With the help of our Extra Nice Fund, Abiba Coulibaly wants to bring affordable, independent film to her community of Brixton
We are pleased to announce Abiba Coulibaly’s community cinema initiative as 2021’s recipient of the Extra Nice Fund.
Growing up a “proud south-Londoner” and film enthusiast, Abiba Coulibaly became aware of a cultural paradox: London is brimming with countless creative institutions and events, but many of these opportunities are widely inaccessible to marginalised and low-income communities. “It’s not just ticket prices” that can stop people from entering these spaces, she tells us. “It’s how a space makes you feel or what you might associate it with”.
As a firm believer in the power of cinema to “to inform, to provoke empathy, and as an important means of providing representation”, Abiba is passionate about sharing the medium with those who cannot readily access it. And so, she hatched a plan to create an inclusive community cinema. Developing the idea for a pay-as-you-can event held every two weeks, bringing affordable film to her community of Brixton, our team was amazed with the considerate thought in Abiba’s proposal, awarding her £3000 to bring this initiative to life with the help of the Extra Nice Fund.
“Brixton is home to one of the youngest and most diverse populations in London,” Abiba tells It’s Nice That of the sentiment behind her proposal. “However, as with many inner-city areas, initiatives to engage this demographic in cinema, particularly independent film-making, are few and far between.” As the recipient of this year’s Extra Nice Fund, Abiba aims to accommodate around 50 people for fortnightly film screenings. Hoping to engage the community on a deeper level, she plans to collaborate with young, local film enthusiasts to curate a list of socially-engaged international and independent cinema to screen – “films from around the world that speak to what’s going on in Brixton at the moment”.
While Abiba is an avid fan of investigative journalism and human rights documentaries, she knows that the film selection “has to hit a balance”. Therefore, involving young people in her community cinema’s curation process will create opportunities for young locals, and ensure that the films shown are varied and reflect the different tastes of the community. However, there are a few examples that spring to her mind when asked about the type of film she wants to show, influenced by her own informative cinema experiences.
For instance, when she was younger, Abiba would often walk past the Ritzy in Brixton (“a great, but not wholly affordable cinema”) and see black and white stills from The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 film by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo. Eventually, she watched the film, which tells the story of FLN guerrilla fighters entering the city of Algiers to resist French colonial advances. Thinking particularly of the growing Algerian community in Brixton, she hopes to enable and encourage locals to actually see films like these, rather than just passing billboards on the street.
“Having grown up in the area I have seen first-hand the changes over the past decade, many of which have excluded long-term, less wealthy residents.”Abiba Coulibaly
She also cites Gagarine, a French film about a housing estate about to be demolished, and The Last Black Man in Francisco, which revolves around the gentrification of San Francisco; films that while being “set far away speak to a lot of issues that are currently in Brixton”. After all, the encroaching influence of gentrification in Brixton is something Abiba thinks about a lot. “Having grown up in the area I have seen first-hand the changes over the past decade, many of which have excluded long-term, less wealthy residents.” By making space for an affordable, inclusive cinema, she hopes to “upset this pattern a little”.
As mentioned, involving young locals in the process of curating these films is a key part of Abiba’s vision, hoping the project will introduce young people to the myriad ways they can enter the film industry themselves. “I’ve always been interested in film, but I knew I didn’t want to be a filmmaker,” she recalls. “It took me a really long time to realise that there’s actually lots of careers that are adjacent to film, like film-writing, curating or projecting”. In turn, alongside enlisting a team of young volunteers and co-curators, holding Q&As and talks from guest speakers, Abiba hopes to arrange workshops which explore a range of cinema-oriented skills, like film-writing.
The confusion and disappointment that young people often face when trying to enter the competitive film industry is an aspect very personal to Abiba. Once she had decided that a future in film curation was her calling, she was baffled as to the next step. Getting turned down from the very few job opportunities and internships she did find, dealt a massive blow to her confidence. But going to the cinema helped to re-motivate her, meeting people with similar interests at film screenings and events, volunteering at a multitude of film festivals and at another community cinema based in Norbury.
Abiba’s film career then began picking up pace in 2021 when she was selected to be part of the Barbican Young Film Programmers cohort. Now, she wants to channel her experience into making opportunities for others. For example, of the £3000 awarded by the Extra Nice Fund, Abiba plans to devote a considerable portion to reimbursing volunteers for travel and food. “I volunteer, and I’m happy to give my time, but not everybody can afford to do it…I’m so happy I can use the fund for that.”
Honing in on the ways in which certain opportunities are dealt, Abiba begins describing her own childhood. “I’m someone who's kind of in-between,” she explains. “I grew up in a really low-income family, but also got a bursary to go to a private school.” After completing school it seemed “more sensible” to go into academia than pursue her dream of entering the world of cinema. So, pursuing her interest in combating human rights issues, she decided to take a BA in International Development and Geography. Later she would go on to study an MA in Urban History and Culture, for which she won a full scholarship.
Through her studies, Abiba began questioning the ways in which traditionally marginalised communities and “the so-called developing world” were represented through the films she was shown. She also became keenly aware of an “enormous gulf” of experience between the kind of people who could afford tickets to the festivals such films were generally shown at, and the marginalised communities who are often the subject of those films. She began asking herself: “What does it mean for stories of communities who have traditionally been marginalised to become a kind of spectacle?”
It’s a question Abiba continues to ask herself when visiting a cinema or gallery. The relationship between audience and subject on display, and the often unequal power dynamic between the two, is one that she constantly challenges. So, how does Abiba’s vision of community cinema differ from the established institutions that usually show these films? “I love the model of the library, a free space where everyone can go and doesn’t have to pay to access culture” she explains. Asking only what visitors can afford to pay to attend screenings, Abiba will channel any profit directly into the running of the cinema.
Of course, arrangements still need to be made on the question of a venue and access to equipment – but these are elements we hope our fund will aid with. Abiba’s been getting the cogs turning and is sorting out a rent-free location for the cinema. Speaking to Lambeth Council, it looks likely that it will make its home in one of their vacant units, such as the unused railway arches at the train station. The money from the fund can then be used to renovate the space, equip it with a projector, foldable chairs and to pay guest speakers for events.
“I volunteer, and I’m happy to give my time, but not everybody can afford to do it…I’m so happy I can use the fund for that.”Abiba Coulibaly
Technicalities aside, Abiba is mindful that fostering the right kind of atmosphere is key. Attending events after film screenings will allow visitors to mull over what they’ve just seen and share ideas. She continues: “Often there’s a moment when you walk out of a cinema and you think ‘that was a lot to process’. Then you get on the tube and it's quite a violent departure from what you’ve just been thinking about.” With a balanced range of academically-inclined events mixed in with more informal occasions, such as DJ sets, she hopes to encourage connections within the community, “not just professionally, but in terms of friendship”.
Speaking about the future of the project, Abiba is keen to maintain the intimacy of the venue. “The best thing for me would be if people could replicate [the idea] – it can serve as a model for what can be done rather than something that grows and grows,” she says. “I think it's important to preserve that intimacy, the atmosphere and conversations that you can have in that environment”.
With Abiba’s project set to make independent film more accessible to her community, whilst assisting young locals to make their way into the film industry, we couldn’t be more thrilled that the Extra Nice Fund will contribute to its progress. Most of all, it sounds like Abiba hopes to share snippets of the culture that has inspired her: “The cinema has changed how I relate to others, where I travel, and engaged me with political struggles across the world that I would have otherwise been ignorant to,” she says. “I am confident that others will benefit from it in this way too.”
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.