New Brixton community cinema has indie passion

portrait of woman
Abiba Coulibaly

A film with an uncanny contemporary relevance will show in Brixton Village tomorrow. Iona Cleave meets the woman behind the show and a new cinema for Brixton

Once or twice a month, a vacant space in Brixton Village is transformed into something else entirely – Brixton Community Cinema. Posters, fold-up chairs, popcorn and a projector move in and it becomes a space for the local community to enjoy independent cinema, affordably and collectively. 

South London film-enthusiast Abiba Coulibaly is behind it. Grown out of a lockdown dream, Coulibaly says: “the key idea is: how can you make culture more accessible?” 

London is spoilt for cultural activities, but they often come at a high price, excluding many in the city. This project, she hopes, is a chance to make film more accessible for all Brixton. 

However, Coulibaly notices that “Money is not the only barrier. It’s sometimes the way cultural institutions make you feel.”

She hopes to combat this sense of alienation with a pay-what-you-can structure and an inclusive, community approach to the cinema. Any profit will go straight back into the project. 

Beyond this, film choice is important. “I want to show films that aren’t necessarily showing in commercial cinemas nearby … I want something different,” says Coulibaly. 

Film should provoke, challenge, begin discussions. Yet, there is a balance to me made, she explains. There will be no films that would risk excluding people by being “difficult to engage with, or overly experimental,” says Coulibaly. 

Representation in film is important for her, but it has to be more than just a tick-box exercise. “When you look at minority representation in films showings in Brixton, they’re quite obvious choices or the area gets kind of pigeon-holed.”

According to Coulibaly, it’s important to represent Brixton’s large African-Caribbean population, but other growing minority ethnic groups in the area should be highlighted too.

And so should communities far removed from London. “This month we are showing an Iranian film. There isn’t a significant Iranian diaspora here, but it’s important to show other experiences,” she says. 

The next screening is Offside, a 2006 award-winning film directed by the renowned Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, who in July was sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the system”. The film follows the journey of passionate Iranian female football fans who are barred from entering football stadiums. 

A startling coincidence that the film was chosen before the protests and unrest that has rocked Iran for the past eight weeks. “Now, it takes on a whole new significance,” says Coulibaly. 

The community cinema – “almost a year in the making” – has required time, energy, and winning grants, including from the creative platform, It’s Nice That, where she was selected from approximately 620 applicants. “It was really affirming that somebody was like ‘ah actually, this is a good idea and we do want to support you’,” says Coulibaly.

“It took what felt like ages to get going, but ever since it was launched, my friends have been super supportive and also complete strangers and Brixton Village too.

The first screening we did sold out, and people were still turning up even though when there weren’t any tickets available.” 

It’s an open project, that’s the point of it all, says Coulibaly. “It’s supposed to be for the community, so if anyone wants to volunteer, has ideas or wants to pitch a film screening – get in contact.” 

The next screening is at 7pm tomorrow (25 November) at 97 Granville Arcade, Brixton Village. 

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