At the movies, ANU-style

27 April 2019

Did you know ANU has its own film society that shows 200 films a year, ranging from latest blockbusters through to timeless classics? Did you also know that they show these films within their new cinema space inside the Cultural Centre in Kambri?

Just in time for their Winter season starting on 1 May, we spoke to the ANU Film Group's President Adrian Ma about the club, its member benefits and how they are settling in to their new digs within Kambri.

Adrian thanks very much for your time. Firstly can you tell us when the ANU Film Group started up?

The Film Group started in 1966, with screenings initially in the Physics Lecture Theatre off a portable 16mm film projector that was borrowed from A/V services, wheeled across campus, and then returned at the end of the night.

One of the founding members of the Group was Andrew Pike, who many may know as a Canberra film personality and who used to run the old Electric Shadows cinema. We moved to the Coombs Theatre in 1968 and stayed there until for 50 years until the start of this year when we moved into the brand new cinema in Kambri.

How is it going in the new cinema?

It's been a long time coming. We've been working with the university on it for many, many years and even when we started screening on February 18 this year, not everything was quite done.

We kicked off with a free screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and had about 500 people show up. Some people had to be turned away as the cinema only has 305 seats, but it could have been a lot worse as an hour prior to starting we had no light controls, and a week before that the projector was still in its box. Needless to say, it was a harrowing week, but since then it's been going well.

The seats are a huge improvement, the screen's bigger, the projector is brighter, there are more speakers, more channels of surround sound. It's an improvement in pretty much every way.

Film is front and centre in our culture along with music, drama and the visual arts. Can you tell us why film is so appealing for people?

I think film is an easy medium for people to come together on, as it's a universal language that you can understand no matter who you are or where you're from. We have members from all across the Canberra community - staff and students, ex-staff and ex-students, people who have never had any association with the ANU - and the only thing they have in common is a love of film.

And that's one of the huge benefits of seeing a film at a film society, as people are brought together for the shared experience of watching a movie and nothing else. Even with the rise in popularity Netflix and home theatres, people still go to the movies because there's something unique about sitting in a dark room with a lot of strangers that can't be replicated elsewhere.

What is your favourite movie of all time that you love and why?

I can't answer that. I have a lot of movies that I do like. I usually define a movie as being a favourite if I can watch it over and over again without getting bored of it, so there's quite a few of those but I wouldn't be able to pick a favourite.

How do you go about choosing the films for people to come along and watch?

There are a lot of movies being made these days. We will often start off with around 200 films that are available to us in a certain period, or that members have suggested, and then have to whittle that down to a program of about 50.

This usually takes place over the course of a number of very long meetings that can go for 4 to 6 hours where we debate the merits of the available films and hash out a program. We do our best to program films that our members would like - whether they know it now or not - as often we're looking at films that haven't been released yet. It's a complicated process, but it's great fun and one of the best parts of being involved with the running of the Group.

A lot of the films tend to be new as well?

We try to screen mostly new films, as early as we can get them, which can be as soon as 4 to 6 weeks after they've been released in cinemas. It's a great way of seeing a lot of movies that you might not otherwise be prepared to pay $20 for.

Older film screenings have dwindled a little bit, as we've found the audience for that has dropped in recent years, mostly because they're so readily available on Netflix or DVD now. But even though they may not attract as big an audience as the latest blockbuster, we do feel a responsibility as a film society to get people to experience some classics on the big screen as they were intended to be seen. We recently screened The Deer Hunter for its 40th anniversary and are celebrating the 80th anniversary of Gone with the Wind later this year - so we're always looking for an excuse to screen them.

Can you tell us a little about the pricing structure?

The price, regardless of who you are and where you're from, is exactly the same. We're a not-for-profit society run by volunteers, which is why we're able to keep prices so low.

An annual membership (comprising four seasons) will cost you $90 and for a single season it's $30. And that's it - just a one-off fee that will get you entry into every single film that your membership is valid for. Memberships include a number of guest passes so you can bring along friends too, and kids under 16 can accompany members completely free.

We think it's a pretty good deal, especially when you consider that tickets are commercial cinemas are about $20 and we have an actual cinema now. It used to be that we were screening in a converted lecture theatre on the edge of campus, but now we're in a purpose-built cinema in the heart of the university so there's no excuses anymore, no reason not to come.

Now we have to ask - can people buy popcorn?

This is a work in progress. We used to have a canteen that was run by the Rotary Club, but sadly lost it in the move to Kambri. There are a lot of restaurants and food outlets right outside the cinema, but as far as I'm aware, no one sells popcorn. And I personally feel a movie isn't quite complete without popcorn, so it might be something we'll have to look at doing ourselves.

For more information on the ANU Film Group, to sign up or to see a schedule of their upcoming films for winter 2019, visit or like their page on Facebook.