Set to open by Summer 2017, The Courier gets an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the construction of The Star and Shadow Cinema on Warwick Street, uncovering exactly what it can offer to The Toon’s film-loving students to ensure that you know what to expect when it opens.
The Star and Shadow is a cooperative cinema made for and run by the people of Newcastle upon Tyne. After nearly a decade of hosting events at their venue on Stepney Bank, the site had to close down after it was taken back by its owners for redevelopment. Today, after getting planning permission from the council back in April 2016, The Star and Shadow is now reopening at a new location on Warwick Street, right between the student areas of Sandyford and Heaton, where it’s set to become one of Newcastle city centre’s largest community spaces.
The group is run entirely by volunteers, in a non-hierarchical fashion with all members having a say in what happens – a DIY ethos, if you will. It puts the people and the community at the heart of the project. It’s precisely these volunteers that are leading the rebuilding process of the old SCS on Warwick Street, giving the premises a complete makeover in time for the estimated April 2017 opening date. Plans include constructing the titular cinema, recording studios, workshop spaces, a café, and a community garden. There are up to 20 volunteers on site at any time, ranging from long time volunteers to local filmmakers, refugees to “a guy in his 80s.” It’s a testament to the melting pot that is Newcastle city centre.
A large part of the redevelopment came from the group’s Crowdfunder campaign. Accompanied by the hashtag #buildyourcinema, the online campaign ran for 62 days until 7th November, raising a total of £41,609 with 740 backers – one of whom anonymously donated £10,000. Reward tiers included sponsoring your own square foot of the cinema, archived film posters, and a years pass to attend all film screenings once the site opens.
The new premises will be open to anyone who wants to become involved in any aspects of the cinema, from working on the bar at gigs to programming or hosting films and events. There isn’t an expectation for people to come prepared; rather, the space will provide an environment for people to pursue their interests with the aid of training from volunteers. To quote the crowdfunder, The Star and Shadow will “create a new haven from the mundane mainstream of film and music, a nursery for independent creativity and thinking” - providing a space, equipment, audiences, and the support of volunteers to start up numerous cultural events near campus.
At the heart of the project is the belief in cultural agency; engaging people in film and the arts not just as consumers, but as active participants, an approach far different and more meaningful than a profit-driven commercial cinema. The group plans to continue their work they started at the old premises, supporting local filmmakers, musicians, artists and storytellers with their projects, and continuing to host events, discussions, lectures and festivals of international scope such as TUSK music festival, AV Festival, Language Café Newcastle, ¡VAMOS! Festival and Wunderbar Festival (to name a few!). With an eagerly anticipated Summer 2017 opening, it’s safe to assume the curtain won’t come back down on The Star and Shadow anytime soon.
THE FLOOR PLAN
“A new haven from the mundane mainstream of film; a nursery for independent creativity and thinking”
So, what fab film fun will be on offer?
Whether you study it at university or just love the cinema-going experience, The Star and Shadow will have something for everyone who is passionate about film. Fancy holding a private movie screening for a society event? The cinema itself will have 89 seats, including accessible spaces, available to hire out for a more casual (and cheap!) film trip. How about getting your own film crew for a week to shoot a documentary? Workshops will be held on shooting in 16mm film, and filmmaking projects can be facilitated via on-site equipment. You can even learn how to become a projectionist, and become the undisputed king of home movie nights. If don’t like getting your hands dirty though, you can always head to the shop and browse through their extensive film poster archives, to make your student flat look that little bit more posh. However, if films aren’t your thing at all, The Star and Shadow is ideal for art and music festivals, gigs, exhibitions, and a plethora of other community events. You just need a bit of imagination.
THE LIFE OF A STAR AND SHADOW VOLUNTEER
Iris Priest has volunteered for The Star and Shadow on and off for the past eight years. Due to a broken foot, she was unable to help with the project on-site, so instead acted as one of many individuals that coordinated the fundraising aspect of the project.
Noting the initial uncertainty after the original premises was shut down, Iris is quick to praise the resilience of the volunteers in getting a new location set up.“It was a real blow to the cinema, our volunteers, artists and larger communities of participants,” she said, “But we weren’t just going to lie down and accept this would be the end, so an emergency meeting was held to discuss what to do next.”
