A Tour of the Indies

A Creative Quest for the UK's Best Cinemas ... and Cake

The cover design for  A Tour of the Indies

The cover design for A Tour of the Indies

Have you ever sat in a multiplex while your movie is ruined by selfish people around you?

Have you ever put on 3D glasses and crunched through an unfeasibly large tub of popcorn, all while trying to ignore intense dissatisfaction at the dent put in your wallet?

Have you ever wondered where you can watch something other than the latest Hollywood sequel ... and buy a particularly delightful piece of lemon drizzle cake as well?

Then A Tour of the Indies is the book for you!

It's a book about living life how you want. It’s also about watching films; about a passion for the experience of going to the cinema. Until 2009 I was a regular at my local multiplex, when being part of the mass market no longer made me happy.

A Tour of the Indies is nothing to do with snobbery, high art or obscure culture. Instead, it’s about being unafraid to look beyond the mainstream and seek greater satisfaction in life.

In 2010, a friend took me to his favourite independent cinema. What happened next became a three-year quest for inspiration, creative fulfilment, and excellent cake.

Title Sequence

(November 2010)

It’s good to have a few principles by which to live life, if only because they help you feel as though it’s possible to make a difference, and if only in the smallest of ways. Like not buying bottled water, refusing to shop at Tesco, and using new Dan Brown novels as bonfire fuel. Anything that allows you to assuage the terrible, inherent guilt we all possess as human beings. Or is that just me?

Whether it is or not, I maintained the newfound principle of staying away from multiplexes well into 2010. Eighteen months passed after seeing Frost/Nixon, and only then was it broken in order to treat Kath to a viewing of Nanny McPhee 2 (it was a ‘kids’ screening’ and we got in for £1 each, so it felt like a small victory).

By that point, I was so out of the cinema-going habit that genuinely interesting films were passing me by: Inception, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Toy Story 3. I missed them all. Determined to ensure that the same fate didn’t befall The Social Network, David Fincher’s film about the founding of Facebook, my good friend and cinephile James offered to show me his new favourite haunt.

QUAD in Derby - independent cinema and cultural hub

Derby’s QUAD is a charity-run ‘creative hub’, combining a cinema, gallery, café bar and workshop space. In the words of its own website, it exists “to make art and film accessible to all, to improve the cultural life of the city and to celebrate Derby to the world”. It might be hard to describe it further without sounding like an advert, but suffice it to say that even on a quiet Wednesday evening, with a cold November drizzle falling on the deserted marketplace outside, QUAD instantly felt like home.

It had the kind of atmosphere that few public venues achieve, offering with open arms an opportunity to indulge creative aspirations without being intrusive or overbearing. That it also had a programme of films – across just two screens – sufficient to shame a mainstream multiplex was simply the icing on the cake. Leaving Derby that night, I recognised the epiphany that had taken place and went home with a nourished and contented soul.

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, the people at QUAD read a blog post about my ‘road to Damascus’ moment and responded thus:

@derbyquad: @FruitlessWork u cld do a tour of the Indies. #watershed in Bristol, #cornerhouse in manc, #Broadway in notts, #filmhouse in Edin all gr8

For anyone not conversant in Twitter’s unique parlance (or the text speak that can result from the constraint on message length), the basic translation is that QUAD was suggesting a tour round some of the UK’s most notable independent cinemas: Watershed in Bristol, Cornerhouse in Manchester, Broadway in Nottingham and Filmhouse in Edinburgh.

And who was I to shirk such a suggestion?

Kinema in the Woods - independent cinema in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire