On the 18th August 2016 I, Lorelei Bowman, a scarily ambitious 20-year-old film student and writer-director, had a film shown in public for the first time. And by public I mean to actual people who came to see a film at a real cinema in London (and thus were forced to watch mine before the feature), as opposed to me just shoving my laptop in my parents’ face over the dinner table to show them my latest film. It was the best evening of my life.
Rooftop Film Club is a wonderfully whimsical organisation that screens films of all genres, nationalities and release dates, across several stunning outdoor cinemas on London rooftops. They also now have cinemas in New York, Chicago and L.A. I’ve been following them for years and always wished I could go to a screening, but was waiting until a film I really loved was being shown as London’s a £40 train ride away and I’m still very much a poor student. A few months ago when browsing their listings longingly I sent out a casual tweet, not thinking I’d get anything save perhaps a few sympathy likes from strangers.
Instead, I come back to my phone with a Tweet I proceed to show to anyone who will let me tell them that this is happening. Safe to say I freaked out for several days. Rooftop had got in contact with me and referred me to their programmer, Jade, who was absolutely lovely and helped me set up the whole screening.
Our film, Impulses, is an eight minute horror-y drama that I wrote and directed, and my friends and fellow filmmakers made together for an assignment. You can watch it here. We wrapped filming, and our editor worked like mad to edit the film in a few solid days’ work, then I contacted Jade again. She gave me a list of possible dates and feature films so we could pick a main event that would complement ours – in the end I went with Under The Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer) which I’d been dying to see since it came out, and it worked beautifully with the tone of Impulses.
Fast forward to August and I’m driving up to London with my parents and our editor, Jamie (find out more about him here). Sadly our talented DP, Olly, couldn’t make it as he was off on another shoot, but our producer Seth Lavington, who also starred in the film, joined up with us in London. First of all, let me say the location is ridiculously photographic. I’m one of these cliched millenials who enjoys taking photos of everything so I can stick it to each and every surface in my flat, and let’s just say my phone was dead by the end of the evening. We went to the Bussey Building venue in Peckham Rye, and the whole building is plastered with posters for various fayres and art activites, then as you ascend the stairs the walls transform into a beautiful sunset skyline mural. You emerge onto the top floor with the Rooftop Bar to your left, the cinema to your right and (if you’re me) adrenaline taking up more space in your veins than actual blood.
We went into the bar area to have a drink before the cinema opens and I received several more sweet tweets from Rooftop, who gave us a free round of drinks as they hadn’t been able to say hi. Here they were, doing a bunch of hopeful filmmakers a huge favour and yet, were offering us free drinks too? I’ll be honest, I felt a bit like a ten year old kid who’d accidentally been seated at the adults table. It’s funny how saying the words ‘they said to put it on their tab’ can make you feel like you’re the most VIP ever and you’re just holding your breath hoping no one notices you’re pretending to know what you’re doing. The bar is gorgeous, too, looking like it’s right out of a super-cool film set that I would 100% obsess over. And the views right over London and its skyline are beyond stunning.
When it came to film time we moved through to the cinema roof, which again felt like something out of an incredibly cool magazine or film. Before us were rows and rows of striped deck chairs on green ‘grass’, a giant screen and painted walls with ‘Love Peace and Great Film’, a motto I thoroughly agree with. Our names were ticked off on the guest list and we were handed turquoise wristbands (I revelled in the fact they were a different colour to everyone else’s), blankets and complimentary popcorn. After taking our seats I was approached by the evening’s manager, Tristan, who asked how I’d like our film to be introduced, before suggesting I introduce it myself. Fighting back the urge to say ‘no I hate public speaking’ I agreed to and then proceded to panic rehease what to say for the next ten minutes. Luckily, it all went fine and Tristan was kind enough to make people clap afterwards.
So the time came, Tristan introduced me, I gave a brief ramble with ‘think of us as professionals but also this was very rushed don’t get your hopes up’ undertones and then we watched our film. Or rather, I cringed behind my jacket as I watched all the things I wish I’d changed and spent eight minutes listening to people’s reactions. But then the credits rolled and people clapped and I swear my heart stopped when ‘Written by’ and ‘Directed by’ passed in front of my eyes. It was legitimately the most surreal experience.
Almost a month later and I’m still not over it all. I know in the grand scheme of things it isn’t a massive deal, and hopefully in the entirety of my career it will seem comparatively small, but I will always be unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to have my film seen. Even if people didn’t love it or people forget about it or don’t remember my name, I am and will forever be humbled by the fact strangers gave me the opportunity to show my film in public, at an event people had paid to get in to.
I felt like this experience just had to be documented, and where better than my film blog. I’d also like to say an enormous thank you to Rooftop Film Club: to whoever runs the RFC Twitter account for beginning all this and being so friendly, to Jade who was extremely kind and accomodating, to Harry for helping get Impulses onto the big screen, Vikki for putting us on the guest list and Tristan for being so welcoming and encouraging on the night. I’ll never forget this.