Our LIFF Behind the Scenes series brings you interviews with a wide range of people working in film exhibition who all have a connection with Leeds International Film Festival.

Here, we talk to Lisa Brook, Artistic Director & CEO at Live Cinema UK...

Lisa Brook

I’ve been lucky enough to work almost exclusively in film exhibition from my last year at Uni (12 years ago!) to today, in my current role as Artistic Director & CEO at Live Cinema UK. I founded the company 7 years ago, but before then was working at film festivals. My first break into the industry was thanks to Leeds Film: I was writing my dissertation of French horror cinema, and wrote to Chris Fell (Festival Director) to see if there’s any way I could be involved with LIFF 2009. I was over the moon to be offered the chance to work on the Fanomenon section with LIFF Film Programmer Martin Grund, guest wrangling for the genre cinema section. My role became a paid one the following year as Press Coordinator, though I continued to work on Fanomenon looking after festival guests. This is still something I love doing – I met friends at LIFF who I’m still friends with today, including Marc Price (Colin, Nightshooters) and Lee Cronin (Through the Night, The Hole in the Ground), who is now just finishing up shooting the new Evil Dead feature in New Zealand!

Alongside my part-time work with LIFF I was fortunate enough to be offered the role of Marketing and Events Manager at Sheffield Doc/Fest, where I fell in love with live cinema events, working on From the Sea to the Land with British Sea Power and The Big Melt with Jarvis Cocker.

I set up Live Cinema UK at the age of 26 in 2014. I couldn’t find a national organisation to advise on producing work for big screens with extra live performance and interactivity, so I set up Live Cinema UK to do just that.

What do you enjoy most about working in film exhibition?

Weirdly, I’m not going to say getting to watch lots of films! I rarely watch films at festivals now because of the two things I enjoy the most about the industry – people, and live events. Not just the amazing film exhibition industry in the UK where many of the best people I know work, but being able to meet people from production, on screen talent, academia, music and so much more, and to create ideas and projects with them over a drink at a festival or conference party, it’s brilliant. And, of course, live events – the communal nature of film watching is the most important thing to me, and adding live elements to events I produce create that extra draw as the audience can only experience the film in that way, in that room, at that time.

What inspired you to become involved in film exhibition and what were your first steps?

Attending Day of the Dead in 2008 and seeing Martin Grund introduce films on stage, including Martyrs which I based much of my undergraduate dissertation on. I had no idea that choosing films and introducing them on stage whilst hanging out with guests was a job, and from that point knew that’s what I wanted to do.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become involved in film exhibition now?

Make yourself indispensable. At the start of your career you need to be a good all-rounder – get office skills if you want to work in exhibition, as for paid roles you need to be brilliant with email, contact management, and huge spreadsheets. Volunteer at film festivals – get to know the festival team, watch films, make yourself stand out, then follow up 6 months later with a personal email to a manager at the festival: make it personal, reference what you want to achieve and, most importantly, what skills you can provide to them and what headaches you will be able to solve. Festivals rely on temporary staff, so there are a plethora of short term contracts available each year, and you want to put yourself at the front of the team’s mind.

What is the main change you’ve experienced in film exhibition since you started? 

Valuing staff! Unpaid internships and ridiculous hours for underpaid staff have been the norm in the industry forever, as if just working in film should be payment enough. The last few years however, this has been under scrutiny in all sectors, and companies will be called out if they are offering unpaid internships, expecting salaried staff to work hours which bring their wage down below the minimum, and many, many other horrible practices that should never have existed. Board-level and management incompetency is also being called out. Ritzy Cinema have a long-fought campaign for a living wage which has inspired others to take action supported by BECTU, including a wider national group supporting Picturehouse and Cineworld workers (Cineworld Action Group). There is so much work still to be done, but there is finally momentum in collective action and support for those entering the exhibition industry and working in the lowest paid roles.

What would you like to see change in film exhibition in the future?

Diversity and inclusion at the top of the industry. There have been great changes in the last few years, but creating an inclusive and supportive industry does not have an end point: it’s a process, and we can always do more. #MeToo and the prevalence of cis white males at senior exec levels is not something that has just disappeared. Targets and quotas can help, but don’t address the structural inequality that prevents access to working in the industry, as well as representation on screen, that needs addressing across society.

Do you have a favourite highlight from working in film exhibition so far?

Nope because there’s so many, and I hope the biggest highlight is still to come. I have always wanted to produce a feature film that has live cinema performance integrated at the point of production, and we are nearly there with Dust & Metal which is now in final edit. To have something I have produced premiere at a festival, and be one of those festival guests that I used to look after at the age of 21 would just feel like “Right, I’ve made it now”.

Is there a film you love that you wish could be seen more widely by audiences?

So many, mainly archive films and films that have shown at festivals but never had UK distribution. The Passion of Joan of Arc is probably my favourite film ever and the one I like to see most with a live score. For festival films, LIFF does a good job of championing films that don’t have UK distribution – Sound of Noise is one which has played in Leeds several times now, and the brilliant Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen which is another: an archive compilation of love stories from across film history. As there’s so many clips in it, it’s impossible to license, but there have been a few screenings for “educational purposes” or that are allowed for purposes of parody or pastiche (which is allowed within reason in UK fair use copyright law). Seek it out if you can!

Also, Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies. I saw this on my first date with my partner in 2011: interesting choice if you know the subject matter! But it is just incredible and so many people haven’t seen it which makes me sad given that Villeneuve has gone on to direct Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune which is out later this month.

Do you have a favourite cinema-going memory as part of an audience?

Other than my first year going to LIFF which is what made me want to work in film, probably Secret Cinema’s presentation of The Shawshank Redemption. It was the perfect live cinema experience – terrifying, completely immersive, detailed, emotional and so incredibly moving.

Which filmmaker’s work means the most to you?

Auteurism is dominated by patriarchal voices and stories. I don’t believe that the term ‘filmmaker’ should necessarily be the one who gets all the credit as director and creator of the work: we talk about Kubrick, Scorsese, Godard, Tarantino as being canonical ‘filmmakers’, but a great ‘filmmaker’ can be the person who makes the film as the producer, the composer, the writer, and any number of the hundreds of behind the scenes roles. So I’m going to go with female composers who mean the most to me: Mica Levi (Under the Skin, Jackie), who I’ve had the pleasure to work with on a couple of projects, and Hildur Guðnadóttir, who won the 2019 Oscar for her score to Joker. She’s only the third woman ever to win in 88 years of the Oscars. I cried when she won!

Which new film have you loved recently that you would recommend to audiences?

Thinking about recent releases, I saw Ninja Thyberg’s Sundance hit Pleasure at Motovun Film Festival last summer, where it won the audience award. It’s incredible, hard to watch, but an incredible story exploring the porn industry from a female perspective that challenges audiences to never watch or think about porn in the same way again. MUBI have picked it up so hopefully will have a cinema release as well as streaming release in the UK very soon. It’s very explicit, but really needs to be: I first got heavily into film watching Claire Denis and Gaspar Noé and sometimes, we need to see the extreme to bring what is usually hidden into our cultural discourse, which is exactly what Pleasure does.

Part of LIFF Behind the Scenes