NICK BERTRAM websiteimage

The Stow Film Lounge – where to go to be entertained, and be part of the entertainment.

The Stow Film Lounge, alternative pop-up cinema in the heart of East London, Walthamstow, the end of the Victoria Line, is relatively young, having only been commercially trading since August 2012. After the closure of the EMD Cinema, with it being handed over to the church by the Odeon, there has been no cinema provision in the E17 borough of Walthamstow (a borough with a long history of cinema history). Nick Bertram, founder of the SFL, an acclaimed film-going experience in the borough, discusses sustainability, independent cinema and the Orford House Social Club with GIITTV.

With his recent fusion of karaoke and cinema, having screened Made of Stone with a Brit-Pop indie night of sing-along madness, it would appear that we should watch this space for the SFL, with a bold move to more of this type of event programming, particularly with the arduous erection of the new Empire multiplex cinema in the borough.

Where did the inspiration come from to establish the Stow Film Lounge, was it off the back of the closure of the EMD Cinema in Walthamstow?

NB: So I have lived locally since 1999 and would go to the EMD when it was open, it was the only operating cinema then at the time. Basically the Odeon offloaded the cinema, as they thought it would be competition for their own South Woodford one, and it closed in 2003. And I went to the last ever night there. With no prospect at the time of the local arcade being demolished or the new cinema complex coming at that time to the area, I thought it was crazy that there was no local cinema provision. There was no other way of doing it apart from getting off our arses and that was it.

And that was the other thing for me. I had to find an appropriate venue, one that could accommodate lots of different aspects of the pop-up cinema that I wanted so the search was on.

I noted that you use the Orford House Social Club in Walthamstow Village, a traditional social club, as the venue. What is the history surrounding this old function club and what made you choose this for hosting the Stow Film Lounge?

NB: It was originally a privately owned grand house in the village area on Orford Road, and it’s a listed building, regency villa with a bowling green out the back which they still use. It’s also a private members’ club and one of the private members bequeathed it to the community or to their members. It is in effect a members club run by the members on behalf of the members.

The venue needed to have comfortable seating, preferably a mix of fixed seating and movable seating and tables. I also wanted a bar, access to a kitchen, and importantly needed to hold a quite a large screen. I wanted to back project as well, I did not want to front project with people walking in front of the screen. I wanted to do it properly with back projection but that required either a stage and to get that all in a relatively central location (in Walthamstow) which again is what I wanted and an affordable price; all those different elements to come together and one that could be available to me pretty regularly because I wanted to screen four or five times a month. This social club seemed to have all of these elements to it.

What is interesting about it is that in terms of it being sold off the chances are virtually zero. It would require every single person involved in it to agree to it being sold, and I think the chances of that happening are very slim. So it seems as safe as it can be to remain as an intact building.

Also, like a lot of other social clubs across London (think of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club) these tend to be grand buildings with an ageing membership and suffering from the smoking ban, but still have to survive. Members of the committee and the club need to embrace new ways of bringing new people into the space and using it.

You have already hosted one fantastic screening collaborating with Cabaraoke, the indie Made of Stone, and you have one we can expect later this month, the class This Is Spinal Tap. Can you explain what this entails?

NB: With the strapline that it’s for the people that want to be entertained but also part of the entertainment, it is a themed music night. There is a whole raft of stuff that you can do with film and Made of Stone was a fantastic example of an indie night. After the screening we clear the tables away and out comes the karaoke.

This Is Spinal Tap (screening on 28th February) seemed a classic choice with its 30th anniversary, as It was made in 1984 We have DJ St Hubbins coming down to spin some tunes, and we are just beginning to put together a mix of what he is going to DJ. Social media will also come into it, asking for requests , as it’s a way of engaging with your audience, and get a bit of excitement going.

What more can we expect in the coming months from the Stow Film Lounge, as the area will transform?

NB: There are a number of things. One thing I ought to highlight is that we collaborated with the Walthamstow International Film Festival last year, who take short films, three minutes and under in length from anywhere in the world. Unfortunately that won’t happen this year, as I am away but I do think there is a great opportunity to showcase amateur filmmakers, get their films up on the big screen. There are inherent costs with something like that but there are ways to get around that.

We have also just set some dates for our cinema alfresco, our summer screenings n Leytonstone. We screened some films last year in the summer and sold out.

To sum up we have some silent cinema, we have some cinema alfresco, I am sure of further collaborations with the Walthamstow International Film Festival and where people want to make contact where we can I will consider that for future programming. I have to add value in other ways rather than cost with the opening of the new cineplex.

This may just come in the form of a more entertaining cinema-experience where interactivity is key.


[Photo of Nick Bertram by Paul Tucker]

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.