By Hugh Devonald
In 1959 there was a large influx of residents into the new town of Bracknell. Many had been members of film societies in London and elsewhere, and a small band of enthusiasts formed the Bracknell Film Society. At that time there was one small public cinema in the town and there was a perceived need for regular showings of films of quality, both old and new, that were unlikely to have been seen in the public cinema.
For many years the Society was financially viable (through subscription), showing to audiences of upwards of a hundred members and guests, in local halls. It also supplied a need by showing to school audiences "set-book" films.
The opening of the local arts centre South Hill Park in October 1973, with its own small cinema showing a mixture of "blockbuster" and "non-high street" films, had an impact on the Society, causing a change to the Society's modus operandi. Working with the Arts Centre from January 1981, the Society selected one film a month to be shown at the South Hill Park cinema, open to both members and the general public at normal box-office prices. Thus, the Society continued, albeit in a different way, with members' subscriptions being reduced to cover merely membership to the BFS and subscriptions to film magazines, in particular Sight and Sound.
With growing financial pressures on the Arts Centre, from January 1999 the Society's monthly showings have had to be self-financing with the box office takings, along with any contribution from the Society, needed to cover the costs of hiring the cinema, film and projectionist. The Society continues to relish the challenge of trying to screen films that we feel merit showing but that will also attract as large an audience as possible. To date our choices have been extremely successful, included regular sold-out performances!
In 2000 the Society celebrated 40 years for which a weekend of film was organised. The Millennium Fund, recognising the importance of the role that film plays in local arts, provided the money to ensure our anniversary was a successful event and attracted many members from the local community. In 2009-10 we will be celebrating our 50th year of operation by showing a series of films that we have screened over the past 5 decades and which have been selected by our members. We will also hold a series of special events throughout the year.