In The Movies That Made Me, we interview creative individuals on how cinema has shaped and informed their body of work, exploring how film can descend its medium and influence other areas of art, as they ever so often intersect. This month we chat to Glasgow’s queen of film programming, Megan Mitchell – producer of independent cult film exhibitor Matchbox Cineclub, and co-founder of the world’s first ever film festivals dedicated entirely to acting legends, Keanu Reaves, and Nicolas Cage. This month Matchbox Cineclub and Edinburgh International Film Festival are collaborating to bring you CAGE-A-RAMA 3D: where you can experience the glory of Cage’s performances in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and Drive Angry in not 2, but 3 dimensions!
Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do?
I’m Megan Mitchell and I’ve been a freelance film programmer and events producer for a number of years now, across various festivals and roles in Scotland, but a few years ago I became one half of Matchbox Cineclub, an independent film exhibition organisation who are based in Glasgow but operate across the UK. Our Weird Weekend festival is a great showcase for the type of odd, weird and really interesting films we like to screen. We also work closely with other independent exhibitors and those just starting out in the industry, offering advice and support to start screenings themselves by involving them in co-screenings and festivals. This is really important for Matchbox, and me, as the exhibition industry isn’t always too friendly and it can be difficult to know where to go for support and advice, so we offer an informal channel into the mess the confusing mess that is screening films. We also place access at the heart of everything we do, making sure we host events in fully accessible venues, have descriptive subtitles on all films, and we offer a sliding scale ticket price so more people can participate in film with us. So I do lots of stuff to make those types of things happen!
Have any films directly influenced your career? If so, which ones and why?
I didn’t see a subtitled film until I was about 15 years old, and being exposed to art house cinema was what sparked my interested in film, it opened up a whole new world of on screen stories and experiences that I could have never imagined before. I still have really strong memories of the Glasgow City Council funded bus taking myself and my classmates to see Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) in our local art house cinema, and repeated visits for films that have since left my memories, all of which allowed me to begin to develop a real interest in film.
But the film which has been the most influential and important to my career, without which I don’t think I would have anywhere near the same passion for film as I do now, is Valley Girl (1983). I first saw Valley Girl by accident late one night on a TV music channel when I was 15, and every since it has been the film I have judged every film viewing experience against. A film might be good, but is it Valley Girl good? It’s Romeo and Juliet as an 80’s teen romcom starring Nicolas Cage, and it really did make a connection with me in a way that proved, to myself, that cinema really is such a powerful tool.
And, properly most importantly for my career, it made me want to show other people films which might speak to them in a similar way. The Masters dissertation which I went on to do about Valley Girl made me the world’s leading academic on it, a title I wear proudly, but the pure love for film as a emotive medium which it gave me has been my greatest tool throughout my career. I want audiences to feel as strongly about a film as I fell about Valley Girl, so I keep screening films and hoping people find a true film love.
How do you engage with cinema on a day-to-day basis?
It can be difficult having something you love also be a job, I’ve watched far less feature films than I had this time late year and there’s guilt that comes along with that – a feeling of not only a personal failing but also a professional one. But I try to be as engaged with film as much I can, I’m fascinated by news and issues around film exhibition so everyday I read about what’s going on in films trends across the world and check in with festivals and cinemas around the world to see who’s doing what.
My attendance of screenings at cinemas has dropped in favourite of attending other local independent exhibitors screenings, like Pity Party Film Club, Reel Girl Film Club and Southern Exposure, who’s events are just so exciting and creative that standard cinemas can’t even compare anymore. I’m lucky living in Scotland as there’s so much independent exhibition and film activity happening here but, as is sadly true with a lot of the film industry, there’s still a lot of ‘boys with access to IMDb’. It’s getting better though, and projects like Scalarama, which my Matchbox partner Sean Welsh runs, is really helping make ‘cinema’ more accessible through empowering indie exhibitors. I think it can only be a good thing that more people are screening films and learning how to do it properly, that’s the only way cinema will grow.
Have you ever seen yourself represented in film? Are there any characters in particular, fictional or real, who you identify with?
Coming from a very working class Glaswegian background, and having never watched a Ken Loach film and thought BINGO, the short answer is no. But there are bits of all kinda of film characters that I can say have shown me a part of myself on screen, and I always come back to Stella (2008) and the one scene when the 11 year old protagonist falls in love with a boy, it’s such a raw sense of awkwardness and honesty that resonated so deeply that it’s still stuck with me several years later. Similarly with Heartbeats (2010), Norwegian Wood (2010) and Subway (1985). I find emotional representation far more often than I have even found representation of my lived experiences or reality, and although that’s the wonderful thing about film, it’s ability to communicate truths we thought we shared with no one else, it’s also sad that these types of shared experience are being portrayed on the big screen. Sadly we are left only imagining the full potential of the wonderful creative powers of the women of the East End of Glasgow, thanks to lack of arts access, funding and belief. And the industry is lesser for it.
If you had the opportunity to make a film about your own career and personal life experience, what would this film look like, and what story would you want to tell?
Being a film programmer I’m asked this more often than I would have expected and I categorically would not want to make a film ever! But if I had to make a film about my own career and life it would comprise of a 1 minute opening scene of a 15 year old girl watching TV at night and Valley Girl coming on, then the rest of the film would just be Valley Girl.