Film Hub NI QFT50 Podcast
Hot on the heels of the #QFT50 programme announcement, Film Hub NI have dedicated the third Film Hub NI podcast to the Queen's Film Theatre.
Joining Film Hub NI for this podcast special is Joan Parsons, Head of QFT, and Dr. Sam Manning, who is currently researching the history of QFT for an exhibition as part of the 50th celebrations.
Listen now for a rundown of the highlights of the special QFT50 programme and learn some fascinating facts about the building, people and films who made QFT into the thriving hub of cultural cinema that it is today.
Thanks to producer Stephen Mullan.
QFT50 official press release
A month-long series of exclusive films and events at Queen's Film Theatre.
The internationally renowned Queen’s Film Theatre is set to host a month-long series of films and events to celebrate its golden year this October.
To mark its fiftieth birthday, QFT, which is an independent cinema based at Queen’s University Belfast, will host a range of events including brand new films and old classics. It will also show off its newly refurbished cinema which has now been completed after a £350,000 investment.
The month-long celebrations, funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and the BFI’s Audience fund, will also see over thirty special events take place including in-depth Q&As with Mark Kermode, Jim Sheridan and the Derry Girls cast.
QFT50 will kick off on 5 October with the opening of a special exhibition that will showcase a range of artefacts, photographs and memorabilia from the past 50 years, as well as screen a preview of new film First Man starring Ryan Gosling.
President and Vice-Chancellor of Queens University Belfast, Professor Ian Greer said:
“As we begin this month-long programme of events, I am excited and honoured to lead the celebrations which mark 50 years of QFT. At Queen’s University Belfast, we are privileged to have such a unique cultural venue on campus, with vast experience of bringing a high quality film experience to Belfast audiences.
“As well as being a social hub for our students and the wider community in Northern Ireland, QFT brings many positive economic, cultural and social benefits to the local economy.”
Joan Parsons, Head of QFT Belfast said:
“We are so excited to be celebrating the golden year of Queen’s Film Theatre with an amazing programme of events that takes a trip down memory lane and also looks to the future of film.
“The QFT is deeply embedded in the fabric of student life at Queen’s but it has also been an important part of culture in Belfast itself and I am really excited to be able to present this programme of events and welcome old friends and new faces to the QFT in October.
“With more than 30 special events, as well as our regular programme of film screening there is quite literally something for everyone to enjoy and get involved with. We have films, workshops, talk with renowned film experts like Mark Kermode, book launches, Derry Girls and even a French themed disco with tunes provided by DJ David Holmes.
“The celebrations will mark the contribution that the QFT and film has made to Belfast during some very difficult years in the past and is a testament to the power of film that the QFT is thriving today. We thank National Lottery players for supporting us to highlight and share our fascinating 50 year heritage. We hope that after QFT50 we will have welcomed a whole new audience to the QFT.”
Angela Lavin, Senior Grants Officer, Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland said:
“QFT has been part of the fabric of Belfast for 50 years and many people have strong memories of watching the wonderful array of diverse films that have been shown there over the years. We were delighted to invest National Lottery funding to help the QFT to collate, share and celebrate their rich heritage.
Sarah-Jane Meredith, Manager- UK Wide Audiences, BFI said:
"We are delighted to be able to support QFT as it celebrates 50 years of screening films to audiences in Belfast. The QFT50 programme demonstrates an ongoing commitment by the venue to screening the very best in cinema, bringing great cinematic stories to new and existing audiences and re-kindling a love for cinema in lapsed audiences."
Highlights of the QFT50 Programme
Bloodyminded – First ever interactive live feature film broadcast online and at cinemas around the UK. The film will allow audiences to make its own decisions on the morality of war and decide the ending.
Themed 50th birthday celebration night with screening of Viva Marial, followed by a David Holmes DJ set.
Devils Doorway – Gala screening with director Aisling Clarke (former employee of QFT and first ever female-directed horror movie).
Mark Kermode book launch and Q&A.
Derry Girls screening of favourite episodes with Derry Girls cast and crew.
Closing Night Gala - ‘Widows’ by Steve McQueen with special guests to be announced at a later date.
The QFT 50 celebrations are generously supported by National Lottery funding awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and The British Film Institute.
