Imagine watching The Aristocats from a rooftop in Paris surrounded by purring pussycats.
Or enjoying Muppet Treasure Island from the deck of your own Jolly Rodger.
That was the dream Ellie Ragdale had when she decided to launch a completely immersive and interactive cinema experience in her hometown of Sheffield.
“Handmade Cinema is a total transformation of a location for a film screening,” explains Ellie, who is creative director of the social enterprise she launched back in 2012.
“We take inspiration from the film we’re showing and bring it to life for the audience in that room, using handmade props and set pieces to create a cinematic wonderland. There’s face painting, and usually some sort of elaborate entranceway for people to crawl through - the kids absolutely love it.”
26-year-old Ellie, who studied film at university, was inspired to hone the perfect cinematic experience after she attended something similar and realised there was nothing like it available outside of London.
“I figured I could take my own love of film and combine it with some handmade creativity to produce something really exciting,” reveals the former Tapton School pupil.
And according to best friend Hannah Clugston, who came on board as marketing director last September, that’s exactly what she did.
“I was utterly blown away by my first Handmade experience,” says Hannah, also 26.
“When you start adding in all those different elements, you begin to immerse yourself entirely. It allows you to engage with the film in an entirely new way and is so different to watching something at home in your living room.
“We did a screening of The Jungle Book recently and all the kids were sat on the floor, with trees and snakes all around them. When Baloo started singing, they all jumped up and started dancing along - it was amazing! It was like we were part of what was happening on screen.
“It’s great when people dress up too, like all the kids did for The Aristocats - it adds another level of fun.”
So far, Handmade Cinema has hosted 20 different screening at venues across the city. And Hannah explains there’s far more to a screening that just one evening.
“We like to get the communities involved,” she says.
“We hold workshops in the area beforehand so that kids can come along and help make props and decorations. It gives them a sense of ownership and involvement that is lovely to see. When they attend the screening with their parents, we see them running around pointing at all the different things and saying ‘I made that!’
“We love when adults come along and get involved with their kids, so we make an effort to pick films we think adults will have a connection with too. We want it to be a memorable experience for the whole family.”
Handmade Cinema has had a big impact so far, with its screening of Mean Girls winning a Cinema For All ‘Best Single Event’ award last year. And according to Ellie, there is plenty more to come.
“I started out with a big wish list of films I’d like to screen and we’re busy working our way through them,” she says.
“I love Singing In The Rain and would love do to Matilda, maybe in a library or at a book fair, and School of Rock with lots of instruments.
“Our next screening is The Jungle Book on May 15, at the Bamforth Building on Burton Street. There’s a community garden inside that we’re transforming into an incredible jungle and we’ve got so many things planned, including live music and face painting, so it’s going to be really great.”
Handmade Cinema is even hosting a private screening, a couple of days earlier, for adults with learning disabilities from The Burton Street Foundation.
“The way we approach film is quite sensory,” says Hannah.
“It reaches people on all different levels - there’s no plonking down in front of a screen and switching off - we have space to move around in, music and it makes it so people can get involved in lots of different ways. We thought it would be perfect for the team from The Burton Street Foundation and we’re looking forward to seeing what they think of it.”
Ellie adds: “I think films are a labour of love and, with Handmade, I hope to encourage people to look into film a bit deeper, getting drawn into the set, the music, the culture and really losing themselves in something wonderful.”
Visit Handmade Cinema for tickets.
Creating a new world
“When getting ready for a screening, we typically choose a venue and a film, then begin our research, contacting local schools, community groups and organisations that work with young people and families. We run workshops in the lead up to a screening where we choose a theme of the film to explore artistically, creating large scale props, set pieces and artwork which we use to transform the screening venue. For The Aristocats, we worked with three different community groups, exploring jazz music, Paris and French cuisine. We created a giant model Eiffel Tower, invited a live jazz band from a local school and got a local delicatessen to provide genuine French cuisine.”