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What it's like to run an independent cinema

By Heather Large | Weekend | Published:

For the past six years Kelly Jeffs has been at the helm of the Black Country’s only independent cinema.

Now showing – Kelly Jeffs inside the main cinema screen at Light House

From choosing films her audience will love to securing funding to expand its varied programme of activities and events, there is no such thing as a quiet day for the Light House chief executive. But for Kelly the biggest buzz comes from chatting to customers about the latest and upcoming independent and Hollywood film releases.

“I love talking to people about the films coming up and the films they’ve just seen. I get enjoyment from seeing them enjoying the films we are showing and I love hearing them chit-chatting in the bar about what they have watched,” says Kelly.

Now showing – Kelly Jeffs inside the main cinema screen at Light House

Light House can be found inside Wolverhampton’s former Chubb Locks factory and prides itself on offering a mixed programme of independent and commercial films, documentaries, live screenings and art as well as providing a personal service to audiences who prefer not to go to a multiplex.

It contains two screens, two galleries, a café bar and indoor courtyard and is cited as Wolverhampton’s cultural hub and one of it’s architectural treasures.

It also plays host to other activities such as language cafes where mother tongue and learners share knowledge of French, Portuguese, Japanese and English as well as live theatre, ballet and opera.

“There is nothing else quite like this in Wolverhampton. For example, on just one night, you could have a Royal Opera showing on the main screen, a French independent film on the upstairs screen, an exhibition opening in the gallery, a poetry night and a language café – all under the same roof,” explains Kelly, who studied media and cultural studies at the University of Manchester.

And there is always a flurry of excitement when the programme for the next month is released, she tells us.

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“When our new programme comes out, our customers are hungry for it. We see them planning their next visits and the films they are going to see. We know they value us and we are here for them every day,” adds Kelly, who started at the Light House as an administrator in 1999.

Being chief executive brings with it huge responsibility especially at the moment as the cinema tries to keep its head above water after losing a council subsidy, worth £73,000 a year in 2015.

Kelly outside Light House building

“It’s a painful struggle at times but it’s pleasurable pain. The funding cuts have left us with a gap which are trying to fill to keep us going. We have cut our costs to a minimum and we are doing all we can to raise awareness and attract sponsors.

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“People deserve to have a resource like this. Our numbers are growing all the time, ticket sales were up by 12 per cent during the last financial year. This shows we are valued and needed. We’re a safe place in the community for people who may be feeling lonely or isolated. They can come here for a chat, a cup of tea, watch a film and feel part of the community again,” Kelly tells us.

“I see lot of opportunities to develop but we don’t have the time or capacity at the moment which frustrates me a lot. We’re just a small team so we are all doing three jobs at once. Some days can be very long. I’m always researching new films and products and trying to keep on top of developments in the film industry,” she adds.

Despite the challenges, the team is working hard to provide a film programme that appeals to both its regular customers and hopefully attracts new visitors to the cinema which has been running since 1987, too.

“Our core audience is older people but we are working on a project with the British Film Institute (BFI) on a programme to appeal to 16 to 30-year-olds. Generally we choose films that are good quality independent films and we always add one European release a month and a new feature documentary, something that’s a bit creative. We blend that with some of the blockbusters, like Star Wars or Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, when we feel it’s appropriate and family films, like Incredibles 2, in the holidays.

“It’s down to gut instinct on what we think our audience will like. Sometimes you are a victim of the product but mostly we get it right. We aim to offer a really varied and entertaining programme,” explains Kelly.

Kelly chats to Light House customers Catherine Ward and Margaret Clemson

The venue, which is supported by a team of around 35 volunteers and ambassadors, also plays host to different events often centred around a particular film or theme and some in the pipeline include a screening of Saturday Night Fever in October and a Queen-themed night to celebrate the release of Bohemian Rhapsody.

“We like to create an event around film with cocktails and music. For Mamma Mia we had a Easy Like Sunday event where we had a sing-along to easy listening 70s songs before the screening. We also have our annual Mistletoe and Mulled Wine event at Christmas where we sing carols and watch a film like It’s a Wonderful Life or Elf. We had a few hundred people there last year.

“We’ve also got our classic cinema and cream tea series so we are showing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on September 16 and our Baby Love film club where new parents can enjoy a film and bring their babies under two along. It’s a chance to socialise with other parents while watching a film,” explains Kelly.

She believes the venue is an integral part of the community and can have a bright future as long it continues to offer an attractive programme to suit a wide range of interests.

“It’s both a pleasure and a privilege to lead this type of organisation.”

  • To find out more visit www.light-house.co.uk
Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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