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Scalarama - the nations alternative film season hits London this September! Movie wrangler Phil Foxwood reveals all to Trixie Malicious

I remember back one cold, slate grey London evening when I braced myself against the vexatious deluge and arrived, with little tearful puddles running off my coat, at The Roxy Bar & Screen in Borough. Luckily, I entered the screening room to find an awaiting oasis of coziness; comfortable armchairs, little tables which were receiving warm comfort foods, a large glowing screen, and of course people buzzing on red wine and the anticipation of post-feature debate. I felt I’d found exactly what I needed that evening. Phil Foxwood was the man who opened the Roxy, and his philosophy is that people do need cinema. We’ve interviewed him to find out about his latest project, Scalarama (1-30 September). It’s the film season inspired by London's beloved and long since closed Scala cinema, which programmed independent and underground films, in double bills, triple bills and all nighters. Read below to find out about the amazing content and eclectic venues that will make up this festival, as well as Phil’s viewpoints on all things filmic. As for me, I’ve got a ticket to one of the Scalarama’s John Water’s screenings at the BFI Southbank burning a hole in my polyester pocket as we speak.

Trixie: Hi Phil! Tell us a little bit about Scalarama!
Scalarama is basically a big film season, taking place all over the country.  But unlike film festivals it’s more about celebrating all the different types of cinemas and screenings across the country outside of the mainstream.  What makes it unique is that it’s an open, inclusive season – anyone can take part wherever they are and what’s great is that there are screenings taking place all over the country in all different types of venues.
Trixie: What are you most looking forward to at the festival?
One of the most exciting things about this year are all the different regional groups that have got together, coordinating the screenings across different areas and producing their own flyers.  We’ve also focussed on themes and issues rather than a core programme of films – Project 51 about women in film, the 10th anniversary of the great SecondRun DVD, Celluloid and VHS and John Waters – read all about them in our Scalarama newspaper.
Trixie: We hear there are some very eclectic screening venues - can you fill us in?
Let’s Fill the Land with Cinemas! There was a news article last week about all the old cinemas being knocked down or being used for other purposes. Compared to even a couple of decades ago there were lots more cinemas, and in particular lots of full time repertory cinemas showing classics and alternative films. But whilst it’s not financially possible to keep these large full-time venues open, there is still an appetite for alternative film screenings, and with digital screening technology becoming more accessible, we’re now seeing all different types of venues used for one-off or occasional events. Scalarama is about celebrating and supporting these, whilst encouraging people to put on their own screenings (check out the Get Involved section of the Scalarama website for advice).  If there isn’t a cinema near you showing the films you want to see – do it yourself!
Trixie: Tell us why the Scala cinema is an inspiration for this event.
The Scala was the inspiration for the first season we ran in London in 2011 called Scala Forever, basically because it was one of the most influential, inspiring and much-loved cinemas that introduced thousands of people to a huge range of classic, weird and wonderful films. This article gives a good insight into the history. But there were plenty of other similarly influential cinemas across the country, and what we’re celebrating are the programming and venues that have taken their place.
Trixie: Scala was known for triple, double and even all-nighter bills; how do you think these change the film experience for the viewers and what was your favourite film pairing?
You highlight what was and still is important – the experience. Watching films in double and treble-bills and all-nighters, or in an unusual venue, or with an intro, live music, drinks etc all make the experience far better than if you were to watch the same films at home. We think this is what is important and what should be celebrated.
Trixie: For the novice - how would you describe the difference between a mainstream film and a B-Movie?
B-Movies are a genre of low-budget films that started off being made as the second part of double-features, but Scalarama isn’t about particular films or genres - there’s everything in the season from children’s films to classics as well as the more cult, alternative films. The majority of cinema now is first-run films that play for a limited time in cinemas – we think it’s important that you can still see all different types of older films on a big screen with an audience.
Trixie: Do you still keep a VHS collection? Do you think VHS is still valuable? (Help me decide what to do with my giant, cumbersome yet nostalgic collection of tapes!)
No, I barely have a DVD collection! One thing we did this year in the build-up was a 4-day event called Video Palace at Birmingham’s Flatpack Festival, which included (just some!) of Viva VHS’s collection, which anyone could come and watch. What was great was reliving the Video Rental Shop experience – as rep cinemas were closing, these became the gateways in which a whole generation discovered a huge range of weird and wonderful films.  Again, the shops, the tapes, the tracking, ‘be kind rewind’; these were part of the whole film viewing experience and something that was very important for people – just check out the number of VHS screenings in Scalarama!
Trixie: Have you ever seen a movie that's made you walk out of the theatre?
Rarely, though it has happened! Generally though, critical terms of good and bad aren’t the most important thing – some awful films are hugely enjoyable, and some people hate films that most people love. Watching films together and then chatting about it is all part of the fun.
Trixie: From the first films you ever saw (as a young chap, or even as a wide-eyed boy) - which was your favourite? Would you say it moulded the direction of your current career?
Too many favourites to mention one, though seeing a film that I thought was great, but hardly got any distribution was one of the reasons I went into exhibition. Two films I loved recently that I’ve been telling everyone to watch if they haven’t recently are Ida and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
Trixie: If an alien gave you unlimited budget to open up your dream cinema - what would it be like? What film would you screen to launch it?
I opened Roxy Bar & Screen in Borough in 2006 and ran it until it’s sale in 2013 (it still shows films but it’s not run how it used to be sadly). This was all about the social experience, with sofas, chairs and tables, and served food and drinks too. Even though we only charged around £4 for a screening, it did very well and was great fun, so I guess my dream cinema would probably be a bigger, better version of that where you could catch a whole range of films without forking out huge amounts for a ticket.
Trixie: London film-goers have a real appetite for pop-up, rooftop, themed and interactive screenings. What’s it all about?
I think it’s a response to the mainstream cinema offering – now that you can watch most films easily and cheaply at home, audiences are looking for more of a experience if they’re being asked to pay up to £18 a ticket. Hence the rise in all the alternative screenings, not just in London but across the country - it’s the same thing that Scalarama is all about – they aren’t showing the latest films, but they’re offering an alternative evening out where you can watch classic films with other people.
Trixie: If you could live in one film for a day which would it be?
Ha, it’s easier to think of all the horror / zombie / alien / Bella Tarr films I’d rather not live in...!
Trixie: Why does the world most need underground film right now?
It’s not just about underground, it’s about adventure, experiences, discovery – it’s about having an alternative to the mainstream cinema, mainstream films and high ticket prices. Director Peter Strickland wrote a great article about this for the Scalarama newspaper - whilst video-on-demand is great, watching a film on a big screen with an audience of like-minded people is special and that’s what Scalarama is all about.

Phil Foxwood, Scalarama Wrangler for London: @_foxwood


1-30 September
at various locations across London and the UK

Trixie Malicious re-launches Sleaze on Thursday 24th September at the Moth Club in Hackney Central (Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, E9 6NU). Sleaze is a NYC style burlesque striptease and variety show, with daring performers, audience games, an amazing raffle, cheap drinks and a relaxed hedonistic atmosphere of love and fun. Check it out on Facebook here.


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