Now showing, Lancaster's "Big Picture"
When I found I had to sign up to writing about the Transition “Big Picture” a certain gloom came over me. That and the determination not to be the second to last person to fill in the blogging rota next time. Gloom because those who know about the Transition “Big Picture” are wonderful, knowledgeable, internet surfing, transition book reading inhabitants of a world I shall never attain. I love to listen to them but have nothing useful to add.
Thrown back on my own initiative, as it were, I pondered on Lancaster’s “ Big Picture”. Was it to be “our adventures with the EDAP,” or “2011- year of the CIC” or even “ organic v local, the great debate”? I got so gloomy, I lost my ironic edge and remembered not only the initial excitement of discovering there was such a thing as Transition but the moment when all those pieces of jigsaw came together and I saw the world in a new way. Sitting in the Duke’s Theatre in Lancaster, in a cramped room full of people I had never met before, watching the Transition film.
The Transition Handbook charts the beginnings of not just Totnes, but several other initiatives as characterised by the showing of films like “The End of Suburbia” and Gail Capstick, one of our first few Transition dreamers in Lancaster, was quick to see film as a way to draw people to the initiative. The week I saw the Transition film she also organised one about the effect of waste plastic on the albatrosses of Midway. I don’t remember the title but such was the effect of seeing those images that two years later I still have the toothbrush with the little replaceable heads, get my washing liquids in refillable bottles and prefer my tomatoes in brown paper bags rather than plastic boxes. Not much against a tide of plastic, I know, but it was action, it was immediate and it was as the result of a film that I suddenly put my life and my actions in a new context, a much wider context, a context that demanded change.
A few weeks later, I joined Gail in the Education Group and found that her commitment to the Transition “Big Picture” meant we were running film seasons two or three times a year. Meetings spent picking films, hours acquiring and previewing them and then Thursday night showings. We used the lecture theatre at the Storey Institute in town to start with, Gail having charmed them into giving us a cheap rate. Often we seemed to be the only ones in the huge building, hoping someone would make sure the equipment would work, that the film goers would find the labyrinthine way to the lecture theatre and the bar might finally open. Our budget was low, entry was cheap, films were sometimes erratic. We never did see the last twenty minutes of ‘The Power of Community’. Every week one of us spent the showing worrying about the sound and visuals, whilst another worried about leading the discussion afterwards. Films like ‘The Pig Business’ ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’ and ‘What a Way to Go’ don’t leave any audience feeling cheerful. We had to acknowledge the feelings: in discussion we tried to introduce Transition ideas and activities and engender hope.
Some discussions were magic, others didn’t really start until we got into the bar.
Putting a discussion between a couple of episodes of the Powerdown Show, proved really engaging, but once the audience got talking to each other we couldn’t stop them.
The wonder of our weekly ‘Big Picture’ was not that we attracted a huge audience, or a loyal following but that each film seemed to draw in a few people we hadn’t met before and often those people then appeared at other Transition events. Just like me, they were drawn by an interest, whether it was the composting gurus at ‘Dirt’ or the the allotmenteers at ‘The Vanishing of the Bees’ and went away having made a connection they felt confident to pick up again in another Transition activity. The downside of the process was that we didn’t crack the business of reaching a wider audience - getting posters and adverts out was time consuming, expensive and didn’t seem to work too well. Often we found new people came through word of mouth alone. Small was beautiful and useful but it didn’t pay the bills and eventually our cheap deal ran out.
We tried another venue and a wider range of films, reflecting the financial crisis with ‘The Economics of Happiness’ as well as screening our very own Transition Lancaster film made by local film maker Mark Rotherham. Still unhappy with our ability to reach an audience, Gail had a moment of inspiration. She went back to the Duke’s Theatre which runs regular film showings and they agreed to show two films a month for us, advertised in their widely circulated programme. Often a film runs three times in a week, one night being followed by a Transition led discussion. It’s a lovely arrangement which brings in a good audience from all over town. Next week they are showing ‘Into Eternity’ and ‘Gasland’ to coincide with the Lancaster One Planet Festival.
Which makes it two years exactly since I sat in that same room in the Dukes Theatre and watched the film that changed my “Big Picture” forever.