Iris further notes the positive experience of working on a project from the ground up.
“As individuals and an organisation, we are always learning,” she states, “Many of us working on the current rebuild are learning about site management, building regulations and health and safety. But it’s the constant learning which keeps us ever-evolving and excited.”
Stephen Turner has been volunteering at The Star and Shadow since 2010, keen to find out more about arts in the North East. He acts as one of eight Site Supervisors at the new site, organising the build and training new volunteers.
“We’ve reclaimed lots of materials from the old site,” he told The Courier, “Cinema gear, bits of the old bar, wood, bricks – it’s nice to be putting some of the old stuff into our new place.”
Constructing the new building from the ground up is the most exciting part of the project according to Stephen, who says he has always enjoyed construction work.
In the old premises, Stephen notes that many students came to volunteer during their gap year or during the holidays. When it’s complete, it’ll be a fantastic venue for socials – gigs, screenings, party hire – and at only a fifteen minute walk from campus, the location is ideal.
“The Star and Shadow is whatever anyone wants to make of it. We allow the space for that to happen,” he assures, “It’s a place to make as well as show.”
Nyree Denney is originally from Scotland, but has lived in Newcastle for the past 26 years. She started volunteering for The Star and Shadow back in 2007, after getting involved in their popular TUSK music festival. For the new location, Nyree admits she’d never been involved in a practical way before, but was eager to learn more, becoming one of eight Site Supervisors that lead the organisation of the build.
She describes the project as a collective, a ‘DIY’ that is what you make of it.
“There aren’t enough spaces like this in the city centre,” she says, “There is no hierarchy, and you don’t have to worry about the money in your pocket to get involved.”
For Nyree, the most poignant aspect of the build is getting to work with volunteers from so many backgrounds.
“It’s a kaleidoscope of community experiences; we have refugees, unemployed people looking for work experience, there’s such a variety – it really does tackle the misconceptions that you see in the media.”
Want to help out with the build? You can turn up to volunteer at these times:
Wed and Thurs - 6pm to 8pm
Saturday - 11am to 6pm
Sunday - 11am to 5pm
Attending an AGM: What They Do In The Shadows
How exactly can a group of people set up their own cinema? Why, with the highly organised method of monthly meetings of course! Zoë Godden eagerly attended the previous one to see how it all goes down.
I never thought I’d attend a meeting where motions were approved with jazz hands, but hey, first time for everything, right? I had the pleasure of attending The Star and Shadow’s 10th annual general meeting on 7th November, getting a glimpse of this cooperative effort in action, and left feeling even more enthused for the site’s opening. These meetings take place on the first Monday of each month, and are open to anyone to attend – volunteers old and new. Hence it’s a great starting place if you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to volunteering.
This meeting was particularly special as it was also the group’s 2nd AGM as a Community Benefit Society. This meant examining financial and social accounts (the latter adorably listing local residents’ thoughts on the project), and electing new on-site stewards. The latter are required by law, serving a similar purpose to directors in your typical company.
The Star and Shadow differs to most organisations as it runs as a ‘flat’ hierarchy, valuing all members’ inputs equally. Therefore, though some may seem to have fancier titles than others (such as Site Supervisors, the aforementioned stewards, and members of the Finance and Administration Collective), every volunteer is considered to have an equal impact on the project. It’s a collective effort, rather than the work of individuals over some. Anyone can chair the meeting if they put themselves forward, and one can put in as much or as little time as they like.
As such, when it came to decision making in the meeting, the aforementioned jazz hands came into play. Not only is this great for accessibility, but also serves as a way for attendees to show their agreement with motions/proposals via an overall consensus rather than with your typical voting system. Marx would be proud.
If you’re interested in finding out more of what goes on behind the scenes of building The Star and Shadow, the next meeting will be held on Monday 5th December, at 6pm in the Ouseburn Community Centre. Refreshments are provided.
Get in touch
Facebook: Star and Shadow Cinema
YouTube: Star and Shadow Cinema
Words: Zoë Godden
Photography: Ava Forbes, Joseph de Haan & Arto Polus