Speaking to Support Structures: Other Cinemas
Support in practice is motivated by compassion and requires long-term commitment. It isn’t performative. Sincere support doesn’t crave visibility.
Arwa Aburawa and Turab Shah introduce their practice through Other Cinemas, a project that focuses on the transformational power of film.
Support Structures for Support Structures is a fellowship which nurtures London-based artists and collectives working with spatial, social and community practices. Initiated with Sumayya Vally – architect of the Serpentine Pavilion 2021 – the programme offers financial support and mentorship, and forms a supportive network of peers.
For this series, we asked each of the fellows in the 2021 Support Structures cohort to reflect on their work in the context of community. Other Cinemas was set up by two filmmakers, Arwa Aburawa and Turab Shah. Spanning screenings, discussion, collaboration, and education, the project showcases the work of Black and non-white filmmakers, and creates networks for creatives of colour to learn, collaborate and document the stories of their communities.
Can you tell us more about what Other Cinemas does?
We regularly host film screenings in ways and spaces that serve our communities in London. At the heart of these is the informal atmosphere we create and the in-depth post-screening discussions which take our audience seriously. All our events are free, so that there are no financial barriers to access. By being visible at all our screenings, we build a welcoming atmosphere and let our majority non-white audience know that these events are for them and by them.
Other Cinemas also runs an informal film school with young Black and non-white filmmakers, supporting them to tell their own stories in their own ways. We want to centre the work and effort of Black and non-white filmmakers and to challenge the colonial legacy and exploitative modes of operation that are central to traditional filmmaking. These two central strands of our work are deeply connected as we know that we can only find a more equitable way of making and sharing films through this interaction between filmmakers and their communities.
Why is collective work important?
If our desire is to create a world or community or space that centres justice, it is only through collective work that it can be achieved. The structures that require dismantling – whether global or local, macro or micro – are deeply rooted and unyielding. They are bigger than a single person, and the thought, strength and imagination needed to dismantle them requires collective work. It is only through collective imaginings that we can create spaces that accommodate multiple ways of being.
Collective work is difficult and requires much unlearning – but it has a built-in accountability that can make our work more ethical and effective. The structures of power that we live under encourage an individualism and centring of the self that limits radical imagination. Working with and amongst others helps to unlock ways of thinking and working that an individual doesn’t have access to on their own.
What is support in practice?
Support in practice is motivated by compassion. It requires long-term commitment. It isn’t performative. It can be difficult and draining, but it doesn’t seek acknowledgement. Sincere support doesn’t crave visibility.
This is difficult to embody in practice. We attempt to do it by committing in the long-term to our communities and the filmmakers we work with, established and aspiring. We don’t believe in one-off events or workshops – the energy they create dissipates too quickly. Our screening programme is long-term and as regular as our resources allow and our first film school programme ran for eighteen months. With our students, we encouraged an ethical working practice embodying care and mutual support.
We attempt to create a space that is supportive to alternative ideas and ways of being that centres our communities rather than whiteness. This has meant working outside of institutions because we often doubted that we could work within the them without being co-opted, or create supportive spaces for our communities in hostile environments. In all our work, we try to create a space where everyone feels welcomed, at home and centred. We always try to make ourselves available, both in the moment and in the long-term. To make sure our programme is accessible and relationships are non-transactional, we’ve always kept everything we do free.