Cube Roots

(Article from VENUE MAGAZINE, 1999 – on our 1st birthday)

“You’ve heard of BYO restaurants. Well, how about a BYOF cinema, as in Bring Your Own Film? Sounds crazy, but the Cube have already done it, to marvellous effect. And now, against the odds, Bristol’s very own ‘microplex’ cinema is celebrating its first birthday.”

Journalist: Robin Askew

Imagine a cinema where you can take your drinks into the auditorium. Imagine a cinema where you can have a direct influence on the programming policy. Imagine a cinema that encourages you to bring along your own films and project them yourself. Now stop imagining, because the cinema in question is already here.

This weekend the Cube celebrates its first anniversary. Many thought it wouldn’t get that far, such has been the esoteric nature of some of its programming. But the Cube collective have proven the nay-sayers wrong, building a loyal audience for an innovative multi-media mix that has seen local DJs working alongside film-makers and digital artists in a series of unique collaborations. Their achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that the whole place is run on a co-operative basis by core crew of six, with a further 25 committed volunteers. And although some of them have been putting in 60-hour weeks, no one’s been paid a penny.

“Our biggest achievement has been to survive,” reflects co-op member Julian Holman, who also runs the Bristol Filmmakers’ Festival. “we admit that when we opened we were full of expectation rather than experience, but we’ve learnt quickly – not just the cinema aspect, but the basic facts of running a small business. We’ve managed to build a fantastic atmosphere about the place. Everybody feeds off one another in terms of energy and enthusiasm. Obviously, we’d love to be paid for what we do, but we realised that the way to set the place up on a solid foundation was to do this without pay. So we’ve all got part-time jobs or we’ve surviving creatively.”

The Cube was set up by local music and film collective Club Rombus in the premises formerly occupied by the cosy, single-screen Arts Centre Cinema. At first they attempted to continue the Art Centre’s policy of second-run screenings of the most popular upmarket mainstream fare, programming avant gardw events around these screenings. But this traditional material was soon squeezed out by the Cube’s more adventurous plans. Only fashionable US indie hits, like ‘Go’ and ‘Another Day In Paradise’, are now being booked around other Cube activities. “The Arts Centre used to be very good at picking up on what was popular, but it meant that you couldn’t really see anything different from the Watershed or Arnolfini.” explains Julian. “We figured that since we’ve got this place we might as well make the most of it. Because of the people we know, we can do things that the other establishments can’t.”

The ‘totemic’ Cube event, he says, is the anarchic Film Jam. “That sums up what we do best, which is make the place very much a creative grassroots environment. We invite people to bring along their 16mm and 8mm footage, as well as slides. and, more importantly, their projectors. We have DJs on stage and there can be ten or more projectors in the auditorium all firing off to various screens around the room. It might sound like lunacy but it’s really quite wonderful to watch at times.”

Cube collaborations between film-makers digital artists and DJs have taken many forms one of the most productive of which is the live mixing of new soundtracks to classic movies. Next week, for example, John Stapleton launches his new Blowpop label at the Cube with the creation of a new audio track for ‘Death Race 2000’. “When we did that with “The Warriors”, it was quite phenomenal what we produced by having DJs who are normally used to getting a crowd buzzing on the dancefloor thinking about providing a proper soundtrack to a film,” says Julian.

Not everything has worked. Some of the more esoteric material has proven to have a distinctly selective appeal. “But we’re still very glad to have put that in,” he insists. “We’re also very proud of the “Eye To Eye” documentary series. It doesn’t pull in hundreds of people, but what it does is to provide absolutely excellent events.”
Future plans include an expansion of facilities for film-makers, including a VHS library of local productions and a script bank aimed at putting writers in touch with directors. The Cube also plans to apply for a theatre licence so performance can be introduced to the multi-media mix. Once there’s a bit of cash in the kitty, the knackered equipment is due for an upgrade. And the recent introduction of a patrons-only bar has already gone some way towards achieving the Cubester’s goal of creating a fusion of cinema and social space.

“One of the best things about this place is that we’re friendlier than most of the other cinemas around town,” says Julian. “People get a real welcome here. I like to think they get treated a lot better than punters who come and pay money, sit down and watch a film, and then bugger off again.”

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