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A flyer designed and distributed by the UEA Reels of History page in the Cinema City brochure

Reels of History is a programming strand at Cinema City which has been developed by Cinema Plus and The School of History at the University of East Anglia. The strand brings new, classic and archive films of all genres dealing with a range of historical themes and events in European history to the big screen, all screenings being supported by live introductions from UEA lecturers.

The season began in 2010 as a pilot. We wanted to try out new approaches to publicising and building audiences for specialist film classics, which at that point were experiencing disappointing attendance levels following the re-opening of the cinema after a long period of redevelopment. We initially identified a suitable slot in the regular calendar (which was Sunday late afternoons) and then devised a series of short seasons in discussion with the UEA History Department and our programmer.

A crucial factor in the success of Reels of History is that it was developed through close discussion with one particular UEA academic who has supported the project since its inception. A key advantage of this relationship is the active promotion of the events to staff, students, and other interested parties by the UEA organiser. This has ensured a steady and reliable growth of the audience for this strand.

Although attendances of course tend to vary according to the choice of film and introductory speaker, since the strand was introduced, attendances for films in the Sunday afternoon repertory slot (as it was known) have noticeably strengthened, averaging 55 people per screening. Notably successful screenings were two events programmed as part of annual Remembrance Day commemorations; Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick), The Great War in East Anglia (a selection of films from the East Anglian Film Archive) and The Battle of the Somme, Lawrence of Arabia (introduced by UEA Head of History Prof John Charmley) and Hannah Arendt. The majority of the aforementioned screenings sold out, or came very close to reaching capacity at 185 attendees.

As well as the benefits of establishing a regular, unique strand (which can also attract local press coverage when connected to key anniversaries and special events); building a mutually beneficial relationship with an organisation such as a local university or college can result in additional benefits. For example, Cinema City now regularly welcomes large numbers of UEA History students to special screenings and UEA departments also often book the cinema for special occasions (i.e. staff away days and Christmas parties).

Tip: Partner up with other organisations for seasons and events, and the combined marketing and promotional potential is exponentially increased.