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Rebel Reel Cine Club – subculture, counterculture and hidden gems


Image: Chris McGill, Founder of Rebel Reel Cine Club

Chris McGill, Rebel Reel Cine Club founder finds joy and success with his (relatively) new cinema concept (outdoor and online) including curated images and music. Here he tells us the story of how his love of film became his pandemic saviour.

It was my mum’s fault, really. Waking me when I was 12 to go downstairs to watch the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now with her or recording films for me to watch on our Betamax Video. That’s what started it - that love of film.

Before the pandemic I’d had a film club showing films in appropriate places in private screenings to friends: The Small World of Sammy Lee in The Blue Posts in Soho, Nosferatu in a medieval tower, Le Mepris in the Isokon Gallery - all as a hobby.

My day job was (and still is) creating brand partnerships for culture clients – I love(d) it. Working mainly in theatre everything stopped on 16 March last year. I had immediate professional grief – that sense of sadness then anger (and all the other stages!) as I couldn’t see theatre coming back until at least February this year (how wrong I was). But my experience of partnerships and of finding venues for and organising countless opening nights, launches and introducing major sponsors to commercial theatre meant I could see an opportunity.

I would create a cinema club that pops up in different venues offering arthouse and cult classics combined with interested on-screen images and music. Et voila!

I do everything from choosing the film, acquiring the screening rights, sourcing image and music collaborators, marketing, set up, projection, making pin badges for entry (and to keep and collect – each screening has a different badge). I now  transport everything in Keef – you’ll meet Keef later.

Rebel Reel Cine Club was the name I came up with (moving away from Cine Club This Is Not A Club which had been my original mates only club). So, with no support from the government and now none from the Arts Council (I never could fill out a form that well) I decided, last June 2020, to do something. I wanted people to enjoy the less obvious, to hang out with like-minded people who want to be entertained and get their culture fix.

My aim was to attract like-minded people to attend events in real life and online. I did six months of monthly screenings broadcasting myself and Jimmy Galvin – a composer/ artist in Bristol – but more of that later.

It all gave me a chance to draw on that bank of culture currency that I’ve built up over years. I’ve always consumed films, books, magazines, zines, music, exhibitions. I’ve always looked up (behind and around), so now I can connect them all.

I chose the name Rebel Reel Cine Club. I wanted this to be a club with a sense of membership and belonging. Remember when you went to a club/gig/event that wasn’t easy to get to, but when you arrived the way people looked, the way they behaved made you realise you had a commonality, shared values and interests?  


Image: Rebel Reel Cine Club poster print by Stephen Kenny, The Printer's Devil

To create my logo I asked Stephen Kenny (The Printer’s Devil). A decade ago I’d visited a pop–up installation in Foyles with Stephen demonstrating his work. Stephen is an artisan letterpress printer creating prints using fonts and presses from the late 1800s/early 1900s. Stephen created my logo (He put Rebel and Reel as the same size but the letter b dropped from Rebel. Such brilliant clever work!). This has now ended up as much more of a collaboration with us creating prints inspired by the films I show (never images or character based but slight twists from the original - not obvious).

I have a group of amazing creatives who helped me create signage, branded clothing for temporary staff at my events (clothing acquired from certain workwear companies sales with my screen printed logo to fit the RRCC aesthetic) as well as food and drinks partners that I source for my events.


Image: The Rebel crew in Reel printed jumpsuits.

For my first screening in July 2020 I approached a number of venues and brands including Bolt Motorcyles (a niche brand dripping in authenticity with a dedicated customer base). I wanted to pop up in their yard (a no go – too many residents nearby). But we did do our first tiny screening in a British Legion in London Colney (the venue actually looks like a roadhouse in America). It drew a huge crowd of 40+ bikers. I showed images I sourced from the amazing Youth Club Archive who I’d worked with years ago on a Mod musical. The Youth Club Archive knew that the 59 Club motorcycle club (a club from the 60s based out of a church) had hosted the first UK screening of The Wild One.

This morphed into a monthly Hang Out with me sourcing the films, images and Bolt working with their neighbours record store Zippo Records DJ-ing. I also screened films including the new release of Hunter S. Thompson documentary Freak Power in Shoreditch along with Soho Radio DJ Ash, a Halloween screening of Hammer Film’s Dracula with a pianist pre-film (I’d previously overseen all marketing, partnerships and communications on Hammer’s immersive theatre piece and negotiated for Hammer to partner The Damned at the London Palladium).

