Deptford Cinema, a community-based and volunteer-run organisation, celebrates its third anniversary this summer after overcoming a potentially devastating financial situation last year.
The cinema used to be open only one or two times a week, but now it hosts different events and activities almost every day. The cinema has a small bar, an art gallery called The Corridor, affordable life drawing classes and is now setting up a darkroom.
Just over a year ago the cinema was facing bankruptcy over a Lewisham Council tax bill of £12,297. Sam Taylor, 30, one of the cinema’s volunteers said: “We are a Community Interest Company (CIC) so we charge like a charity, but we have to pay the same taxes as Tesco”. A CIC is a social enterprise that uses its profits and assets for public good, but “it is such a new business concept that the council is still in the process of finding a way to manage it,” said Taylor.
The cinema should be granted charity status soon and it also received the support of more than 3500 people who signed a petition to the council to apply a relief on the overdue tax. Taylor said: “We are now managing to pay the bill in installments, and the petition helped us gain political relevance.”
Taylor added: “This cinema provides a very affordable venue for films and the arts in general as well as a space for like-minded people.”
The cinema is an open space that tries to raise social and political awareness in the Lewisham community, he said. “The spirit of the cinema is that everybody is equal, nobody is in charge and it is run by consensus. This inclusive attitude is reflected in the sort of films we screen.”
The cinema is popular among locals and attracts a range of different people, depending on what is being screened. “When we screen foreign language films, it is nice to see a lot of people from a specific country turn up,” said Taylor.
The cinema’s program includes a selection of art-house films, tight-budget local productions, occasional mainstream successes and documentaries concerned with social, ethical or political issues. It is currently screening films on LGBTQ themes and Korean films among others. The cinema’s events are accessible here.
Although the cinema is more successful than last year, those that currently work there agree that it would benefit from more volunteers. Carlos Lozada, a volunteer, said: “We need help with marketing, publicity, building work, anything really. We rely on how much time the volunteers can spend running this space.”
Despite financial problems, the cinema is determined to maintain its identity and affordability. Lozada said: “We may show films that don’t do well, but we show them because we want to. Everyone can show blockbusters, but we try to show films that are actually interesting.”