Second Chance Cinema

Cinephile cooperative screen three Northern Irish films for free at the South Bank Playhouse

It’s more than ten years since the much loved Curzon Film Centre on the Ormeau Road in Belfast closed its doors for the final time to eventually be replaced by an unprepossessing apartment building. The Ormeau Road has recently undergone a renaissance, though. New shops and cafés have brought fresh life to the area, and pubs offer diverse and popular entertainment most nights of the week.

The Pavilion Bar has recently been hosting a film documentary club from Second Chance Cinema, a group of people who, through free ‘pop­-up’ events, aim to bring cinema back to the Ormeau area.

The group took over the South Bank Playhouse on Kimberly Drive on the first weekend of September to show a variety of films, animations, shorts and documentaries, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On a Train, John Pilger’s The War You Don’t See and a family screening of the classic Bugsy Malone.

The Friday night screenings are of particular interest, showcasing as they do two new short films from Northern Irish filmmakers, as well as a rare screening of the late Allan Clarke’s hugely affecting and influential Elephant.

Currently the only arts venue in the area, and home to a dedicated theatre company who regularly put on excellent theatrical productions there, the South Bank Playhouse was originally a scout hall. For Second Chance Cinema the theatre is transformed into an intimate film venue. It’s a welcoming, cosy space, with coffee, soft drinks and popcorn on offer to the attentive audience.

First up is Islands, the latest movie from writer/director Michael MacBroom, whose no-budget feature Endless Life was a filmic highlight of last year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Made for an equally miniscule budget, Islands tells the story of David, a drifter who returns to his home town of Belfast after receiving a letter from his estranged sister informing him of the death of their father.

From these bare bones MacBroom has produced an incredibly moving visual poem, with breathtakingly beautiful camerawork from Will McConnell, a minimalistic piano score from Katharine Philippa, and strong performances from Jonathan Harden – who recently appeared in Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman – as David, Karen Kinghan (star of Endless Life) as his sister Sarah, and Laura Thompson as Aoife, David’s ex-lover.

Shot over three days on location in Carlingford, Seahill, Cloughey, Strangford, Killyleagh and Belfast in March 2014, the recurring motif of water is woven in and around the story of how David struggles to reconnect with his sister, his past and the country he was born in.

If the film has a message, it could be found in the  words of the great British poet John Donne, who wrote: ‘No man is an island /  Entire of itself / Every man is a piece of the continent / A Part of the main.’

Gus Sutherland’s work-in-progress, The Unseen, is a very different kind of film. Constructed by the filmmaker as visual ‘beat’ tape, the documentary is a collection of short sequences which explore the roots and soul of Detroit hip hop.

A follow-up to Sutherland’s LA-based music documentary All Ears – which premiered at SXSW 2013 and has been shown at many festivals around the world – The Unseen features the musicians and DJs working out of the Motor City who have been hugely influential and internationally recognised as innovators.

Although the film lacks a strong narrative core (no surprise from an unfinished piece), it is well-shot, and the links between the music being made and the desolate beauty of today’s Detroit are compelling.

The last film of the evening is Alan Clarke’s Elephant, produced by BBC Northern Ireland in 1989, only a year before the director’s untimely death from cancer. In a stroke of good fortune, the location manager for the film, Kevin Jackson, is in the audience (he had come along to watch MacBroom’s short).

At short notice Jackson, a longtime employee of the BBC NI drama department and now a successful independent producer, gives the audience a fascinating insight into the making of Elephant, and what it was like to work with both Clarke and the film’s producer, Danny Boyle, now a world-renowned film director.

The film – the title of which is derived from writer Bernard MacLaverty’s description of the Troubles as 'the elephant in our living room' – is unlike anything else made during the period of the conflict. Elephant depicts 18 murders, shown one after the other, with very little dialogue, in various locations around Belfast.

We are given no information about either the gunmen or the victims – none is needed, the sequence of shootings tells you all you need to know. The final shot of each sequence lingers on the lifeless bodies of the victims as if to say: here is a life, now gone.

Watching Elephant is an unsettling experience. The film is both compelling and repellent; it’s meant to be. Shot on 16mm film – with heavy use of Clarke’s trademark steadicam tracking shots – the lack of plot, the absence of music, and the cold, documentary feel of the film reveal more about the senseless slaughter that took place in Northern Ireland than any number of conventional ‘Troubles’ dramas could ever hope to.

Second Chance Cinema promise more pop-up events in the coming months. Their aim is to screen a diverse range of films to encourage audiences from different ages, gender and backgrounds to come together and watch documentaries, children’s matinees and special one-off events in a shared environment.

They also promise to show Northern Irish films that are important and/or new, and give local filmmakers an opportunity to share their work with audiences on a big screen. All screenings will be free and accessible for all.

Keep up-to-date with Second Chance Cinema via Facebook, and visit the Southbank Playhouse website for information on forthcoming events.