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Hussey's Riot: Secret Cinema's Fabien Riggall

Patrick Hussey meets Fabien Riggall from Future Shorts / Secret Cinema to talk rave culture, revolution and the ideal film

When you climb to the Future Shorts office, lodged at the very top of a ragged Soho stairwell, you are greeted by their red door and a curious sign.

‘This is the Future Shorts office. No prostitutes work here.’ It makes me wonder just what vetting process the staff go through and as a young woman opens the door I ask ‘Is that a joke?’ and point at the sign

‘This is Soho’ she says, clearly facing the world’s most naïve journalist.

‘We get all sorts knocking.’

For a moment I imagine spectral macs oozing back down the stairs then follow her in. Yes this is Soho after all but I’m here for a far more interesting assignation than that. For this cramped, perv besieged office is home to nothing less than a mission.

For three months now Future Shorts has been running Secret Cinema, the blend of rave culture and theatre that is becoming a quiet but runaway success. Put simply the idea is to show exciting cinema in mystery locations. You may be going about your London life, chugging latte through another numb lunchtime when suddenly you feel your blackberry buzz. At last the call has gone out, the show starts tonight.

The email will direct you to the arcane location, some dusty under bridge or disused gallery, and drop a hint as to what’s on. Will it be an unreleased blockbuster or a delicate classic? Who knows? No one and that’s part of the joy. That same evening you’ll be making your way, perhaps spotting other initiates on your Tube until at last you reach the location. Now things really kick off- the performers swirl about you, the musicians play, the crowd swells. Secret Cinema is more than just film, it’s really about the event.

Back in the office I sit for a while and listen to the staff discuss crisp flavours they admire. As they bat combinations around, leaning back in their wheely chairs, a man coasts into the room, still half engaged in other business.

‘I’m Fabien.’ he says

‘Chicken and Lemon’ says someone else

Fabien Riggall has a Hollywood name and a low key vibe. At thirty two, the brains behind Secret Cinema, looks far younger than his years, wearing a scruffy jumper and uncalculated stubble. He’s the type that when you talk to him the eyes slide around and you’re never sure if he’s bored or just shy. Either way you suspect him of a rigorous internal life, one a few coats back.

Last year Secret Cinema launched with a showing of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, a skate board oddity. As the crowds arrived they were harangued by laery boarders waving their fists as they wheeled by. Whirling visuals were projected in every corner and the sense of a performance was everywhere, specifically not just on the screen.

I ask Fabien if Secret Cinema is an attempt to bring back excitement through performance, a way of re-invigorating the ritual of cinema. In fact I don’t let him get a word in edgeways at first. As I spout clichés about the barren wastelands of modern life. Is Secret Cinema with its mixture of community and mystique the cure?

Wary of getting into a philosophical discussion Fabien looks down and says:


It hangs in the air for a while then he opens up.

‘Going to a multiplex is a ritual I suppose, but there should be more to it. It’s about creating a surprise, that’s the stimulant that helps you think more about what you’re about to see. Some of the best films I’ve ever seen were ones I knew nothing about, that I just turned up to.’

‘Right now things are just so…predictable.’

There is something balanced but heartfelt in the way he talks about the project. He begins recounting his few experiences of the rave scene, experiences that have informed Secret Cinema.

‘I wasn’t a massive raver but I do remember sitting in car parks waiting for the call. All of a sudden engines revved up and you’re following a line of cars to some weird part of Surrey. It was just very exciting and I wanted to give cinema that spin.’

He also feels cinema was getting left behind at a time media is in revolution.

‘I got very frustrated. Look at how music has been changed recently by the web and look at how other mediums have been re-invigorated. Cinema promotion was just stuck in the same old same old.

I just wanted people to experience some mystery in film going. And to be fair we’ve never had so much feedback.’

Future Shorts holds other events, notably showcasing some of the best new filmaking talent from around the world at their monthly festivals. But Secret Cinema seems to have really tapped into something, something the public wanted. On the day SC got a mention on Radio 1 five thousand people signed up to their list.

Fabien seems somewhat conflicted by the popularity of Secret Cinema, and understandably so. As an enterprise it requires incompatible ingredients (stealth and publicity) but he likes the fact people post up location and film combos ideas on the wall of their Facebook page.

‘We’re becoming like a juke box!’ he says.

As he says it his eyes begin flickering to the door, he is a busy man but quickly I ask what his ideal location and film would be? He looks at me suspiciously, wary of giving out information but the question tempts him. He pauses a while before answering.

What will he say? I cross my fingers and hope to hear my favoured combination, Macchu Picchu and The Goonies.

But no, he looks at me and tells me what he’s thinking and then it’s time to go.

Out in the hall I tell him it sounds magnificent. He looks me in the eye, makes me promise not to give it away then closes the door. The sign is in front of me again, declaring the absence of loose women.

As I slink down the dingy stairwell, noticing the stains on the carpet, I reflect on what Fabien described, unfolding in my mind the poetic canal scene and the floating audience serviced by popcorn bearing canoes. The film, one of De Niro’s sweeter moments, will play projected on a bridge this coming summer.

It really does sound beautiful I think as I open the door to Soho’s more dubious reality. I pause a moment and step out.

Secret Cinema will take place at 6.30pm on Weds, 13 Feb. Sign up to their email list to receive details of the location.