS: I accept that I underestimated the number of shows exploding has put on. My estimate was based on no real data at all. Maybe it's something we should properly catalogue, then we can put on special 'milestone' shows.
SK: Yes we sometimes don't have a show for 3-4 months, but we make up for it by having 3 shows in less than 2 months, like we did in Aug-Sept this year.
BS: It just occurred to me we must have put on our 100th show without even realising it! With a bit of research I suppose we can find out where and when that show was. Maybe Jennet [Thomas] and Paul [Tarrago] have records of the early years' shows...
Roughly how many people attend each event?
BS: About 100, though we've done much bigger shows too with over 1000 attendees.
Is it accurate to say your events generally happen in London?
BS: Generally, yes, though we've also done Sheffield, Belgium, Glasgow, Malta, and a couple of other places. Our last ten shows were in London.
Adam mentioned the early screenings had a "punkish DIY air". Would you say this remains the case today?
SK: Have a look for yourself:
Exploding Cinema Dive-In at Brockwell Park Lido, Brixton 1993, a record 2000 people came to this show (http://vimeo.com/67733325)
Five Years of Nights by Peter Thomas (http://vimeo.com/5439290)
Exploding Cinema Expanded, St James Hatcham Dec 2012, the end of the night after all the screenings and performances were over, by Pete Gomez who performed that night (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1d-BF-pP3c)
Exploding Cinema Peckham Liberal Club March 2014 by Duncan Reekie (http://vimeo.com/channels/exploding/91666946)
BS: If you see this video of pages from our show programmes (16 page booklets)
there's a very punk look to the paper-and-glue style in which we make them, and it remains the way we do it today. We also still have a two-fingers-up-to-the-establishment attitude to the film industry, art world and funding bodies. We'd rather put on an independent show even if it means holding it together with safety pins in a squatted car park, which is both Punk and DIY.
AH: I'd like to stress that absolutely our shows have a punkish quality. It's the spirit underpinning everything from our booklets and posters, our irreverent decor, our unpolished presentation, our doing shows in squats and industrial buildings left behind by a system with no further use for them. It follows also through our firm belief that everyone can be a filmmaker. This last point was at the heart of the surrealist 'revolution', predating punk by some 50 years. They too pronounced the death of art in a bourgeois culture. Plus ça change.
PT: We're so punk we don't even care about being punk.