Cinema service for homeless expands

Open Cinema, a UK film club helping homeless and socially excluded people reconnect with society, has branched out internationally

With a network of member cinemas already including those in UK cities such as London, Birmingham and Cardiff, Open Cinema has widened its reach having opened a new club in Dublin in July.

From a background in film production and having volunteered helping homeless people at St Patrick’s Church in Soho, London, Open Cinema founder Christoph Warrack started the initiative in 2005 after a guest at a weekly soup kitchen requested some entertainment.

Noticing that London’s West End was central to the film industry as well as a key area of homelessness in the capital, Christoph used his industry contacts to set up free screenings of the best classic and contemporary films.

Christoph believes that films can help homeless people to re-imagine their lives and engage in public life: “It’s really reconnecting people with a culture that is rightfully theirs for which they are wrongfully excluded,” he said. “There is a great lack of entertainment delivered to this group.” He added: “There are numerous mental health benefits.”

Open Cinema works in homeless day centres and hostels and runs quarterly seasons of 12 weeks, with a specific theme that the participants help to choose. It invites professionals from the film industry to visit the clubs and lead post-film discussions. Visitors have included directors such as Stephen Frears (The Queen), Chris Morris (Four Lions) and Sir Alan Parker (Bugsy Malone).

Open Cinema also gives homeless people the opportunity to create short films, with the assistance of professional filmmakers. Some of the films have been screened at festivals in the UK and abroad.

“Creativity knows no boundaries and has no rules. The new Spielberg or John Ford could well come from Open Cinema,” said Hugh Hudson, the director of the films Chariots of Fire and Lost Angels.

Referring to the impact Open Cinema has made upon one of their member’s lives, a spokesperson for The Booth Centre in Manchester said: “Engaging John through our cinema and film workshops was the catalyst in helping him to move on in his life, giving him a platform to use his mind again and feel valued.”