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Sam Watling, the Chair of Film at the Folk Hall, is an impassioned man to bring the best that he can to the community of New Earswick, York. Watling’s journey began with a ten-day focus on positivity in January 2016 to bite those winter blues. Taking him through giving food parcels to those caught by the York floods and giving blood for the first time, he branched out to volunteering in a local group. Discovering the film group was a “five-minute walk from my house, it’s a film club in need of someone, it was a no-brainer for me I’ll be honest.”
Supporting the group initially, he was invited to step up to the leadership role after only six months and took the lead without question. Having never done a leadership role before, he’s been running the group of ten volunteers for the last year and has taken the group from strength to strength. “We’ve built something with some serious potential, so even though it was a bit daunting, and I work full-time you know…It was a big thing, extra thing to take on but it’s become a passion project very very quickly.”
The group started back in December 2014 as an offshoot from the New Earswick Less Lonely Initative (NELLI). Later, bringing Watling on board, they rebranded the group to Film at the Folk Hall and they were lucky enough to get good support. The Independent Cinema Office provided advice and they’re now a member of Cinema for All. The BFI Fund gave them their first projector, the John Lewis Community Fund gave them their screen and they were up and running.
As an alternative to the Multiplex Cinema and a firm community favourite to build connections in the area, Film at the Folk Hall runs film screenings and events to bring to the people the cinema they want to see. They survey their event attendees to plan the best screening schedule they can. Their recent Disney Pixar events, funded by York City Council, were designed especially for children where they could colour and craft through the screening: an inspired way to appease those bouncing bottoms on the cinema seat. Watling has found these events inspiring for the future of the group. “It’s all been about give it a try. If it works, try and make sure that we make a song and dance about it.”
Joseph Rowntree was a manufacturer in the area in the 20th Century and a natural philanthropist. Believing his staff should share in the wealth of the company, he built social housing for his employees, as well as the Folk Hall, which opened in October 1907. The film group aims to continue his legacy where running the group is as much about serving the needs of the community as it is about serving film.
This year has seen the group reach new heights. “For me personally, I, Daniel Blake was the biggest achievement.” The group were lucky enough for Dave Johns, the lead actor, to come along and give a Q&A session before their screening. He was a welcome visitor who chatted to group participants before the session started. “For us, the type of film that it is, the fact that it has a social impact, the fact that we were absolutely sold out, and all of our volunteers got together…it kind of showed us that we can be more than just a film group. We can really kind of open people’s minds to new ideas. We raised nearly £100 for the York Food Bank. For us, it consolidated everything that we’d been trying to do.” The group has posted the recording of Dave Johns speaking in the Q&A session here if you would like to watch.
Coming up soon is an evening of Dementia Awareness to partner their screening of Still, Alice starring Julianne Moore: tickets to all of their events are available here. With speakers coming in to talk about the illness and give advice, and a selection of short films, this will be a thought-provoking event.
The group is purposely inclusive. They’re looking for more volunteers to assist them on the team. Watling has so many ideas including social impact screenings, engaging local business and filmmaking workshops. They’re also seeking to reach more quarters of the community including families, people who are socially isolated or the disabled to encourage them to join the group. There is more information about the group available on their website here.
If you’re in the York area, this group really has something to offer. In the words of Watling himself, “we have got a 16-foot high definition projection, we’ve got great sound, we’ve got a bar, we’ve got parking.” What’s not to like?