Then... Full Lock Down... STOP, no sitting in a group of six outside, no two households together. so, we went online. Rebel Reel Cine Club at Home.

People would order some pre-film elements including a limited edition badge inspired by the film (it didn’t take long to buy a badge making machine for my family to go into full production mode on these).

Everyone watches a film on whichever streaming platform they have. But pre-film I present, cook, host a short quiz and introduce the film on YouTube Live. After the film there’s a discussion on Zoom for those who’d like to. Reaching as far as Texas and Brazil but with a core around the UK.

Composer/artist Jimmy Galvin plays from his home studio in Bristol whilst our audience logs on to YouTube (he and I use zoom which I then broadcast to YouTube Live – I didn’t want a sea of faces distracting and anyway everyone was beginning to feel Zoom fatigue by mid-Summer 2020 and I wanted a system that looked more ‘TV’).

Jimmy and I chat then he plays and shows images (with permissions granted from artists/Instagram accounts that fit with the film). I managed to get renowned photographer Greg Girard to allow me to show his photographs to compliment Martin Scorcesse’s After Hours which then resulted in me creating a limited run T-Shirt using one of Greg’s Photographs and interviewing Greg for the Rebel Reel YouTube channel.

These pre-film shows then developed into interactive events with professional illustrator Rosie Brooks leading a draw-the-poster class for Harold and Maude, West End Choreographer Xena Gushtart teaching a choreography class for Francis Ha and photographer Sam Simpson getting everyone to take a better selfie for Blow Up.

I partnered with restaurant Smoke and Bones (they had popped up at some of my events) and various drink delivery companies so that people could order food boxes for delivery anywhere in the UK so those watching can cook-a-long and drink-a-long with me. At Home is on pause now but will return in September 2021.

Late last year I decided, in order to increase the theatricality of Rebel Reel, to purchase a three wheel Vespacar to transport my equipment and newly leant cinema sound system (a huge thanks to Yamaha Music London for this). In order to fund this I sold a jacket once belonging to Keith Richards (I’m friend with his old tailor which is why in a moment of madness 18 years ago I’d bought the jacket). I contacted Bonhams to sell the jacket (Katherine who is the head of Bonhams music memorabilia was actually an assistant at Christies and remembers the jacket – when I handed it over to consign it she showed me her handwriting on a tag attached to the Jacket) – the jacket sold so Keef was born (and funded).


Image: 'Keef', the three wheel Vespacar circa. 1984.

Dating from 1984 Keef was originally used to transport hides from a tannery to family shoe factory in Italy (a shoemaker friend of mine very kindly gave me some hides to reupholster Keef.

Registration of imported vehicles is not easy but not impossible. So now I’m taking him on the road for a summer tour.

On 15th July I’m showing Derek Jarman’s Jubilee with images from Derek Ridgers, short films from Julie Verhoeven and Youth Club Archive in Shoreditch with partner Underground England – the subculture shoe and clothing brand that celebrates 40 years this year.

16th July has Rebel Reel Cine Club popping up with Keef at the Woodberry Wetlands Nature Reserve to show Paper Moon with DJ Diddy Wah playing a Paper Moon inspired playlist pre-screening.

The Malle Mile motorcycle festival has me doing two nights (108 miles in Keef is a bit daunting but the back footprint is exactly the same size as a 4ft 6in bed so I’ve got somewhere to sleep - I found an excellent bed slat seller online).

August sees us (my children believe this is all our family holiday) in Dungeness at a pop up venue. I’m also looking for other venues along the coast (a couple are about to be confirmed) but do get in touch if you’ve got an outdoor space!

I’m screening Blow Up in a plaza that features in the original film in late August and have new venues in London confirmed from September.

This autumn sees Rebel Reel Cine Club at Home return and I’m launching a Rebel Reel Cine Club Fashion film Q&A/ talks series.

The artist Adam Bridgland is kindly screen printing the Rebel Reel Cine Club logo onto Keef’s new back cover along with one of his own artworks. Adam did a piece of work that says Every Morning I’ve Got A New Chance – Rebel Reel Cine Club is still organically developing but at least every morning I’ve got a new chance to keep going.

To find out more about Rebel Reel Cine Club please sign up at rebelreelcineclub.com or email chris@rebelreelcineclub.com


Image. Rebel Reel Cine Club outdoors at location near you...

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