FilmSoc was establish in 1948, making it one of the oldest film socieities in the country. Here's an extract of our story.
INT. PARIS, FRANCE - 1891
The Edison Company invents the Kinetoscope. A peculiar little device that allows one person, when pressed up against a visor, to view a series of moving pictures.
By the 1930’s, motion pictures had truly departed from this primitive technology. In a time when revolutionary technological and political advancements moulded the foreseeable future, the medium of film quickly became a symbol of the oncoming limitlessness of modernity. To use the final sentence of the c.1919 Futurist Manifesto for Cinema, “This is how we decompose and recompose the universe according to our marvellous whims…” It is no surprise that just over a century later, film has become the primary source of entertainment for most. Now, we’re all familiar with the Hitchocks, Bergmans and Tarantinos, their great art and what they’ve contributed to the culture of filmmaking, but from the humble beginnings they rose up from, and that’s something we often neglect.
INT. UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, POST-WAR BRITAIN - 1948
STANLEY JOSEPH, an economics student at UCL, steps into Senate House with the intention of joining the Film Society.
A few days earlier, he’d seen a notice on the Students Union notice board, advertising a University of London film society. Watching films was what Stanley loved to do, so he figured he might as well sign up.
He approaches the person at the desk and asks where he can sign up for the film society.
That’s great! Now that you’re here,
would you like to start the society?
Stanley had no intention of starting a Universit- wide society… but a film society just for his college? That could work.
And just like that, with one fortunate mistake, the University College London Film Unit was accidentally founded in 1948. A community had been created, one which fostered creative creative liberty and exploration; an ethos we are proud to embody today. UCL Film Unit quickly attracted cinephiles and creators alike (as well as those who just wanted to escape the lecture hall), who were looking to watch and make films… and that’s exactly what they did.
In addition to making some excellent and some eccentric films throughout the early years, in collaboration with UCL’s PI magazine, the society published bi-annual newsreels documenting student life at UCL. Our archive holds a collection of 77 newsreels which were produced between 1950 and the late 80’s making it the most comprehensive record on film of any British university.
EXT. GORDON SQUARE - DAY - 1998
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN, ex-president of UCL Film Society (92/94), directs his first feature length film, Following, on FilmSoc’s ArriFlex 16BL purchased around 1965. (We know it's this camera, because it still makes the same racket you can hear in a few of the shots in the film, and also presents the same rack focussing issues we deal with today...).
Film society has helped to produce some highly influential and successful filmmakers. From Academy Award winning nominee, Christopher Nolan to BAFTA winner Harry Bradbeer, it reminds us of our core ethos of making mistakes to make films and where that might lead us…
INT. FILM SOC STUDIO - EVERYDAY
YOUNG FILMMAKER enters. They peer into the studio space. Somebody is rearranging the furniture for the 12th time that week. To the right, in the post production room, somebody holds back tears as they look for where they thought they saved their files.
At one point in time, long, long ago, too distant for us to even think about (2003), our studio space was a marvellous space filled to the brim with filmmaking tech and equipment. With a darkroom, post-production room, an animation suite and a large studio space in which, it has been rumoured, a brick wall was built out of sheer boredom. Unfortunately, since then, parts of the studio have been annexed to make room for new buildings.
In spite of this, the studio space has nevertheless remained the heart of the society - a heart which still beats today. Students have been meeting, throwing unauthorised parties and making films in the (in)famous film soc studio since the society was founded. With such an environment - an environment that was both outstandingly productive for a student society, and a place that encouraged mistakes - it was inevitable that this space was where some notable filmmakers found their humble beginnings…
EXT. COLOGNE, GERMANY - 2021
A member of the film society is in the right place, at the right time to collect a certain Arri power cable.
By the early 2000’s, the film society had begun its departure from the use of 16mm film. And no, we didn’t move onto 35mm, unfortunately. With film becoming increasingly more expensive and hard to come by, the shift to digital filmmaking was a no brainer. That was until Christopher Nolan’s reappearance for a graduation speech in 2017. Staying true to his roots, he made a visit to the studio, where in the back, forgotten and discarded, he reencountered the legendary Arri 16BL.
Some years had gone by, committees changed, the use of analogue film still barely in the periphery of student filmmakers, when suddenly the Arri was mysteriously returned in 2020. Nobody knew if it worked, or what had even been done to it! Curiously, Arri didn’t even have a record of it. (What was that man Nolan doing?) Nevertheless, this was an opportunity.
Current President Saul Lotzof (22/23) worked together with former President Diego Collado (20/21, 21/22) to get the illusive machine back up and running film again.
Whilst Saul made numerous trips to the UK Arri headquarters in Uxbridge, a member of the society happened to be in the only place in the world which seemed to have the only working Arri power cable. It was brought back to London in time for the first term film production using the Arri in decades, and the first to use celluloid in over a decade: Smiley Face.
It is now a fully functional part of the society, connecting us with our history but more importantly, our future.