Reeling in the years - A brief history of reel people

In 1992 the newly built village hall in Kilmersdon was keen to encourage community events. They sent a questionnaire to every house-hold in the parish with suggestions of activities for the hall and asking villagers to vote. 'Showing films in the hall' polled the second highest vote - after an art group! Paul Schilling (Chairman of the South West British Federation of Film Societies SWBFFS, as it was) put on a taster film 'Shine' in a room above the pub and 46 people came along - Paul donated the £40 from the show - and off we headed.

Reflecting on the early days, 20 years ago, we had a youthful optimism, believing that being enthusiastic about film and with a great committee of like-minded people, we could be successful. To start with, the absence of a projector meant we had to borrow several 16 mm projectors and a screen from a gardener's club at the hall - I don't know how we did it!

Our aim was to get 50 members and show 8 films in the first season as we had been advised this would be a minimum number to make our project viable - we were disappointed when we only got to 48. We made the conscious decision not to call ourselves a film society - opting for reel people because it didn't sound so geographically exclusive.

There is something undeniably magical about cinema - but we soon discovered it was more than showing a film that made our evenings successful. We built reel people together and we had fun. We like to think we pioneered food themed film events. We put on Sunday afternoon films for children - and after the first couple of films we no longer had to bribe the children from the play park outside to come in! Our success was due to the dedicated and hard working people who helped and the audience who were so wonderfully supportive.

We had joined the SWBFFS and before our first film season I thought it would be helpful to phone another 'society' to see if they had any top tips. I chose Dartmouth because I liked their programme but ironically they had just shown the film 'Jaws' on the beach to a huge audience - their success was something to aspire to! We had our first outdoor film 3 years later in September 2000, under the stars with a giant screen strapped to the side of the village hall. We sat in the field to watch 'The Dish', our good friend George May and with his 35 mm ex Chinese army projectors. The annual picnic and outdoor screening was born with the addition of 'themed' dressing up, live music pre-film and an audience that eventually grew to 600 people by the final outdoor show in 2009.

A major milestone for us was getting our own projection equipment. We had been using a 35 mm projector we purchased from Strode Theatre in 1999. We won Best Film Society in our third season in 2000 and again in 2004. We used that success to match fund grant applications to purchase digital projection equipment for £26,000 which transformed our village hall with our giant screen, 5 channel surround sound and quality digital projection.

In 2013 reel people moved out of the village to the large, raked-seated Dragonfly Theatre at Writhlington School with easy parking and a projection booth - and comfy seats! It continues to offer a great selection of films. This year is the twentieth year of Reel People and I am delighted to say that it continues to enjoy great success! Films are still screened occasionally in the village hall as our 'mother' organization we call 'Filmersdon'.

On behalf of all the Reelers from the last 20 years - happy birthday Reel People!