By Abigail Yue Wang
Some people are what they do. Dominic is his Backyard Cinema – cheerful, relaxed, generous, uninhibited. After setting up plenty of bean bags and chairs right after busy market hours, Dominic got to talk to me about the inception of Backyard Cinema, its wishes and future. After which, he would stand in the back of the alley that was turned into an outdoor gathering of good spirit, and observe the crowd. It indeed was something of a scene. Spoiled by beanbags, blankets, drinks, market food and a big screen, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, Pulp Fiction in such a breezy summer night becomes somehow afresh. I got to appreciate its humour all again, and I don’t blame the cocktails.
So the first Backyard Cinema was held in a North London garden. How many people turned up for the first time? When was it?
It was in my own back garden actually, about two years ago. There were about 30 people, I built a screen out of recycled wood and bed sheets, put the project and the sofas out in the garden, a BBQ, some drinks with a retro popcorn style. I was trying to do a themed cinema event. Afterwards I wondered if it could be taken to market, so I pushed forward and now here we are.
What was the film you showed in your garden?
You have really expanded it ever since. How many people are there for tonight’s screening?
Here in Camden, we have over 100 beanbags every night, around 20 screenings across 8 weeks. It’s definitely a lot bigger now, from my own garden to having about 20 volunteers helping out.
Backyard Cinema has shifted its venues many times, from The Victoria Vaults, to Beach Blanket Babylon, London Fields Brewery to Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. This time it takes place in Camden Lock, have you always seen it as a travelling event?
Yes, it’s a roaming event and is always planned as a popup cinema, otherwise it would only be a regular cinema. Each time we would choose a location where you wouldn’t normally find a cinema and we build one there. There are all kinds of cinemas in London, but Backyard Cinema is designed to bring friends and mates together. They could be loud and drunk, it doesn’t matter. I would love to see people cheering and clapping in Backyard Cinema.
We are now doing recent releases like Dallas Buyers Club, The Grand Budapest Hotel for those who don’t want to go to a standard cinema, as well as classics like The Goonies, Ghostbusters, From Dust Till Dawn and so on for people to cheer, joke and enjoy all again.
Do you form friendship out of these events?
Yes. Camden is a fantastic asset. People have been helping me out from the beginning when I was quite a novice. When we first did it in Camden Lock Place, it was all hands on deck, to the point where the director of Camden was helping me pack beanbags at the end of the night, and everyone else in the market got involved too. I’ve also got emails asking if they could join and help. It has become an element of a community.
“IF YOU WANT TO CHEER AND LAUGH, DON’T BE AFRAID TO DO SO. THE LOUDER THE BETTER.”
Even with changing venues and staging, it has its continuous spirit. Why do you think that made Backyard Cinema special?
In my intro of the night I would always say, “If you want to cheer and laugh, don’t be afraid to do so. The louder the better.” Because it’s not opera, it’s cinema. Oliver Stone used to say, “One of the joys of going to the movies was that it was trashy, and we should never lose that.” That’s why people still get popcorn – what a ridiculous snack to have in the cinema – but it’s satisfying and it belongs there.
That reminds me, the popcorn cupcake we were given tonight was rather lovely, is it a new invention?
Yes, that’s invented by Cupcakes and Shhht who makes amazing cakes. It is much about getting local traders involved. For example, this year we have Honest Burgers, BrewDog, sound and AV help from Amy Winehouse Foundation for over 100 people tonight.
One of the events is themed Apocalypse. Do you think you will explore more themed occasions for Backyard Cinema?
That was our first themed event ever. I love zombies and immersive themes, London is a great place for that. We are doing a themed event at Halloween this year, where you’ll have to fight your through zombie car parks, courtyards to reach the cinema. Even inside there will be interactive activities and special surprises. But nonetheless, that will be two weeks of good food, drink and good movies, only with more dressing up and it will be cosily indoor. As there are a lot of outdoor cinemas in London already, Camden is the only outdoor event we have at Backyard Cinema for the reason of Camden’s iconic urban scene.
Do you feel the audience is always engaged in different locations?
Yes, it continues the backyard ethos wherever we go. We are at a very high rate of growth; the screening is now 10 metres high with a huge sign, plenty of beanbags and chairs, which we didn’t have last year. But even in a bigger scale, we are trying to not lose the intimacy of it. We want to show enjoyable fun films that people love to watch as a group, and I think that’s what our cinema is about.
The evening starts with a series of short films before the feature, which is a very valuable platform for emerging filmmakers. How do you negotiate with the selections?
We have good relationship with BFI, Roundhouse and online resources. Of course it’s a great way to promote filmmakers. We are showing short films to encourage audience to arrive on time, as well as to set them into the mood. We would love all filmmakers of quality and talent to get involved.
What’s your favourite food to go with a movie?
I can’t help eating burgers. I’d say market and street food are great with this type of occasion.
Lastly, what should we expect from Backyard Cinema next season?
We will have a Halloween season this year, after a break we will be back in April with a great surprise themed event. And hopefully afterwards in Camden again to support its local development.
Backyard Cinema at Camden Lock Market until Sep 4.