The Hamlets Pop-Up Cinema: that’s a Wrap!

Smiles all round for The Hamlets Pop-Up Cinema team 

It’s hard to believe it was a mere seven months ago that we first introduced The Hamlets Pop-up Cinema to the residents of Towers Hamlets. As we come to the end of this initial pilot phase, we thought it would be a good idea to reflect on just how much the team have achieved in such a short space of time.

We first launched The Hamlets at the end of September 2017. Our innovative project aimed to involve local people in running their own regular film club screening great movies from around the world, and to also support the borough’s high streets and town centres with diverse pop-up events.

We started by holding a free training session at Four Corners on Roman Road, led by national body Cinema for All (CfA). Nine people attended the one-day training, where they were given important insights and skills on how to manage a community cinema.

Since then, The Hamlets has organised three full days of training (including a technical day with the Independent Cinema Trust), and held seven screenings and a ‘Meet the Director Dinner and Q&A’. During April, we also collaborated with the programmers of this year’s East End Film Festival who approached us to help promote the London premiere of Daha, a hard-hitting coming-of-age film centred on refugees being trafficked through Turkey. The screening at Rio Cinema in neighbouring Hackney took place last week.

Full house for the screening of Benim  Varoş Hikayem (My Suburban Story), Oxford House, Bethnal Green, Feb. 2018. Photo © Mustafa Karaaslan

From the off, we chose not to follow the easy route by selecting old and commercially known box office movies. Wanting to reflect the diversity of the borough, we instead focussed the programming on films from around the world, many with important themes. It helped that our project manager was film charity Balik Arts, so there was no shortage of contacts to makers of remarkable foreign movies, while membership of CfA gave The Hamlets discounted rates to license relatively new films from their UK distributors.

Our screenings took us to Lebanon (Tramontane), Bangladesh (Oggatonama), Argentina (Abel), the USA (twice with Up on the Wooftops, and Hidden Figures), Turkey (Benim Varoş Hikayem), and Afghanistan (The Prince of Nothingwood).

We criss-crossed the borough’s main town centres, popping up in a host of different venues including twice each at Oxford House and Account 3 in Bethnal Green, as well as at the Close-Up Cinema in Shoreditch, and Moo Cantina and Arbor City Hotel, both on Brick Lane. It was great to work with local businesses, which kindly accommodated our pop-up cinema at low or no rent at all, in return for free publicity and the chance to be introduced to new customers. 

L-R: award-winning actor/writer/director Tauquir Ahmed with Yeşim Güzelpınar (The Hamlets/Balik Arts) and Marie Gerring (Tower Hamlets Council)

Screening room sizes varied from 40 to 140, and four of our seven events were sold out in advance. More than half the people coming to our pop-up events were from outside the borough, and our policy of free or affordable access paid off, as several returned to at least one further The Hamlets movie night.

Social media was vital for our marketing. We grew from a zero base line to currently having over 350 followers on Facebook and Twitter. At our peak, we generated 11,000 impressions on Twitter for the month, and had a similar reach on Facebook, while The Hamlets blog has been viewed over 5,000 times these past seven months – pretty good considering this is a small community cinema project.

All of this was possible through funding by Tower Hamlets Council as part of its Thriving High Streets programme. We’re grateful to the support and guidance of Maria Gerring and her fellow council officers.

And the award for 'comfiest screening room' goes to Arbor City Hotel, Brick Lane, where we saw The Prince of Nothingwood in March 

A special thanks also goes to our fabulous team of volunteers, whose time and enthusiasm was at the core of making this project a huge success. Their connections live on beyond The Hamlets: two of the trainees are participating in a transnational filmmaking project taking place in Turkey in May, while another participant has been subsidised to shoot a short film at the workplace of another trainee in Bethnal Green.

We hope to be back soon. Keep checking here and on our social media for updates on more screenings by The Hamlets. And if you are an organisation looking to back a great community initiative like this, please do get in touch by emailing me, Yesim Guzelpinar (managing director of Balik Arts), at  


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