Manchester & Salford Film Society is the oldest continuously active film society in the country. It was established in 1930 during a turbulent period of high international political activity and tension. A group of young Salford men became fired up with the potential power of films. They realised that films could not only entertain but also educate and politicise, and decided to set up a committee to show these inspirational films.
Finding suitable premises in Princes Cinema in Liverpool Street, Salford on May 20 1930, they ran the first programme of Salford Workers' Film Society. Shortly afterwards, the committee (now renamed Manchester and Salford Film Society, having dropped the somewhat limiting element of Workers) decided its chief purpose.
“...to cater for those who are dissatisfied with the average productions of the commercial cinema, with their shallowness and divorce from reality, and to offer in their stead films more closely in sympathy with the life and thought of this age.”
A Nomadic Search for Home
Such a non-commercial mission initially deterred quite a few cinema managers and it was 1937 before the Society was installed at the Rivoli Cinema in Rusholme, where shows were held on a Sunday when cinemas were not open to the public. Moreover Manchester and Salford Film Society became a founder member of the British Federation of Film Societies (now called Cinema for All). At the outbreak of war in 1939, the Society, now resident at the Essoldo in Chorlton, had an impressive 1400 members.
After the war, it became even more difficult for the Society to find suitable premises for its shows. For a number of years the MSFS led a nomadic existence, pitching temporary tents in a wide range of commercial and cultural locations that ran from the Gas Showrooms Theatre, through the Library Theatre, the Midland Hotel, Manchester YMCA, the United States Information Service and the Green Room Theatre behind Cross Street Chapel.
Owing to various shortcomings, by 1960 the Green Room was no longer considered suitable. Tom and Marjorie Ainsworth, who had first joined in 1939, were also members of The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. After an approach by the Ainsworths, the “Lit and Phil”, as was commonly known, was happy to help out and let the Society share their excellent facilities. Unfortunately, in 1978 their building was officially condemned as unsuitable for public use and the MSFS would have to move again.
Once again, MSFS members packed up and moved to Platt Chapel in Fallowfield. Committee members helped to renovate the Chapel, painting walls and generally fixing things. Of course, for every show, members had to put out chairs, erect the screen, and load the projector.
At Platt Chapel the Society held two shows on a Saturday, afternoon and evening. The programmes included many classic foreign-language films from Japan, France, Italy, USSR and Germany as well as Britain and USA.
With the increasing popularity of television in the 1960s and 1970s and the ready availability of watching films at home, membership of the society declined significantly, culminating in an emergency meeting in 1998 to decide the ultimate fate of the Society. Fortunately, the perfect venue was found. The Altrincham Club Theatre, (now the Altrincham Little Theatre) had a spacious fixed auditorium, a stage area where the screen could be installed, and a cosy adjoining bar for socialising.
This is now our permanent home, and since 1998 we have updated our equipment to 21C digital standard, with a new larger screen, and still with a modest annual membership fee. Members themselves choose the following season's programme by ballot. Our numbers have steadily risen, ensuring a stable future in an established, well-equipped, and pleasant location.
We were founder members of the BFFS (now Cinema for All) and in 1987 and 2016 our Presidents were awarded the Roebuck Cup for 'services to the Film Society Movement'.
Way back in 1930 those earnest young men outside that Salford cinema could never have imagined that their brainchild would still be around more than eighty years on, still showing engaging and challenging films, and still getting people talking.
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