Increasingly I think about film more as the start of a dialogue with audiences rather than as the escapist form of entertainment with which it has become identified. Today's audience wants to talk about issues raised through film and how they resonate with what is happening in the wider world. As the world becomes more complex, audiences want to engage with that complexity rather than escape into the neat resolutions of Hollywoodland.
Last year we launched Conversations about Cinema in partnership with Bristol University, which took the shape of an introduction in the cinema followed by an informal discussion in the café bar. This has opened up conversations on subjects as varied as the historical roots of the slave trade (12 Years a Slave) the situation in the Middle-East (Omar) Dostoyevsky and Cinema (The Double) and demonstrated an appetite from audiences to engage in meaningful debate. This year we have widened the Conversations in partnership with other independent cinemas, online and through social media to open up engagement to audiences across the UK and to explore a specific theme: how film and filmmakers address the impact of conflict.
The Impact of Conflict theme arose out of 2014's commemoration of the start of WW1. This centenary was of course cause for reflection on the scale and impact of that war and the immense global repercussions, which still ripple to this day. You just have to think about the recent screen adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth to see our continued interest in stories emanating from WW1. The impact of war, any war, is not confined to the period between dates but goes wider and deeper; it shapes people, society, places and politics: as I write this, The Chilcott Inquiry into the 2003 Iraq War is causing political fallout and Clint Eastwood's American Sniper divides audiences in its portrait of one man's experience of that war.
As a subject, conflict has always drawn filmmakers, whether driven by political or social ideals, or inspired by more humanitarian concerns. Now, however, with conflicts continuing across the globe, the political resonance of film is becoming ever more significant as a mechanism for observation and reportage, a means to document, a medium for comment and protest, a tool for learning and understanding, and for opening up discussion and debate. Through such films as the forthcoming portrait of the 60s civil rights fight in Selma, the search for reconciliation in The Look of Silence and Timbuktu's revealing drama of the recent radical jihadi insurgency in Mali, Conversations about Cinema will focus on a variety of themes including racial tension, human rights violation, extremism, migration and displacement. Again whilst writing this I read reports from America that Selma illustrates that the civil rights struggle is not over, whilst Timbuktu has been pulled from cinemas in Paris then reinstated because the powers that be realised it was not advocating terrorism but rather critiquing it - further evidence that film, whether about a historical or contemporary conflict, has the power to open up meaningful debate and discussion.
It seems to me now, more than at any other time in its brief history, film, rather than being an escapist form of entertainment is opening up rich seams of issues about our world and which can engage audiences' appetite for discussion, debate and dialogue. Join in on the conversation at conversationsaboutcinema.co.uk and @convocinema