Opening my eyes to OpenCinema

Last week we kicked off our first resilience workshop of 2015 where we invite people to come together, discuss some high-level thinking around resilience and public services and get exposed to some interesting case studies of resilience being applied in a public service context. They’re usually great fun, and this week’s was no exception, largely due to the contribution of Christoph Warrack, who is the CEO of OpenCinema. So I thought I’d knock up a quick blog on why I invited them along. First a little story (the relevance of which will all become clear…)

I first heard about OpenCinema at a Good For Nothing hangout where Christoph was giving a very short talk about his project and providing a general bit of advice around taking a social innovation approach. To illustrate how OpenCinema came about, he introduced an exercise to get people to think about what they enjoyed doing in their downtime, then the social challenge they wanted to address, and then bring the two together to find an interesting way of tackling said challenge. (e.g. love running in your spare time? Want to tackle social isolation? I wonder what would happen if you put the two together…?) Unfortunately the audience was a little too earnest, and it turned out that what people loved to do in their downtime was address social challenges… never have I seen such a great ice-breaker tank so badly, and felt so bad for the instigator…

OpenCinema is a great example of where that exercise can go brilliantly right though!

In 2005, Christoph asked the question “what if I took my passion (film) and applied it to the level of homelessness I see in and around the West End?” This to me is a classic bit of resilience/asset-based thinking – a resource in abundance in an area (cinemas, actors, directors) locked away from a cohort of people but with the potential to create great things for each other. The solution was OpenCinema – essentially pop up screenings for people on the street that went beyond just showing films, but actively sought to create bridging relationships with the film community by convening Q&As between filmmakers and the capital’s homeless population. Because in this situation, the audience are not defined by their social challenge, but by the directness and insight they bring as individuals.

Hearing Christoph talk about this in action is pretty inspiring and to me shows the power of “bridging” relationship building. The filmmakers get valuable (and quite direct) insight on the content, themes and impact of their works, and audience not only get access to a wealth of talent and experience, they get to see themselves in a light that they often don’t get to see – an equal rather than a problem to be solved/ignored. OpenCinema has grown to develop film-making programmes, education opportunities, as well as expanding to other areas. There are tremendously powerful stories of how lives have been turned around through their interventions. To me the resilience building qualities are clear:

  • They move people from a place where they are as isolated as one can be in western society, and use bonding and bridging techniques to increase and diversify the networks these people can draw upon for help;
  • OpenCinema is all about unlocking alternative resources, whether it’s community spaces for pop-up cinemas, skills and expertise from the film-making community or insights and reflections from the people invited to participate;
  • It changes the role of “public service” because rather than focusing on the “homelessness” or “isolation”, OpenCinema invests in the strengths of the individuals they are helping.

As always with these blogposts, I feel I can’t help but do a disservice to the initiatives I describe, and I would encourage you to check out OpenCinema for yourselves. To my mind, they are one of the best examples of how taking an approach that focuses on connecting people in interesting and diverse ways can strengthen an individual’s ability to cope with even the toughest of situations.

Epilogue So at the Good For Nothing event where Christoph posed his interesting passion vs challenge exercise, I wondered how I would answer the question. The passion bit was easy – I am mad about Batman (I spend pretty much all my internet time on Batman related links). But what challenge would I choose? Recently of course, I’ve been obsessed with strengthening individual and community resilience. Which got me wondering, what if our communities were a little bit more like Batman….? (trail for new blogpost which is on its way very soon!!)

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