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Secret Cinema

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Secret Cinema has captivated thousands of film fans since it launched in 2007, creating worlds within worlds where little is ever quite as it seems. With the 17th London run just launched and the first ever Secret Cinema in Afghanistan having recently taken place, we caught up with founder and creative director Fabien Riggall to find out more…

It’s odd to write a review of a film screening where we can’t name the movie, say where it was or give away too many details of the performance. Suffice to say It’s Nice That dressed up to the nines for last week’s Secret Cinema event, and was rewarded with a wonderful assault on the senses carried out with marvellous attention to detail.

That’s exactly what Fabien Riggall wants and it’s no coincidence the word “magic” peppered his answers when I interviewed him this week.

”I have always been really passionate about going to the cinema and I remember when I was about ten years old and my family were living in Morocco. One time I decided not to tell my parents, I went to the cinema on my own and just bought a ticket without knowing what I was seeing. It turned out to be Once Upon a Time in America. I was a ten-year-old sitting there watching this hugely epic, incredibly violent film and it felt like I had stepped into it.

“Cinema is hugely romantic and magical but sometimes the experience is not as good as it could be, so I wanted to bring back some of the romance.”

At his Future Shorts film festival events he started to book bands to play after the films and the idea grew from there.

And the secret element? “In this age where we are overloaded with information all the time a sense of making something secret allows the audience to be more imaginative and creative. If they know what they are seeing they will preset before they arrive.

“We find if we have someone on Twitter say what the film is then they got shot down by the community – the secrecy is the point.”

The social media reference is an interesting one, because Secret Cinema harnesses Facebook and Twitter to help build the suspense and atmosphere well before the event itself. Cryptic emails addressing the recipient from the point of view of one of the film’s characters add to the mystery.

“As soon as you sign up you are in the film and Facebook and Twitter are other places where we can build the narrative.

“Our team is building this world but we are asking the audience to lose themselves in the story with us, and sometimes we get them contributing photos or writing letters.”

Fabien says planing sometimes begins with a killer location, or a specific film (and there are a list of potential films where the team have never found somewhere suitable to show it) but sometimes too it’s a reaction to an event, or a Zeitgeist. “During the Arab Spring it felt important that we showed a film that completely reflected what was going on so we chose The Battle of Algiers, and when we showed Ghostbusters it was a really bleak November and everything just felt a bit gloomy.”

Last month saw the first ever Secret Cinema in Kabul, with the film being screened simultaneously with the event in London. Moving forward the plan is to have simultaneous screening in several cities, with plans under way for a New York event in 2012. The Afghanistan event came about because of Fabien’s frustration at the endless bad news coming out of the country. “There’s this very young, enthused audience who are hungry for culture and it just feels wrong that all we ever hear about is the terror.”

He worked with photojournalist Travis Beard who runs a secret rock music festival in the same city, and although he admits there were logistical challenges aplenty, he clearly feels it was more than worth it.

“Secrecy there is about security more than anything but there we were creating a sense of mystery and intrigue. I think having 100 people in a dark Kabul basement at the same time as 500 people in London is something really special.”

And clearly there is no danger of Fabien resting on his laurels. Secret Cinema has just opened its first Secret Restaurant at its current venue, partnering with St John to create an immersive dining experience which he wants to expand as its own event over time.

“I was in a restaurant recently and the chip fryer blew up. There was a massive bang and everyone freaked out but afterwards the noise level went up and from being quite quiet everyone was talking about everything. I think people will like the idea of going to a restaurant where they have no idea what is going on.”

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.