50 Years of Queens Film Theatre
On 16 October 1968, Queen’s Film Theatre (QFT) opened in a converted lecture theatre at QUB
In 1968, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) student newspaper The Gown claimed that, other than the university film society, ‘there is virtually no cinema in Belfast that shows any films other than John Wayne or Julie Andrews spectaculars’. History lecturer Michael Barnes and Belfast Festival Director Michael Emmerson filled this lacuna, creating an independent cinema similar to the BFI-funded Regional Film Theatres. On 16 October 1968, Queen’s Film Theatre (QFT) opened in a converted lecture theatre at QUB with a gala premiere of Louis Malle’s Viva Maria! (1965). Later this year the cinema will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a range of screenings, lectures, exhibitions and events.
In its first years of operation, QFT screened a range of international films based on artistic merit rather than on commercial appeal. It quickly became clear that, though an important cultural asset, QFT was not a sound financial proposition. It remained open thanks to new sources of finance and the astute management of long-term administrator Michael Open (1969-74, 1977-2005), whose complaints that QFT received less funding than its UK counterparts often fell on deaf ears.
While QFT’s south Belfast location was largely free from sectarian violence, the Troubles impacted its programming and operations. In 1970, for instance, the Film Theatre Committee reported that a recent run of poor attendance was ‘largely due to the civic unrest in Belfast’ and, in the following year, the cinema decided to withdraw The Battle of Algiers (1966) from its programme. Furthermore, the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council Strike led to two weeks of closure. It did, nevertheless, fare better than many other Belfast cinemas and offered a safe haven during a period of conflict. In 1977, it escaped a series of IRA firebomb attacks which damaged three Belfast cinemas.
One of QFT’s most idiosyncratic features was its gloomy and concealed rear-alleyway entrance which, alongside a lack of geographical mobility during the Troubles, limited visibility and restricted passing trade. In spite of these limitations, it attracted cinephiles from all parts of Belfast. Filmmaker Brian Henry Martin grew up in east Belfast and recalled seeing Jean de Florette in the mid-1980s: ‘I don’t think I’d ever been to south Belfast.… it was quite foreboding going up the alleyway, you thought something terrible was going to happen and you turned around the corner and there was this little bright entrance and in you went to this completely different world’.
The rise of home video led UK cinema audiences to reach their nadir in the mid-1980s. In contrast to national trends, QFT survived and prospered – In 1983, Open reported that despite a lack of funding or capital investment, patrons are ‘frequently astonished at the high quality of the programming and the high levels of audience in spite of the local civil unrest and spartan conditions of the building’. Troubles drama Cal (1984) broke attendance figures and QFT welcomed high-profile visitors such as David Puttnam and Alan Parker. Dolby Sound was introduced in 1986 and a year later new projectors and cinema seats were installed, replacing the uncomfortable lecture-style seating. Prior to this, Open suggested that patrons had to be ‘tolerant as well aesthetically astute to embrace the QFT experience’. The conversion of another lecture theatre in 1988 allowed the cinema to diversify its programming and provide a greater range of specialised films.
In the 1990s, QFT successfully faced the challenge of the new Belfast multiplexes and retained its status for serving residents with the best of contemporary cinema. Yet its facilities still did not match the standards of its programming. This was addressed in the early noughties when an extensive refurbishment introduced a new café/bar and the gloomy entrance was relocated to a more glamorous location facing the university campus.
In recent years, under the leadership of Susan Picken (2008-2017), and now Joan Parsons, QFT has diversified its programme and regularly hosts events such as Cinemagic, the largest film festival for young people in the UK and Ireland. Film critic Mark Kermode appears annually at QFT and described a screening of Jeremy as one of his ‘most profound cinematic experiences’. Furthermore, the introduction of dementia and autism friendly screenings provides a valuable service for groups previously excluded from cinema exhibition.
QFT’s 50th anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate its achievements and to reflect on the role of cultural cinema in Northern Ireland. Over the past fifty years it has survived a range of challenges including the Troubles, declining cinema attendances, and the rise of home video and on-demand streaming services. It continues to provide a great deal of enjoyment for cinema-goers in Belfast and beyond.
[Source: Sight and Sound 2018, reproduced from Sam Manning's article]